the paging information resource
home button job search button consulting button newsletters button products button main section button glossary button send e-mail button


Marvin T. Serhan, CEM

Utilities as well as Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers today have an enormous challenge to remain aware of various energy, natural gas, water, wastewater or environmental details for their many geographically dispersed locations. With large numbers of locations under the supervision of one organization, the costs to obtain readings at each location can be quite high. In addition, benefit is gained by reducing the time required to gather data readings from all locations and assemble them into information that can be used by utilities and C&I customers to make decisions that improve operational efficiency and business results. One solution to this challenge is through the use of a Service Bureau that provides an end-to-end solution for monitoring and control.

In today’s environment, many Utilities and their customers are faced with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of locations that require some level of monitoring. This information, once collected, is used for generating reports to help reduce operating costs. Examples of how this data is used include graphing the profile of energy consumption over time, monitoring the performance of remote energy distribution system hardware/circuitry, developing energy load curtailment/demand response programs, or logging and reporting environmental data from remote water reservoirs and dams. Any anomalies that may develop in these widely dispersed and/or distant regions could impact the efficiency and reliability of a corporate-wide monitoring and oversight program.

A Service Bureau Monitoring & Control Solution (M&CS) is an end-to-end management system that collects, transmits, and processes data as well as controls equipment at multiple locations in near real-time. For utilities and commercial/industrial customers requiring insight about their energy, gas, water or wastewater operations, and critical equipment status, the M&CS provides near real-time access to information via the Internet. An effective M&CS Service Bureau solution will include a variety of hardware and communications options to meet dynamic and unique operational business requirements some of which are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Monitoring & Control Applications

Interval data profiling (HHF/MDEF & MV90)XXXX
Automatic meter reading (compatible with MV90)XXX 
Distribution system monitoring & controlXXXX
 • Capacitor bankX   
 • Cathodic protection XXX
 • Irrigation  X 
Environmental data monitoring (temperature, pressure, flow rates, wind, rain, snow, etc.)XXXX
Storage tank/reservoir/well monitoring & control XX 

Data collection is provided through three forms of public communications providers (paging, satellite, or dial-up telephone), each with an appropriate communications fee for gathering the information over these networks. The same procedures can be followed using private radio platforms, allowing customers to instrument points and gather data over their existing private radio networks. Please see Figure 1 for a graphical representation of the communications architecture focused on a Motorola ReFLEX™ communications protocol that can accommodate both mobile and/or fixed point monitoring and control operations.

Figure 1: Monitoring & Control System Architecture (Source S3)

figure 1

Wireless communication technology has expanded the reach of the M&CS Service Bureau approach. Data collection and remote monitoring of customer meters is possible through use of a family of Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) that interface with low earth orbit satellites, terrestrial 2-way paging systems or private RF networks. Please see Figure 2, which illustrates examples of 2-way paging RTUs. Once collected, information from an RTU is sent over one of several data communications networks (satellite or terrestrial) and then via the Internet to the Service Bureau Data Center, where it is unbundled and formatted for compliance with a customer's database. The information can be displayed in a variety of client-defined formats that include graphs, tables, raw data, FTP, Email, or text pager services. If applicable, the information from the database can also be formatted for input into a Utility's existing MV-90 system through FTP transfers in the appropriate file format. If customers own their data collection hardware or MV-90 systems, they can FTP data to the Service Bureau and have information immediately accessed and replayed to their customers anywhere in the world. The Internet has no geographic boundaries. Essentially, Customer flexibility in communications options (wireless or wireline) when combined with the Internet have changed the rules for accessing and distributing data, and the Service Bureau M&CS serves as the vehicle to facilitate that process. For control applications, the information flow begins with the customer via the Internet and continues to the Data Center, then via the communication network, to the RTU, which sends a control message to the site.

figure 2

Figure 2:
Remote Terminal Unit (2-Way Pager Devices)

Source: S3 & Motorola

By allowing both utilities and their customers to access and use the M&CS in near real-time, the M&CS provides specific value to both parties. For utilities and their customers, the M&CS is a remote monitoring and load-profiling solution that can help reduce electricity demand, and enable customers to effectively take control of their operational costs. As such, many commercial customers are reviewing their usage information to determine where they can take steps to improve facility energy efficiency or increase the energy conservation awareness of their workforce. Some of the areas where commercial account energy managers can use a Service Bureau M&CS to focus attention include:

Table 2 below helps to illustrate various other value propositions as related to energy use. These same value statements can apply to any utility or environmental application particularly those covering a wide geographic region.

