Historically, smart water metering/AMI projects and utility billing software/CIS projects for municipal utilities were managed by different departments. Typically, public works managed metering, and finance managed billing. Building the cash register separate from the billing system inevitably meant there were gaps, and these gaps meant less value for the utility, and less value for the customer.
We’ve talked a lot about the digital age recently and the exponentially increasing flow of data into utilities. It’s probably no surprise that it’s having a profound impact on the approach to CIS and AMI projects, and the communication around them as well.
Today, we’re finding what’s truly creating value is the fusion of consumption data, financial data, and customer behavior data.
There are a couple of key areas where taking on these projects simultaneously provides value. This approach not only ensures collaboration across departments, it ensures the implementation of business processes that close the gaps between CIS and AMI to the benefit of customers and the utility.
- Ensure everyone is paying their fair share for water. Any AMI project involves a visit to each residence and business in your community to upgrade meters, representing an opportunity to collect valuable information in the process. Tying this accurate, updated information back into your billing system ensures each customer is paying their fair share. Disclaimer: Customers that weren’t paying their fair share before, meaning, they weren’t being charged for the amount of water they were actually consuming, probably won’t be too happy. But ensuring everyone is paying their part and correcting situations where they aren’t is good for the community at large. It means your community will see their water rates increase slower or better yet, not at all. Adding this data correction and cleanup process onto field activities is one key area where undertaking a joint CIS-AMI project works well.
- Don’t make your customers wait to get actionable information. AMI projects are very visible throughout the community. Since you’re replacing meters at each residence and business, customers see and are aware of the work that’s happening. Once they receive their new, upgraded meter, they want to start realizing the value of it. Completing a CIS project at the same time allows customers to login and begin seeing real-time information about their water consumption and how their usage impacts their bill. To the utility, this means instant engagement and understanding of how much water they’re using, and when, and how – directly impacting their ability to become informed consumers of water.
While we’re on the subject, it would be remiss not to mention the criticality of strong communication during these projects, and how the popularity of social media – notably Facebook and Twitter – are shifting the channels of communication for municipalities. If you aren’t already using these channels and having them serve as a go-to for community information, starting prior to (ideally) or at least in conjunction with these projects is a good idea. As discussed in previous blogs, new meters often mean higher bills for customers, at least initially, because they detect water consumption much more accurately. Using outbound social media programs and campaigns to communicate to customers what to expect, anticipated benefits, ways to save, and how to understand their water usage can go a long way in helping to mitigate any pushback. Social media programs can also serve to educate your customers about their water bills and what they’re actually paying for, which in many cases, is much more than just water (think wastewater, water availability, trash, storm drainage, and other fees and taxes).
In summary, closing the gap between CIS and AMI means lower long-term water rates, more revenue to your utility, and better customer engagement and service. AMI fundamentally changes business practices of a utility billing operation by providing more information earlier – enabling impressive gains in billing efficiency and billing accuracy. These gains can only be realized when AMI and CIS projects are done together. Additionally, these projects can be even easier when you join FATHOM’s Smart Grid for Water Community because we’re all better together.
Ready to redefine and modernize your operations for the digital age? Email us!