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Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Ambitious plans for raising standards of customer service and operational efficiency are being realized by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) with the implementation of one of the largest water fixed network radio frequency systems in the country. PWSA has been able to make the leap from an aging manual meter reading process to cutting-edge data management technology by outsourcing the entire operation.

The challenge

The quarterly meter reading schedule at Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority created several inefficiencies. Only about 30 percent of the meter population was being read every third month, high levels of estimated reads occurred, and meter reading productivity was low. As a result, a significant proportion of water bills were based on estimated or inaccurate data.

The objective

PWSA’s goal was to implement an integrated data management system that would provide them with accurate monthly consumption data using their current metering investment in exact encoded meters to improve billing and revenue collection, as well as to position themselves to offer value-added services in the future.

The solution

The Landis+Gyr solution for PWSA is a long-term outsourcing contract that includes consultation, implementation of the wireless fixed network automated meter reading (AMR) system, project management, and operation and maintenance of the network until 2016.

Now fully operational, the wireless fixed network automatically reads the data from 83,000 residential and commercial and industrial (C&I) water meters across PWSA’s service territory.

Greg Tutsock, executive director of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority says, “As part of the initial planning phase of this project, PWSA conducted an extensive evaluation of AMR systems and suppliers. The conclusion was that Landis+Gyr not only provides the best fixed-network technology and services on the market, but that they also demonstrate a proven ability to deliver the fully integrated solution that we required.”

The results

The network is based on the Landis+Gyr RF technology. Jerry Figurilli, COO of Landis+Gyr, explains, “It’s our goal to understand our client’s needs and then to offer a solution that addresses those needs and achieves their project goals. In the case of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, it was clear the Landis+Gyr fixed-network technology was the correct solution which enabled them to address their needs, both short and long term, for more efficient management of their meter reading and customer service information.”

Data collected from the Landis+Gyr National Operations Center (NOC) is verified before delivery to PWSA’s billing system. The integration of the Landis+Gyr fixed-network system with PWSA’s existing IT resources was a critical factor in this project, and the Landis+Gyr team’s expertise in system integration on this scale was the key to its success.

With the network in place, the team at PWSA has discovered that information truly is power. The network gives PWSA access to an unprecedented amount of customer usage data such as monthly consumption, off-cycle reads, on-request reads, and a variety of alarms notification including tamper and low battery. PWSA’s customer service representatives are in direct contact with that detailed account data using the Landis+Gyr Utility DataLink® (UDL) web portal.

“UDL gives us online access to readings on an as-needed basis,” explains Tutsock. “Our representatives pull out the most recent reading from an account or get historical information for 30 days. We can show water usage patterns – sometimes pointing them out to customers on a day-by-day basis. Often, we prevail in bill disputes because we have this documentation.”

For larger C&I customers, PWSA has the ability to provide consumption reports, daily or hourly if necessary. This helps those customers incorporate water usage data into their manufacturing schedules, detect leaks, and change business processes in order to make smarter decisions regarding their water usage.

PWSA is able to provide all their customers with bills based on accurate consumption data every month or on request. The utility is realizing a high degree of reliability and availability of data, as Landis+Gyr is fully responsible for the network management over the life of the contract. The system includes sophisticated network management tools to ensure system integrity.

The outsourcing agreement means a rise in the level of customer service for PWSA without the allocation of any additional internal staff or equipment resources, and the twelve meter readers that had manually serviced PWSA’s territory were all absorbed into other areas within PWSA. The results were immediate gains in operational efficiency.

Looking forward

In the future, one of the many ways the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority hopes to use the network to extend its business is by offering meter reading and billing services to neighboring utilities.

PWSA has a population of accounts where one party is responsible for multiple bills. Currently, these customers are receiving bills in multiple billing cycles because of how the meters were read in the past. Tutsock says that these customers would like to receive one bill, and PWSA would like to provide it for them. “With AMR, it doesn’t matter what billing cycle you’re in. We hope to give customers one bill for all the properties they’re responsible for and offer consumers the opportunity to pick their billing date,” states Tutsock.

PWSA also has a large number of customers with seasonal residences who go south for the winter. These customers have asked the utility to monitor consumption on their accounts. PWSA currently monitors against high/low thresholds, looking for consumption that may indicate leaks, meter issues, or theft. Tutsock says that data from the Landis+Gyr network can power additional customer service offerings in this area. “We eventually want our customer information system to identify unusual usage patterns so that we can contact a customer immediately when a significant change in usage occurs.”

This data also has future operational impact. Tutsock estimates the utility may fix system leaks accounting for 10–15 percent of the 65 million gallons the utility processes daily. He also sees future applications with the sewer lines. Currently, PWSA sends personnel out each week to inspect and collect data from its sewer facilities. By metering the sewer lines, the utility could increase efficiency while using infrastructure that is already in place.

“We’re still in the early stages of looking at benefits and determining all the ways we can use our AMR system,” says Tutsock. “Results so far indicate we made the right technology decision.”

“The fixed network AMR system will provide the best solution for our current and future data collection needs. The system will provide access to an unprecedented amount of accurate consumption information that will allow us to better serve our customers. Through this system we will be able to offer our customers additional value-added services such as consumption profiling, leak and tamper detection, and on-request reads,” says Tutsock.