Table 2: Challenges, Solutions, and Value

ChallengeSolution NeedService Bureau M&CS
Features/Functionality and Value
Fielding a solution quicklyRapid deployment
  • Hosted solution is operational immediately after installation of RTU
Hard to read metersAutomatic meter reading for specific areas of service territories
  • Capability to use M&CS for one to many customers, with RTUs that are easy to rapidly deploy and install
Risking substantial expenditures on unproven systemPhased program with smaller initial deployment
  • Ability to deploy 50 to 100 units quickly, then expand to full operation
Establishing accurate baseline usage for all customersInterval data for all customers or utility distribution infrastructure
  • Load profiling available in near real-time over M&CS website showing interval data readings
Lack of information and insight regarding electricity usage (e.g., interval data)Load profiling features including benchmarking, exception reporting, threshold alarming, aggregation
  • M&CS load profiling, benchmarking, threshold alarms
  • Exception reporting, aggregation
  • Partner application interfaces where necessary
Incompatible legacy systems create unwanted complexity for utilitiesInterface with existing systems and applications (e.g., MV90, private RF networks)
  • Able to interface with MV90 or other legacy systems if required
  • Ability to add private communications option
  • Flexible interfaces to legacy systems
Controlling distribution equipment or privately owned energy hardware in hard-to reach locations Monitoring and/or controlling, in near real-time, with reporting capabilities. Notification when equipment thresholds are crossed, verification of on/off status in remote areas
  • Access to remote equipment via the Internet
  • Alarms when thresholds are crossed
  • Feedback when equipment is turned on or off

A Service Bureau M&CS can be implemented and brought on line quickly primarily because it is a hosted system maintained and upgraded by the vendor, with no special customer software required. Information can be accessible quickly wherever Internet access is available, across county, state or national boundaries. The Service Bureau M&CS offers many significant advantages particularly in a global economy, where customers are constantly seeking a competitive advantage. Table 3 provides an overview of some of the key attributes of a well-designed and fully functional Service Bureau M&CS.

Table 3: Service Bureau and Remote Terminal Unit Features, Functions & Benefits

Data Communication OptionsMultiple communication options available via private networks, public switched telephone lines, 2-way paging, or orbital satellites. No FCC licensing required.
Centralized DataCollection Data collection, storage, analysis, and network management using a single data center.
Hosted Data BaseNo software to purchase. No licensing fees. Vendor hosts and updates the database and web presentation formats.
Data logging & reporting flexibilityLogging intervals as frequent as once per minute. Reporting intervals as frequent as every five minutes.
Critical Function MonitoringMonitoring of customer-defined thresholds. When thresholds are crossed, alarm messages are sent to Email addresses including Email-enabled devices (pagers, PDAs, cell phones).
Over-the-Air-Programming (OTHP)—Remote & Local ConfigurationConfigure event counters and timers, alarm set points, and logging/reporting intervals either in the field or via the web interface.
On-Demand Read CapabilityPerform an "on-demand" read of the PRTU data logger. Customers with the appropriate security authorization can send a command to the RTU to retrieve data from its data logger.
Multi-channel Data Gathering & ReportingMonitor an entire site and/or end-use loads through a single device.
Near real-timeDelivers messages as fast as within 30 seconds.
Customer-defined Reporting IntervalsReporting frequency is scheduled or "on request."
Customer Reporting FormatsCustomer-defined content for tables or graphs. Unique customer reporting formats can be accommodated.
Data Transfer DiversityTransmits user data to customers via Email, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Frame Relay, or secure Internet access.
User Definable SecurityPassword protected for system and data security. Multiple levels of security authorization for customer host and designated sub-account users.
Field CapabilityCompact, weatherproof, and secure enclosure (NEMA 4X).
ReliabilityUses proven data communications services for 2-way message transfer between the remote location and data center.
2-Way Pager RTUMultiple input terminals (analog [10-bit A/D] and digital). Multiple switched relay outputs. Digital input event counters & timers.
Power Source FlexibilityEither solar or AC power options with battery backup.
Alarm & Exception ReportingAlarms and exception reporting based upon customer-designated threshold monitoring set points.
ScalabilityExpandable solution can be used for larger numbers of monitoring sites or to solve other monitoring & control challenges.
Simple Turnkey System DesignInitial planning, program management and operational services provided by vendor.
Customer ServiceService representatives and technical support available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Available Support ServicesResources available to assist with program planning, implementation and management.

