Hexagram, Inc.’s Fixed-Network powers Boston meter reading program

Supplier: Gutermann By: Thomas M. Menino, Boston Mayor
20 July, 2011

As mayor of Boston, I have long advocated using technology to make our city a better place to live, work, and visit.

My office recently endorsed development of a wireless network providing Internet access to citizens and visitors alike. What’s more, we have encouraged and supported the efforts of service suppliers to judiciously use technology to improve services.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s (BWSC) SmartRead advanced meter reading program is an example of how technology can enhance citizen life. The BWSC, which was created in 1977 to deliver water to Boston’s citizens and businesses, established SmartRead to make meter reading more efficient and to supply accurate, up-to-date information about water usage.

There were a number of reasons why the BWSC, which is run by an executive director and a three-member board appointed by me, undertook the SmartRead project. First and foremost, the BWSC wanted to improve the accuracy of meter reads in the city. At the time, a significant number of meters were under-reporting water usage, and about 54 percent of meter reads were estimated. In addition, the BWSC wanted to improve efficiency and reduce the number of reads that required scheduling with a customer. These calls comprised 75 percent of all meter-related work orders and required up to 45 days to complete.

More importantly, we are providing superior service to our citizens. Water bills are available electronically. Meter readings are updated daily and can be viewed online, so customers can track their water usage. Leaks in the system are caught earlier because discrepancies in water usage are readily identified. For example, data from SmartRead helped the public school system identify leaks at a number of buildings that were costing it over $3,000 a month.

What’s more, the information about meter locations collected when the SmartRead system was implemented, proved invaluable in identifying customers at risk from their lead water services. As a result, the city can offer citizens an innovative and cost-effective program for replacing their lead services. The SmartRead program has carried forward my charter to employ technology in a way that provides a win for both the city and its citizens. The fixed-network system provided by Hexagram proved effective in efficiently and reliably collecting water-meter data from Boston’s large urban area. In addition, it provides the technological infrastructure for realizing environmental improve ments through conservation efforts and protection of natural resources.

A Wireless Solution

The SmartRead program employs wireless fixed-network technology from Hexagram, Inc., Cleveland. The Hexagram system allows the BWSC to automatically collect meter readings four times a day instead of once a month. The readings, from transmitters located on each water meter, are sent to the BWSC through a series of data collectors located primarily on school buildings throughout the city. The schools chosen were located on hills, which allowed the use of fewer data collectors over a wide area.

The BWSC mounted an extensive communication program through ads, flyers, bill stuffers, a toll-free hotline, and meetings to alleviate any fears of citizens about how the SmartRead program would impact them. The BWSC also had to consider the effect of the project on historic areas such as Beacon Hill, where visible utility infrstructure is prohibited. The bottom line is that the BWSC received very few complaints, even though the project affected virtually every building in Boston.

Results and Impact

SmartRead has met and exceeded all expectations. The program now collects data four times a day from approximately 90,000 meters. Meter work orders have dropped by over 70 percent, customer service calls have decreased by 60 percent, and response time to customer requests is now a day or less. In addition, the city can protect its water revenues, recovering an estimated $10 million per year due to previously erroneous meter readings.

For more information about the SmartRead program contact Vincent