How Basic Metering Operators Increase Their Profitability through Automation
Why it pays off to take a courageous and innovative path
Basic metering operators are required to operate economically. This makes it all the more important to identify and realize potential savings along the process chain. The network operator Westfalen Weser Netz has taken a pioneering approach to incident processing.
Even though the German Federal Office for Information Security has withdrawn the general decree for the smart meter rollout, the players in the energy industry are assuming that a new version will be issued soon and that the rollout of smart meters, which forms the basis for the transformation to a digital energy industry, will thus continue. This is also evident from the fact that the majority of eligible companies wish to continue to perform the market role of the primary metering operator.
The task here is to find a way to monitor the operating status reliably and cost-effectively with an ever-increasing number of smart meters because one of the biggest problems as a primary metering operator is to operate economically.
Higher Efficiency through Automation
To increase its profitability, Westfalen Weser Netz GmbH (WWN), a major municipal network operator in East Westphalia-Lippe, the Weserbergland, and the northern Sauerland, has decided to automate the fault processing of its smart meters. For this purpose, the so-called MAS system ("Measure - Analyze - Control") of iceBaum GmbH, a software company of HORIZONTE-Group AG specialized in the energy industry, is used.
The MAS system is a central, cloud-based data platform that was or is being developed in close cooperation between WWN, iceBaum, and other partners. All relevant data from the systems involved in the process converge in the software. This includes:
- Fault messages
- Asset master data
- ERP process data
This unique solution approach is regarded as trend-setting in fault processing.
A central function of the software is the integrated workflow engine, with the help of which WWN can determine which automated measures are to be carried out in certain fault situations. In doing so, the MAS system reacts independently to different events, such as
- Specific keywords in tickets and emails,
- Status changes of tickets and
- Reaching defined deadlines and timestamps.
This feature is already in productive use for the incidents most frequently occurring at WWN in the area of smart meters.
How Does Automation Work?
To illustrate the automation process, let's imagine the following example: During the commissioning of a smart meter, an unstable communication link is causally present, so the commissioning process runs to a fault. As a result, the fault reporting and processing starts:
1. Failure message of the gateway administration system (GWA)
Since the smart meter is not accessible, the GWA reports a failure of the gateway administration commissioned via the commissioning process.
2. Control of the ERP process
Due to the negative feedback from the GWA, the commissioning process in the ERP system runs into an error and pauses.
3. Real-time notification of the fault
This sends a fault notification from the ERP system to the MAS system automatically and in real time.
4. Ticket creation
Upon receipt of the fault message, the MAS system creates a new ticket and synchronizes it with the GWA ticket system.
5. Check by GWA
Now the gateway administrator (GWA) checks the status as well as the error messages of the affected smart meter gateway and notes the result in the ticket.
6. Additional check of the communication link
After corresponding feedback from the GWA, the MAS system automatically sets a test job of the network connection of the affected device and processes the corresponding feedback.
7. Notification of the WWN subject processors
If the feedback has been received, the WWN employee automatically receive a notification e-mail. This allows them to make a professional assessment of the situation including the information gathered so far.
Processing by the Employee
After assessing the situation, the employee then only has to decide on the further procedure in the standard case. They can, for example, independently create a rejection order or retrigger the failed commissioning process in the ERP system. In both cases, this is done directly from the MAS system.
First Successes with the MAS System
For Lukas Pack, who was responsible for the implementation and further development of the MAS system as project manager on the WWN side, one thing is sure: "With the help of the MAS system, we have been able to significantly reduce the effort required to process faults of our smart meters and thus contribute to increasing our profitability as a metering operator. We assume that we will be able to increase the already realized savings of about a third of our costs by using the MAS system – related to the totality of the faults to be processed – to 50 percent in the medium term and even up to 75 percent in the long term. The basis or premise of this forecast is our assessment that standard incidents, which can be solved largely automatically with the help of the software, will account for an increasingly large proportion of all incidents as the rollout curve rises.”
This has resulted in two significant advantages for WWN:
- Four employees were initially planned for the manual troubleshooting of the approx. 90,000 plants to be converted to smart meters. However, only one employee capacity is expected to be necessary with the software due to the predicted reduction in effort.
- Thanks to the ERP system interface, processes can be cleaned up independently by WWN, resulting in a 90 percent cost saving in this area compared to the previous manual cleanup, including the associated invoicing by the ERP service provider.
Looking into the Future
Bashkim Malushaj, Managing Director of iceBaum GmbH and partner of the HORIZONTE Group, sees even further into the future: "The functional scope of the smart meters will undoubtedly develop further within the framework of the BSI stage model. Thus smart meters take on ever greater importance for the customer. He reacts increasingly sensitively to any faults and rightly expects the metering point operator to rectify them without delay. Because the conditions are similar, it makes sense to look in the direction of the telecommunications industry and remedy Internet faults. This gives a good first impression of what the metering operator still faces. Studies from this field show that about half of all customers experience disruptions to their Internet connection in a 24-month cycle. A missing Internet connection is now a significant everyday restriction, so consumers expect it to be remedied immediately. The comparison clearly shows how important digitized and automated processes are. For this reason, they should be deployed as early as possible and continuously improved. In this way, a considerable increase in personnel can be avoided."
The Development of the Described Solution Is Not Yet at the End
Against this background, the experts at iceBaum, Arvato Systems and their partners consider the development of the MAS system to be far from complete. Rather, concrete optimizations are already being planned:
- The workflow engine is to be extended with additional types of triggers and actions in order to further expand the automation potential.
- The role of the MAS system as a central data platform is to be strengthened by evaluating more data and thus being able to detect malfunctions earlier.
- Various Microsoft services are to be integrated more closely in order to further reduce fault rates through the use of artificial intelligence.
- Finally, an interface is to be developed that customers can use to report errors via the web or browser, so that the overall situation with regard to existing faults of smart meters can be mapped even more realistically in the system.
In addition, the MAS system is to be integrated into the Arvato Energy Platform in the future as part of pilot projects and thus also represents an ideal complement for Arvato Systems’ myBusiness smartEnergy.
Courage to Innovate for Better Profitability
To increase their profitability, the primary metering operator is advised to look closely at their cost structure. They also need the courage to go down innovative paths. The MAS system impressively shows where this path could lead.