The data collected by the data center can be formatted for output to support various customer systems. Customer data outputs include near real-time alarm messages and periodic data reports with all data archived for a designated period (usually 24 months). In addition to alarm messages through Email enabled pagers, messages can be sent to any device that accepts incoming E-mail messages. Typical chart and graphical outputs, accessible through the Internet, are displayed in Figure 3, 4 and 5. A typical alarm historical display is portrayed in Figure 6.

figures 3 to 6

In addition to the graphical, tabular and alarm reports noted above, the Service Bureau's data center offers a powerful data analysis system that is flexible and can produce reports and information tailored to a specific customer's operational needs. Couple the near M&CS real-time information delivery system with threshold alarming and equipment control functionality and a customer now has the means to oversee and manage a corporate-wide monitoring and control system that affords a unique advantage in a highly competitive global economy.

In addition to tabular and graphical representations of data, a 2-D or 3-D representation of the geographic region in which the data is being recorded often adds meaning and an element of situational awareness that often is missed in merely reviewing other graphical representations of the data. As an example, Figure 7 offers a 2-D visual of an Arizona school system instrumented to record not only energy interval data, but also power outage notification. The RTU hardware is tied to the US government's Global Positioning System (GPS). As such, when an outage occurs or an out-of tolerance condition develops, the threshold alarm can be quantified and visualized based upon a geospatial display. From a command and control perspective, this feature provides a rapid means of directing field-service personnel to proceed to a precise location (latitude/longitude with street address) and to correct the problem in a timely manner. Customers are pleased and rapid correction of the problem re-starts meters and revenue for utilities.

Figure 7: 2-Dimentional Representation Enhances Enterprise-wide Visualization (Source S3)

figure 7

Table 4 offers a snapshot of the Units of Measure available through the processing power of a Service Bureau, which collects energy, gas, water, wastewater, or environmental data and presents that information to customers in formats that meet their operational and administrative requirements.

Table 4: Service Bureau Presentation Units of Measurement

Available Units of Measure
Pulse CountMegawatt
British Thermal UnitPower Factor
British Thermal Units per Square FootKilowatts per Square Foot
Kilowatt-HourMegawatts per Square Foot
Megawatt-HourWatts per Square Foot
Watt HourPounds per Square Foot
kWh per Square FootThousand Volt-Ampere Reactive Hour
MWH per Square Foot0/1 Equipment State
Watt-Hour per Square FootDegrees Centigrade
Cubic Feet Per SecondDegrees Fahrenheit
Gallons Per MinuteDay
Thousands of gallons per HourHour
Miner's Inch – BCMinute
Miner's Inch – Co Millisecond
Miner's Inch – MWSecond
Miner's Inch – WAcre Feet
VoltageHundreds of Cubic Feet
FootCubic Feet
PercentThousands of Cubic Feet
KilowattThousands of Gallons

Information is critical to sound decision making and long-range forecasting of system demand and production requirements. The Service Bureau M&CS solution has significant value particularly in support of large commercial, industrial or retail account operations where users must monitor hundreds and/or thousands of sites spread across regional, state, national or even international boundaries.

The Service Bureau M&CS approach provides the technology that can collect, aggregate and report utility performance data on any number of locations and allow utility specialists or corporate operations managers to make business decisions quickly when considerable cost savings or operational improvements are feasible. This approach to operational oversight and management enables corporations to function more efficiently and enhances their bottom line. The Service Bureau Monitoring and Control Solution provides a cost-effective and rapidly deployable option to establish a corporate-wide operational oversight program.

Formerly with Motorola, Inc., Marv Serhan is now the Vice President of Business Development for Satellite Security Systems, Inc, a San Diego company involved in enterprise-wide monitoring, tracking and control of fixed and mobile assets with coverage throughout North America, (US, Canada, Mexico) and select off-short locations. He is a former Naval Aviator and retired Navy Captain who holds three Graduate Degrees in disciplines associated with National Security & Strategic Studies, General Management, and Global Leadership. He has worked in the Utility industry for seven years and is a Certified Energy Manager with expertise in the design, implementation, and management of the Service Bureau Concept to support Utility or Corporate-wide energy monitoring programs.

Satellite Security Systems. Inc.
939 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
Office: 619-574-1452
Fax: 619-574-6521


Reproduced from: "Strategic Planning for Energy and the Environment," Vol. 22, No. 4. 2003, page 51-63, with the publisher's permission.

Home Page | Directory | Consulting | Newsletters
Products | Reference | Glossary | Send e-mail