The City of Toronto in Ontario, Canada is about to embark on one of the largest water metering and automatic meter reading (AMR) projects in North America. This ambitious metering project will be executed over a sixyear period and will involve 468,000 water accounts.
The Toronto project is multifaceted and comprises:
- Universal metering of 72,400 residential accounts (current flat rate customers where water meters do not exist)
- Replacing or retrofitting 395,000 accounts of which 16,000 are industrial and commercial customers.
- Deployment of a citywide Fixed Area Network (FAN) system.
- Development and integration of a data repository.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Regardless of project size, utilities looking at implementing or upgrading a metering system should start by developing a strong business case. The business case will help the utilities to determine priorities and guide their decisions related to technology choice and project implementation. The City of Toronto’s business case was the foundation for getting the project started. Refreshing the business case and the project plan was practised by the City of Toronto on a regular basis.
During the start-up process there were a number of components that the City believed to be key to the project’s overall success.
Prior to the Request for Proposal (RFP) process, the City focused on understanding both the AMR market and the water meter market. The key to understanding these markets involved visiting other municipalities that have implemented AMR systems. The objective was to understand both the value and the shortcomings of the technology options, and identify how AMR technology would satisfy the needs of the City. During this process it was important for the City to keep the project on the “radar” for project sponsors and potential vendors.
From an internal resource perspective, the City believed that it was vital to identify City staff to champion and run the project. This included identifying a City Project Manager early in the process. The decision was made that the Toronto project would be completely outsourced to a turn-key service provider; however, a well-structured City resource plan was established at the start-up of the project as a proactive approach to support the overall operation.
LESSONS LEARNED – THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD RFP
The City retained a qualified consultant who would be involved in the project from beginning to end, including involvement in the RFP preparation, risk assessment, management and evaluation, to ensure that the project and technology being requested were technically sound. The goal of the Toronto RFP specification was to remain generic enough for all qualified vendors to be able to submit a bid. During this process the City learned that there is an important balance between making sure that the terms and conditions in the specification are strong enough to protect its interests while at the same time allowing for innovative responses to its needs. For utilities considering a metering programme, it is important to have updated meter specifications and updated installation procedures prior to initiating the process.
The City also retained the services of a Fairness Consultant to oversee the procurement process to ensure that all of the fairness monitoring principles were followed.
During this process, the City stressed the value of “having everyone on board” for the project. The Toronto project included the participation of the information technology group; the internal audit group; Toronto Water staff; revenue services staff; project sponsors; relevant field staff; purchasing; legal; and corporate finance.
The Toronto Water Meter Replacement and AMR System Project is a full turn-key solution. The City of Toronto Council authorised City staff to enter into negotiations with Neptune Technology Group (Canada) Ltd as the prime contractor. It will be responsible for the entire system integration: encompassing meter procurement, network installation, meter installation, public education, and other communication initiatives.
The project includes the implementation of an AMR solution for water services, specifically Aclara RF Systems Inc.’s STAR® Network (Figure 1). The wireless fixed network AMR system will provide up to four reads per day for residential accounts, and hourly reads for most industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) accounts, thereby extending the City’s capabilities to provide accurate consumption readings, analysis of consumer usage information, leak and tamper detection, and accurate monthly billing.
As a further enhancement to the system, all ICI meters will incorporate Neptune Technology Group’s advanced E-Coder® register, which further assists with issues such as water conservation, rising water costs, and system security, while maximising customer service and operational efficiencies. The E-Coder® functionality, value-add features, and higher resolution further enhance the value of the FAN beyond simply receiving multiple daily readings. With the E-Coder® register integrated into the STAR® FAN, the City of Toronto will get the resolution needed to conduct proper consumption analysis based on hourly reads as the intelligence is installed at the end-point. The E-Coder® has the unique ability to detect the occurrence of a critical event in 15 minute intervals and seamlessly transmit this data through the STAR® System. With guaranteed accuracy, higher resolution, safety flags, and timely information, the many features of the E-Coder® register in a FAN will maximise the benefit of the City’s overall investment.
The key component of the system integration is the development and implementation of a data repository with an internet interface to allow the City’s customers to access their consumption history and compare it with that of other customers within the utility. In addition, this system will allow City staff to perform advanced data analysis and ad hoc reporting on historical data to assist with demand side management and rate structure reviews.
The project also includes a comprehensive communication and public education plan and the City and Neptune will work together to establish unique branding and logos for the project. Strict project management plans, which are embedded into the RFP, will also be instituted, including specific performance measures that will be used by the City and Neptune to monitor the project. These measurements include the need to meet a read success rate of 98.8%.
The project management team for the development and implementation of the FAN and data repository software will include as many people as possible to allow for maximum exposure to the project by City staff. Training will be done throughout the project to ensure that staff are ready to use the system once it is fully deployed.
The City and Neptune have a common objective to work as a team to complete the project on schedule, within budget, while maintaining and executing the project scope.
As the City of Toronto embarks on one of its largest projects ever, which will impact on every Toronto resident and business, it is confident that – through careful planning, communication and strict project management – a successful project will be delivered.