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Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Six]

Headshot of Larry Foster
Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Six]

Explore how Lean Six Sigma's Poka Yoke methodology can revolutionize utility billing processes by preventing errors and ensuring accuracy. This blog delves into user-friendly solutions, such as smartphone applications, that boost efficiency, reduce errors, and drive cost savings. It also discusses the importance of accurate meter readings, the challenges faced by both automated (AMI/AMR) and manual systems, and the benefits of deploying digital tools to improve reliability and efficiency in meter readings.

Larry Foster, President of MuniBilling, has been working with technology for over 25 years. He's experienced in different sectors of technology, from starting new projects to helping companies grow and overcome challenges.

With a focus on the software and utility industries, Larry is a leading expert specializing in the complete lifecycle management of advanced solutions. Under his leadership, MuniBilling ensures dedicated client success teams and an unwavering commitment to ongoing support and efficiency improvements in the dynamic utility and software landscapes.

Q: What other areas of utility billing can applying Lean Six Sigma improve?

Lean Six Sigma is like a powerful toolbox for making things work better. Imagine it as a set of strategies that help find and fix mistakes, like making sure your bills are accurate and on time. One cool tool in this toolbox is called "Poka Yoke," which is all about preventing mistakes before they happen. It's like adding safety nets to your processes to catch errors and make things run smoother. With Poka Yoke, you can use different tricks, like adding new gadgets, changing how things are done, or using technology to catch mistakes early. Sometimes, you might need to add extra layers of protection to your systems to make sure everything keeps running smoothly, kind of like having a backup plan. This is where deploying a digital asset can provide the necessary level of redundancy to achieve resiliency. 

Q: How can organizations doing utility billing make their processes better to avoid mistakes?

Utility billing processes can improve by focusing on reading meters on time. Accurate meter readings are crucial because mistakes can cause billing problems and upset customers. Ensuring accurate meter readings and avoiding mistakes or discrepancies is a constant challenge, as inaccuracies can lead to billing issues and customer disputes.

Even with automated systems, it's crucial to have a backup plan for handling errors. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and automatic metering reading (AMR) represent the highest level of automation in meter reading. However, these systems can still have a 1% to 3% error rate on average. For instance, a site with 1,000 meters might need 10 to 30 manual readings to correct mistakes. Therefore, automated systems typically require a backup plan to manage these errors.

Q: What challenges do highly computerized AMI and AMR sites face?

Poor network connectivity due to transmitters being in basements,  overgrown vegetation, geographic challenges, such as rugged terrain, dense urban areas, extreme weather conditions, device malfunctions, data connectivity issues, or software glitches can all contribute to adversely impacting the integrity of meter reading data an AMI or AMR environment. These highly computerized sites often require manually writing down the values and then transposing them into the utility billing system.

Q: What issues do utility billing organizations face when sticking with manual meter reading methods?

Although manual environments avoid the high upfront costs of deploying and ongoing costs of maintaining a computerized network, they, too, experience costs and problems associated with dedicating labor to drive around to all the metered locations and manually transcribe the current value of the meter. Sites that rely on customer self-reporting save on labor costs but may still deal with occasional incorrect readings.

Q: How can deploying digital assets improve both highly automated and manual meter reading environments?

In highly automated environments, digital assets can provide a backup system to increase reliability. In manual environments, often found in remote areas with poor network connectivity, digital assets can work without a network, making meter reading more efficient.

Q: What should organizations look for in digital tools to improve meter readings?

First, let me define the most simplistic type of meter reading digital asset – an application that can be used on the smartphone or other mobile device that meter reading technicians commonly use. It should be free, easy to use, and enjoyable. Here are ten key features organizations should consider to evaluate the ROI of deploying a digital tool for meter reading:

  1. User-Friendly Interface
  2. Offline Meter Reading Capability
  3. Offline Data Storage and Security
  4. Real-time Insights
  5. Real-Time Data Synchronization
  6. Efficient Route Management
  7. Quick Issue Identification and Resolution
  8. Automated Data Validation
  9. Scalable Meter Reading Operations
  10. Cost-Effective Data Collection

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Larry Foster, dedicated President of MuniBilling, is committed to delivering cutting-edge Electronic Bill Payment and Presentment services tailored for utility billing. If you're interested in learning more about our product and services, sign up for a personalized demo of the MuniBilling system. 

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