Digital metering: what could possibly go wrong?

Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) has developed a unique and valuable risk assessment tool for Victorian water businesses considering a move to digital metering.

‘The Digital Metering Risk Assessment Tool (DMRAT) is a prime example of the industry-led collaboration and innovation made possible by the IWN,’ says Neil Brennan, Chair of the IWN.

‘Many Victorian water businesses are contemplating digital metering, with some already working on business cases for consideration by their customers, Boards, the State Government and other stakeholders.

‘To ensure that these businesses cases are robust, all risks associated with digital metering must be identified, along with appropriate mitigations.'

 'If we separately engaged an expert consultant to complete our own risk assessments, it would cost up to $50,000 per business,’ says Virginia Collins, from Yarra Valley Water – leader of the DMRAT project, for the IWN.

‘Since all water businesses face common issues with digital metering, the IWN provided the platform to combine the resources of multiple stakeholders, do this work once and share the results across the industry.

‘As well as making significant savings in consultant fees, collaboration also allowed us to collate the collective knowledge of experienced personnel from multiple water businesses, ensuring a more thorough risk analysis.’

The development of the DMRAT was fully funded by the IWN, which is funded through member organization contributions. Yarra Valley Water managed the project, under a steering committee of representatives from other water businesses.

Oakley Greenwood was selected as the consultant on the project, after a tender process.

‘Oakley Greenwood facilitated a series of three full-day workshops to identify digital metering risks and mitigations. These were attended by 19 people, representing 14 water corporations, the IWN Executive Group and VicWater,’ Ms Collins says.

‘In addition, the consultant interviewed external stakeholders, including the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria, the Essential Services Commission, the Water Services Association of Australia, and Victorian Government departments.

‘Nearly 200 risks associated with digital metering were identified through this process, along with recommended mitigations.’

The comprehensive list of potential risks produced through the IWN project includes those associated with customer perceptions, technology failures, data management and protection challenges, contractor problems, OH&S matters, environmental hazards, industrial relations issues, legal troubles, financial risks, vandalism, and more.

The risks and proposed mitigations were considered in the context of various business scenarios.

‘Different water businesses will make different technological and operational choices regarding digital metering, which change the associated risks, their weightings, and the possible mitigations,’ explains Ms Collins.

‘For example, one water business might choose ‘bleeding-edge’ metering and communications technologies, and an operational model involving multiple contractors and high frequency meter readings. Their risks will obviously be different to those of a business selecting well-established technology, keeping operations inhouse and opting for less frequent meter readings.

‘It became clear in the first workshop that the DMRAT would need to be flexible in order to accommodate a variety of users. We developed a range of five different hypothetical business scenarios, within which we considered and weighted associated risks, and identified appropriate mitigations.

‘Consequently, the DMRAT provides customised data – the user makes technological and operational choices and the tool adapts its outputs,’ Ms Collins says.

‘The DMRAT is unique in Australia – nothing else comes close. Victorian water businesses using this tool can take the next step towards digital metering with confidence that their risk analysis is of the highest possible standard.

‘I’m proud of this project and proud to be part of the IWN, providing our member water businesses with solutions that optimise expenditure and create positive outcomes for our customers.’

Inquiries from Victorian water corporations regarding access to the DMRAT should be addressed to Tanya Pearson, IWN Acting Assistant Program Director.