Southern California Edison speeds meter service with asset management system

Last summer, when all of Southern California Edison Co.'s service orders for meter repairs were still on paper, an open window could spell trouble.

"We literally had people driving their trucks [with] paper orders [flying] out the windows on hot days," according to Robb Bourland, SCE's director of application services.

Clearly, data retention was a key driver of the utility's meter process-automation effort, which kicked off last June. But there were other important business reasons as well. Prior to launching the effort, Rosemead, Calif.-based SCE didn't have proper controls in place to effectively reconcile its inventory of electric meters with its customer base, Bourland explains.

Jodi Collins, vice president of information technology
Jodi Collins, vice president of information technology

"The case for the project is that we needed an end-to-end view of this integrated process," says Jodi Collins, vice president of IT. SCE recognized those needs 10 years ago and tried—and failed—at two similar efforts in the mid- and late 1990s, says Bourland.

At that time, SCE was decentralized from both an IT and business unit standpoint, he says. After centralizing the IT organization in 2000, says Collins, "we were able to look across the organization and have the business-line managers appreciate what was needed to make a project like this be successful."

That included Collins' fateful decision to act as an intermediary between leaders of the company's transmission and distribution, and customer-service business units. The goal was to determine which group was responsible for key business processes that fed into the meter process-automation project, she says. That was no easy task, because meter processes such as billing, repair and monitoring at SCE touch 3,000 employees across multiple operating units.

"We put the system as a secondary consideration and focused on the business process issues," says Collins.

"Jodi brought a new perspective on end-to-end business processes, and she spent a lot of time with senior business executives to help them to understand the value of this," says Bourland.

Including labor, hardware, software and consulting services, the project cost SCE slightly more than $10 million, which was 10% to 15% under budget. The benefits include increased accuracy on meter service requests, fewer lost service requests, less duplication of effort and reduced data entry.

Compared with the business-process transformation work, the technical side of the project was easy, says Bourland. SCE used a mix of custom applications and off-the-shelf products, such as PowerBuilder, Visual Basic and Java, to develop and support new applications and to integrate them with existing systems, says Bourland.

"There's really not a good commercial product out there that exclusively addresses meter asset management," says Zarko Sumic, an energy analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

SCE, says Sumic, is among of the leading electric utilities in the U.S., along with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Xcel Energy Inc., to develop an enterprise view of metering to help improve its asset-utilization and demand-response programs.

Southern California Edison Co.

Business: This electric utility serves 13 million people in 430 cities and communities. In 2003, its earnings were $872 million.

Project champion: Jodi Collins

IT department: 1,300, including contract workers

Project payback: SCE anticipates a $14 million return on investment for the project over the next five years, thanks to improved process efficiencies, improved service-route planning, elimination of the need for data entry workers and a reduction in the number of field workers required.

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