MultiSpeak was originally developed by a small group of vendors whose customers were US electric cooperatives, and it is an initiative of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Often, electric cooperatives do not have the IT staff or resources to integrate and build system or customer interfaces. While its origins were focused at smaller utilities and their applications, extensions have been made, such as incorporation of a web services interface and a bus architecture, that make it attractive to municipal and investor-owned utilities.

MultiSpeak was originally introduced in 2003 (version 2.0). Version 4.0 was released in 2010, and 5.0 is under development and review by the MultiSpeak technical committee. The most widely adopted version is 3.0, but vendors are actively upgrading to 4.0 and considering 5.0. MultiSpeak has been designed such that endpoints that use different versions can coexist, but are not backwards compatible. This means that even when a message is used in a subsequent version it need not carry forward the semantics and syntax of a previous version. New methods may be introduced and methods may be removed.

MultiSpeak is known to be in use in daily operations in more than 725 sites and at least 19 different countries. The market penetration of MultiSpeak is expected to continue growing, and NRECA remains committed to supporting the standard.

Interoperability Tests and Certification Tools and Programs

The MultiSpeak Initiative has performed a type of certification testing for vendors since 2005 (for Versions 3.0 and 4.0) called “Interoperability” testing. Testing is typically performed on products of two vendors and is based on an assertions document, which describes the functionality to be tested and the utility business processes that are supported. A listing of vendor products that have passed interoperability testing along with their assertions documents are available on the MultiSpeak website. Twenty-five percent of the products tested implement Version 4.0. Additional information about the program may be obtained from Doug.Lambert @ nreca.coop.

All other testing is vendor specific and takes place during integration. There are no conformance testing or standardized conformance tests to ensure adherence to the functions defined by the standard.

It is recognized by several vendors and member organizations that the current approach to testing is expensive and falls short of assuring that products are interoperable beyond the pair-wise demonstration for limited functions. Because there is no central or reference implementation, individual implementation nuances must be managed. Currently, only two methods are “required” for certification: those used for ascertaining functionality supported by a server interface. For those companies and sites that integrate solutions from different vendors, the maintenance and support of customized integration is expensive and error prone.

In discussions, key vendors and the MultiSpeak Technical Committee expressed an interest in improving the interoperability of MultiSpeak through the adoption of a reference Test Harness implementation that can be used for conformance or developer testing. Starting with MultiSpeak 4.0, the Alliance has been developing use case scenarios with the intent that they can be used for creating test profiles.

Milsoft provides software transmission and distributions solutions for engineering, management, and customer service. As such, they must integrate their software with other vendors, such as Aclara, Geodigital, etc. They have a set of in-house tools to support integration and, until recently, sold a MultiSpeak Interoperability test harness to other vendors and the certification vendor, UISOL.

The current certification program for MultiSpeak is carried out by UISOL but is a simple verification of the assertions between two vendor products. NRECA underwrites the certification program to keep costs to vendors low.

Interoperability and Testing Certification Process Falls Short

In summary, while we respect the excellent work done by the MultiSpeak Initiative in developing the MultiSpeak Specifications, the current interoperability and testing certification process falls short of meeting the needs of the MultiSpeak community. The number of vendors that have passed interoperability testing is far less than the actual number of vendors that are using MultiSpeak. Vendors and customers have expressed a desire for a better solution.

QualityLogic hopes to be able to contribute to enhancing the test tools and programs for MultiSpeak in order to increase the value of the technology, accelerate adoption, and improve the speed and reduce costs associated with integration using MultiSpeak.