Utilimetrics has reached the end of the road as an organization. From a small group of automatic meter reading (AMR) professionals, meeting in Traverse City, Michigan, U.S., to becoming Utilimetrics with the last Autovation conference in Long Beach, California, U.S., it has been quite a trip over the past 25 years.

When the association first started, meters were read manually using road maps to find the meters, and meter readers recorded reads in their paper “books” each month. From there, machines scanned the documents for data input into the billing systems. Errors in penmanship, transpositions and simple abilities to read led to multiple customer problems.

Today, we have the most advanced meters the industry has ever seen. The ability to obtain accurate interval reads without leaving the office was truly just a dream 25 years ago. Now, there are more than 30 million smart meters installed in the United States, capable of recording voltages, sending outage and restoration messages, remotely connecting and disconnecting, and affecting rate configuration changes without even rolling a truck. These new features were only visions when the association first began. Pioneering vendors such as Aclara, Elster, GE, Itron, L+G, Sensus, Silver Springs and Trilliant have been instrumental in taking the association down this exciting road.

Integrators and other pursuers of change have revolutionized the industry, as well. Innovators such as Accenture, IBM, KEMA and SAIC have led us along the way. Thought provokers such as Ralph Abbot, Ron Chebra and Dick Preston have continued to push the industry forward.

Looking Back on the History of Utilimetrics

It is important to note that technology cannot grow without people. Utilimetrics has been blessed to have many industry leaders as directors of the organization, and they helped to drive the innovation in technology.

When Don Schlenger peeked into the future 25 years ago, he saw AMR. Schlenger was the vice president of business development for a water utility in Hackensack, New Jersey, U.S. He knew that conferences and newsletters could help publicize the infant AMR industry and draw needed attention to its technological developments. He believed that an association was needed to help the emerging industry unfold. So, he started running an industry group himself, using his own office as his ad hoc headquarters. That organization became the Automatic Meter Reading Association (AMRA).

In 1987, Bill Rush came to AMRA. Rush had been active in gas meter reading technology, and when he heard about Schlenger's endeavors, particularly that AMRA was considering standards-making as part of its responsibilities, he was hooked. He joined forces with Schlenger, and the membership quickly grew from 25 utilities to 100 the next year. After this, the grander AMRA was born.

Schlenger often said that AMRA was very “collegial” early on. “Everybody watched out for everybody else,” Schlenger said. Part of the camaraderie stemmed from annual AMRA conferences, which began in AMRA's second year. The conference grew as vendors, utilities and members became friends and allies, joining to give the best service to the customer.

What the next 25 or more years hold for meter reading and utilities is unknown. The meter we have become so familiar with may just disappear in the “cloud” altogether. Maybe, if he had the chance, Thomas Edison would return and recognize a real difference and a new infrastructure. Only innovations, progressive thinking and the future of technology will tell.

Dissolving the Association

AMRA evolved to become Utilimetrics in 2007, and grew to more than 1,000 members. Technology, software and standards continued to advance each and every year through the work of the organization.

This year, Utilimetrics will be dissolving as an organization. Memberships, utility budget constraints, travel availability and even the association's own simple technologies of conference calls, webinars and e-mails have reduced Utilimetrics breadth of activity.

I would like to thank my executive board from 2012 for pushing us through the year. Dave Scott, Clark Pierce, Nan Williams and Mike Godorov have given much of their personal time to helping the organization. Also, I would like to give a special thanks to SmithBucklin and longtime employee Janet Greenberg for their efforts, as well.

Utilimetrics and the annual Autovation conference have been known for their fairness, innovation and camaraderie. Perhaps the time will come where another small group of utility professionals meet and begin a new organization of the future. Thanks again from Utilimetrics. The past 25 years have been grand.

Bob Sitkauskas (bsitkauskas@utilimetrics.org) is CEO of Utilimetrics, a trade association of utilities, consultants, vendors and other professionals that were engaged in or considering utility automation.