Explanations on Technologies for the Water Industry

Data from smart meters has to find a way back to the utility office to be processed and analyzed. The radios on the water meter that transmit data over cellular networks can only send the information a limited distance (the meters are generally underground after all). Collectors are distributed around the city to gather the meter information and then forward the data back to a server in the cloud or at the utility office. Note that in the case of cellular networks, Verizon and AT&T have already solved this problem by building cell towers around the city that take the place of a collector in a fixed wireless network environment.


Customer Information System (CIS):
A CIS is a common term for a utility billing system. This system keeps track of all customer information (name, address, bill amounts, etc.) but can also be used to record any interactions that the customer has with your utility staff. A modern CIS will allow you to log calls, track emails, save text messages, and even see when customers are visiting your website. The CIS is often referred to as the ‘System of Record’ since it acts as the repository for all customer information. Every utiltiy needs a CIS to operate and if your old billing system is giving you fits, it’s probably time to consider upgrading to a more modern Customer Information System.


Customer Portal:
The customer portal is a website where your customers can view and pay their bill and see their water consumption detail. This is particularly useful if you have smart meters which measure water use every hour. A modern customer portal can also allow customers to set leak notifications, get water saving recommendations, get answers to common questions, and chat with utility staff about any questions they may have. A modern customer portal will also allow your customers to access all this same information from a mobile device. This increases customer satisfaction and reduces costs to serve customers since they can pay their bills and answer their own questions online without the need to call the utility.


District Metered Area (DMA):
A DMA is a section of the water distribution system that is partitioned off from other areas using valves. This allows utility managers to control pressure in each DMA where topography varies or to control flushing events to a particular district. DMAs are also useful during main breaks to isolate the loss to a specific area and allow maintenance crews the ability to fix the broken lines without impacting water services in other districts.


Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment (EBPP):
EBPP is just a fancy way of saying that customers can see their bills online (either the amount due displayed as text or a pdf copy of their actual bill which they can view or download) and pay their bill with a credit or debit card from the customer portal. Customers can generally pay bills electronically with most service providers (electric, cable, mobile phone, internet, etc.), so why not with water? EBPP makes it easier for customers to see and pay their bill which reduces delinquencies, and improves customer satisfaction.


In the water industry, an endpoint typically refers to the communication module which is attached to your meter register and can transmit consumption data back to a meter data management or billing system. The endpoint may transmit data over a fixed-wireless network (usually a proprietary technology provided by a meter vendor), an existing cellular wireless network (such as AT&T), or networks that have to be maintained by the utility such as a drive-by system, mesh, etc. The beauty of the SET solution is that the utility gets to skip the headache of paying for and maintaining a network – they use the one that is already there. 


Meter Data Management System (MDMS):
An MDMS is a combination of a data base and software to collect and manage all data in a smart meter environment. The MDMS generally has two primary functions:

  1. It collects all the meter data cross the utility service area and performs what is know as Validation, Estimation, and Editing (VEE). This basically means the data is cleaned and normalized so that it can be used for billing file generation and…
  2. It provides analytic and reporting tools to help make sense of the data. An advanced MDMS can provide reports on system leaks, back flow or tamper events, consumption rates by metering district, and many other types of analyses that can support utility operations.