SAP on April 21 unveiled a collaboration effort with seven major utility companies to integrate Advanced Metering Infrastructure technology with SAP's enterprise applications for billing, customer relationship management and asset management.
To support this effort, SAP and the utilities announced the SAP AMI Lighthouse Council, which will work to integrate AMI systems from leading manufacturers with the SAP for Utilities enterprise applications.
AMI technology enables the remote reading of electric power and gas meters, with the results transmitted to utilities' back-office software applications and some front-end applications to calculate pricing, produce bills, communicate with customers, and track revenue and assets, according to Wayne Longcore, manager of enterprise architecture and standards with Consumers Energy, a power and gas utility based in Lansing, Mich.
Around the world and particularly in North America, Europe and the Far East, "most utilities are moving to this Advanced Metering Infrastructure to provide more information to the consumer" and to bring greater automation to utility business processes, Longcore said.
"A major advantage of AMI is it provides two-way communication where you're able to communicate prices and understand how better to work with pricing environment" so consumers have more control over energy consumption, he said.
AMI is also the foundation of the industry's vision of developing "Smart Grid" technologies that improve energy efficiency and the reliability of the power distribution grid.
The other utilities joining the Lighthouse Council are CenterPoint Energy, CLP Power Hong Kong, Energy East, Florida Power & Light, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and Publish Service Electric & Gas.
The council is also working with several key meter technology producers, including eMeter, Itron and OSIsoft, to ensure that their metering systems are compatible with the back-end SAP for Utilities applications.
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The council still has a lot of work to do in terms of defining the many business processes that will be automated by the back-end software systems, such as processing the data collected and transmitted by the latest AMI meters. Most major utilities are in process of deploying or evaluating AMI technology, Longcore said.
The wide deployment of these meters will enable on-demand readers of a customer's meter through a call center; support for remote customer disconnects and reconnects to support the bill collection process; outage reporting; and the implementation of time-of-use pricing.
SAP is planning to roll out AMI integration in SAP for utilities by the end of the year, said Maureen Coveney, industry principal for utilities at SAP.
However, it's also part of SAP's effort to keep pace with similar moves by archrival Oracle in the utilities industry.
In November 2006, Oracle announced it had acquired SPL World Group, which developed utilities revenue and operation management applications. Oracle officials said the acquisition was strategic because more than 2,500 utilities worldwide run Oracle databases and applications.
In January 2008, Oracle announced that Cellnet+Hunt, a developer of metering and infrastructure communications systems to electric, gas and water utilities in North America, was deploying Oracle Grid, which is a grid computing system based on the Oracle database that delivers computing power to customers on demand.