One Wednesday, an issue came across my desk from a Meter Reader who reported an apparent equipment failure. She was performing drive-by read collection when it just stopped reading. Reads were coming in quickly, and the dots that represented unread meters were disappearing from the screen… until they just stopped. In one neighborhood, the dots just wouldn’t disappear.
It appeared to her that the antenna was failing, or the transceiver, or maybe there is a setting we could try changing.
Whatever the cause, she needed the reads from the transmitters in that neighborhood and they must work. After all, they were installed last summer. The transmitters could not be the problem.
I imagined a few possible scenarios but I would need more information to diagnose this issue. I suggested a few actions for her to perform to help troubleshoot and collect more information. She’d follow through and get back to me with information later in the week.
Now, let’s fast forward 2 days and go back to my desk where I took another call from a different Meter Reader who described a suspiciously similar equipment failure. This Utility was over 1,300 miles across the country from the first. For him, reading was progressing nicely… until it wasn’t. The meter location dots in the next neighborhood just wouldn’t disappear.
He too was confident the reading equipment had to be the problem because the transmitters were installed just months ago.
I asked him to perform some field interrogation actions and he promised to report back on Monday with the results after he’d made follow up visits.
The following Monday, before either Utility reported back, I took 2 more support calls from drive-by customers who were encountering similar failures.
From the perspective of the Utility personnel, this looked like a failure of the read collection equipment. All 4 customers drew the same conclusion, and I too would have suspected that if I were in their position. However, because I was connected to customers across the country, I had a unique vantage point and could see a pattern that they could not. With their assistance, I was able to create a list of Serial Numbers that suggested an issue affecting a specific production range of transmitters. I had not drilled all the way to core issue, but I had enough information to contact the Manufacturer.
These customers were experiencing the leading edge of an emerging issue that would require quick action to remedy and the Manufacturer took the issue seriously right away. They worked quickly to identify the core problem and made a plan to fix it. In short order, they mobilized their Distributors nationwide to help both the customers who were experiencing premature transmitter failure and to take preventive action to shield other customers who might soon suffer the same failure.
Episodes like this are bound to arise when we apply technology across any industry. When they do, it is incredibly beneficial to have a network of support. Allies who can look at issues from different perspectives.
For me, it was really satisfying to realize that I had a unique vantage point that positioned me to help many people. I could see important parts of the picture than were not visible to the Readers who were calling me for help. From the information coming to me, I could tell that there were countless others who were completely unaware trouble was headed their way. Those calls for help from a few affected Meter Readers turned into a large effort to help and protect Utilities across our industry. It took communication and a cooperative effort across several organizations; Utility, Support Provider, Distributor, and Manufacturer.
This was a reminder that we should not be afraid of communication and teamwork. We are most powerful when we act as a community and always look out for one another. Partnering with a knowledgeable advocate might be just what your team needs.
-By Reed Sutter