From a Distribution System Operators (DSO) perspective, building huge infrastructure projects is core business. Regardless of the communication platform chosen, rolling out AMS systems will by and large follow the same phases, but the challenges will differ greatly.
From previous roll-outs, these are the top 5 pitfalls that have been identified:
1. UnderestimatING the importance of logistics
The logistics are crucial. It's impossible to perform an efficient roll-out if logistics, planning and available resources are underestimated. It doesn't help if your radio plan and work orders are perfect if the logistics fail and the field-worker gets the wrong equipment (or no equipment at all) for the planned jobs. One thing is the physical equipment, another important factor is the configuration of it. Having all the right components does not help if the components are not configured. Testing and verification of the equipment and its configuration before going out in the field must be a part of the process.
2. Static booking system
For many, the booking has turned out to be a pitfall. The booking must be able to handle changes and to feed the information about changes to the planners and the work order system. The dialog with the customers during the roll-out period needs to be consistent and transparent. If the field worker is delayed, let the house owner know. If the house owner is delayed, let the field-worker know. Always plan for no-shows, and have a contingency plan if the planned booking is not possible.
3. UnderestimatING scale of project
It is important to understand that not all processes scale without pain. What works fine in your small scale test, with all the best people and full attention at all levels, might not work as good for a full scale roll-out. For example, the number of highly experienced people might become a bottleneck.
A good way to run large roll-out projects is to split into many small-scale rollouts; you have already shown that you can do the small-scale. When doing many small-scale roll-outs you can train the teams over and over again with expert coaching, until they can run the whole small-scale without expert support. Then you can run several small-scale projects in parallel and still not exhaust your expert resources.
4. Not prepared for technical problems
You might have the best systems and the best people, but what do you do if one or more of your systems fail during a roll-out? Do you have a contingency plan? Do you have work orders and maps loaded offline for your field-workers, if they are working in areas without mobile reception? Does the field-worker know the procedure if the smart meter does not connect? What are the steps and alternative solutions?
Our experience is that training and situational awareness is the key to overcome unplanned situations. If everyone knows the plan and they also have a good understanding of the local situation, and can align this with the full picture at any given time, it is easier to make the right decisions.
5. Incorrect data
The plans are based on data. If the data is wrong or inaccurate, it can have an adverse effect on the plans. The booking will have issues if a customer's contact data are not correct. The field-worker will have problems if the address or the position of the meter is wrong. The radio plan might be wrong if the coordinates for the meters are wrong. In one example, we have seen that the billing address was used to define the coordinates of the meter. In many cases that is not a problem, but in other cases the error can lead to re-planning and waste of time. You know the rule: Garbage in = garbage out.
Up to date
In my opinion, the DSOs who are able to tailor the expertise and experience already in the house to match the external resources needed for a successful AMS roll-out, will have a great advantage. The technology and tools to help the process are already here. The roll-out management is all about knowing the technology, knowing the process and planning it carefully.