Monday, October 19, 2009

Oracle Customer Care and Billing System and IBM Managed Services Put Austin on Track to 'Smart Grid 2.0'

Smart Grid Today

October 14, 2009

IBM is set to install and manage a utility services billing system in the City of Austin, Texas, that Austin Energy CIO Andres Carvallo told us yesterday is “critical to get going on smart grid 2.0.” He's referring to the comprehensive approach to a “next-gen” smart grid he outlined when we interviewed him recently in his office just across Lady Bird Lake from downtown Austin. The municipal utility deployed about 410,000 smart meters from Elster, GE and AMI partner Landis & Gyr, covering its service footprint of a million consumers plus 43,000 businesses.

“Smart grid 1.0,” as he referred to Austin's initial smart grid plan, took the utility five years to deploy and cost over $100 million. The muni deployed its first 125,000 smart meters in 2003.

The city will spend over $58 million on the billing project, Jeff Smith, vice president of communications sector solutions at IBM, told us yesterday, declining to say how much IBM's eight-year billing system contract is worth.

The billing system contract may not come as a surprise considering IBM has been working on Austin's smart grid with Austin Energy, the City of Austin, its chamber, the University of Texas, Applied Materials, Cisco, Dell, Freescale Semiconductor, GE, GridPoint, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, the consortium SeMaTech and the Environmental Defense Fund. That said, the deal is “important as a link in the chain for all the things Austin Energy's going to need to become a smart utility,” said Smith.

The billing system is the “last piece to enable smart grid 2.0,” since it will allow for real-time pricing and metering for solar systems or “any generation on the edge,” Carvallo noted. “The billing system we currently have doesn't handle these things.”

The system should be in place by April 2011, he added, noting that the choice of a vendor took about 18 months. The new system will involve the Oracle Customer Care & Billing software, IBM Websphere and Tivoli middleware software and will support the city's electric, water and waste-collection operations.

The contract is “important for IBM generally and specifically,” said Smith: “Generally speaking, we have a big play around smarter utilities…. This is a proof point in [our] journey to help utilities do something that makes people's lives better.”

Specifically, Austin Energy is something of “a showcase of us as an example of a company that has a great vision of how to transform itself into something that's smarter.”

The toughest part of getting the billing system in place will be making sure that the ideas IBM and the City of Austin hold about “how the system will behave when it's done” match up well enough, said Smith.

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