SAP wants to help utilities manage all the data they're going to be collecting from the millions of "smart meters" they're installing – and it's part of a growing crowd.

For the past two years, the software giant has been working with utilities including Florida Power & Light, Consumers Energy, CenterPoint Energy and others to build a system to link smart meter data to utility back-office systems.

"You've got all that raw meter data – what do you want to do with it?" is how Maureen Coveney, SAP's senior industry principal for utilities, put it. "You want to bill your customers for it, you want to know what's happening with those assets in the field and take action."

That's where SAP's "AMI Integration for Utilities" software comes in. Last month, Michigan-based Consumers Energy became the first customer to try it out in a pilot project that it hopes will lead to a full-scale smart meter deployment in the future.

Given that SAP has a suite of customer information and enterprise asset management software that utilities have been using for years, it makes sense that they'd be making an effort to integrate smart meter data.

But they're also working with partners that might also be competitors, including smart meter maker Itron, meter data management software maker eMeter and enterprise management software developer OSISoft and IBM, which has a number of smart grid related projects of its own (see IBM Snags Another Smart Grid Deal and IBM, EDF to Research Smart Grid Tech).

It isn't surprising that a growing number of companies are seeking to help utilities manage the task of making smart meter data useful.

Ben Schuman, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, estimated that the AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) integration market could yield $100 to $125 per endpoint, or meter, deployed in a network.

Given the numbers of meters being deployed – including 5 million at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., 4.8 million at Southern California Edison, 4.5 million at Florida Power & Light, 2.4 million at CenterPoint Energy, 1.9 million at Pepco Holdings Inc. - and that's a lot of money to be made (see SCE Preps $1.63B Smart-Meter Program and Smart Meter Installations Grow Nearly Fivefold).

With payoffs like that, "You definitely are seeing [companies] like Itron and Esco [a smart meter maker] going after those dollars," Schuman said. That includes companies now partnering with SAP that are pursuing the same market on their own, like Itron or eMeter (see EMeter: Data-Keeper for the Smart Grid), he said.

That kind of "coop-etition" is likely to continue for some time, given the "lumpiness" of the still-forming market, Schuman said.

"IBM seems to be pretty strong here in the U.S.," he said.

Indeed, IBM has been developing its "Intelligent Utility Network" business for years now, said Brad Gammons, vice president of sales and solutions for IBM's Global Energy and Utility Industry. The company partners with SAP, Oracle and others in those efforts, and also works directly with utilities.

Accenture and Capgemini are also players in the North American market, while Logica and Atos Origin are leaders in Europe, Gammons said.