The Indisputable Power of AMI and Analytics

(Hint: It’s Cost Savings and Enhanced Utility Operations)

By Joe Ball & Kathleen Dalessandro

Money and Gears

The Lake County Illinois Public Works Department in Libertyville, Ill., owns and operates two public water supply distribution systems across a large service territory in Northeast Illinois. For years, the county contracted its meter reading to a third-party service company, which gathered reads for the department every 60 days. Because of this, the Public Works Department had little insight into leaks and water usage patterns across its distribution systems. It was also expensive and time-consuming for the utility to send a truck out to address a customer concern. Plus, citizens received limited information about their water usage, making it difficult to monitor ongoing water usage, save money and conserve water.

The company had started a project to install an automated meter reading system, but knew that it needed a more sophisticated solution that would allow customers to be billed on a regular schedule without the need to manually visit each customer premise. In addition, due to its service territory spanning a large geographic region, the utility suspected that significant savings could be realized by automating meter reading activities, allowing meter readers to drastically reduce drive-time and miles driven.

The Lake County Illinois Public Works Department issued an RFP and initiated a comprehensive interview process to evaluate technology options to meet its needs. The utility determined that utilizing an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) solution from Itron would not only allow the utility to streamline its billing process, but also unlock opportunities for enhanced customer service, operational savings and conservation.

Lake County Illinois Public Works

The Lake County Illinois Public Works Department in Libertyville, Ill., owns and operates two public water supply distribution systems across a large service territory in Northeast Illinois.

Unlocking AMI Potential

AMI technology features two-way communications to the meter and to collect granular interval data, which provides greater visibility into utility operations. Water communication modules capture water consumption, leak (continuous consumption), tamper, reverse flow events and alarms and transmit the data back to the utility throughout each day. This generates more insight than ever before and provides a more comprehensive understanding of how and when usage takes place and whether or not an issue has occurred.

In Lake County, in addition to deploying an AMI network, including water communication modules, the utility also chose to take advantage of Itron’s software-as-a-service for analytics to derive even more value from the system. The cloud-based analytics application can be easily accessed online by utility staff.

Itron analytics software manages, analyzes and stores data. It provides users across the utility with tools to streamline their effectiveness and significantly increase operational efficiency. Anyone within the utility can have access to role-specific views of the data, structured in ways that are relevant to how they do their jobs. Itron analytics helps utilities reach business goals through innovative data analysis for enhanced customer service, customer leak detection, revenue protection and more.

Downtown Libertyville

Installing the system has been a win for the Lake County Public Works Department, resulting in $250,000 in savings, annually. It is a project that the County Board supported and they highlight the project as a sustainability initiative.

Seeing Results

Since completing installation of the AMI solution in 2015, the utility has improved the time it takes to gather reads and bill customers for water service from up to six days down to one day. Additionally, having true usage data gathered on an hourly basis has allowed the customer service department to have more valuable interactions with customers. Customers can also view their personal usage data through an online portal, allowing them to adjust their usage to fit their personal spending and conservation goals as well as receive alerts regarding their usage.

Prior to having analytics, the utility knew that ongoing consumption meant the customer likely had a leak, but it did not have the data to back it up, so some customers would simply not believe the utility. Now, with access to information about continuous hourly usage, the utility is proactively reaching out to alert customers to possible leaks so they can take action, saving them money and conserving water.

Compared to the way the utility operated 10 years ago, with three meter technicians and a supervisor, the transition to AMI has allowed the utility to adjust staffing, through retirements and natural attrition, to one meter technician and a supervisor. The utility also eliminated the need to hire a third-party contractor to drive and walk routes to collect meter readings for billing, saving additional expenses. The utility now has a reliable, predictable way to collect usage information automatically without having to send out meter technicians.

The same is true in the billing department. The utility has become more resourceful and proactive, moving from four fulltime billing specialists and a supervisor to a single supervisor, one fulltime billing specialist and part-time billing specialist. In addition to spending the utility’s dollars more wisely, the work of department staff is more rewarding due to the fact that they now have more positive interactions with customers and help them save money and conserve resources.

Installing the system has been a win for the Lake County Public Works Department, resulting in $250,000 in savings, annually. It is a project that the County Board supported and they highlight the project as a sustainability initiative.

Looking Ahead

Since the utility began to use analytics for leak detection and customer service, utility personnel have continued to realize new ways to leverage system data to improve operations and service. Utility customers are now able to leverage the Water Meter Customer Portal to view personal usage data and take action without needing to contact the utility. The utility has begun customer outreach campaigns to inform customers about ways to conserve, and they are seeing more and more customers interested in conservation every day.

The utility is seeing more customers looking for ways to conserve, and with new towns working to get water allocations, it is important that everyone is using water wisely. The key is having an abundance of data available to make more informed decisions and improve service to customers.


Joe Ball is Itron’s director of solutions marketing for the North American water business line, responsible for the vision and strategy of Itron’s North American water solutions.

Kathleen Dalessandro is a chief account specialist at Lake County Public Works where she has been the project manager for two CIS/billing software implementations and the AMI meter project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Subscribe to Digital
Subscribe to Print