From supermarkets to big factories, companies are actively looking for ways to save energy in order to be more profitable and have more control over their costs. A great way to achieve this is by tracking, analyzing and controlling energy through energy management software.
Don’t forget that, according to most studies, energy is one third of the cost for a company. Therefore, many companies, and, of course, the individuals working within these companies, have already understood the importance of having an energy efficiency plan.
However, before choosing or changing your energy management software provider think about what you need, what’s your budget and what are your goals.
How-to: Ideas to Research about EMS Tools
When you have that defined, it’s time to research. Here are three basic steps to perform a good quality research about energy management solutions:
- Search on Google. First, try to focus on reading articles and reviews from other energy managers or professionals instead of going to software vendor pages or to the ads results. You can search on the “news” tab to get that kind of content.
- Go to software review sites like Capterra, search the different solutions you’re considering and check the opinions.
- Use DEMO accounts! If you find providers offering a free demo account of their software, that’s a good sign that you have a robust product in front of you. Take some time to browse the tools.
The research does not have to stop once you have found an energy software provider, though. You have to be sure that their solution and business model are compatible with yours, and with the idea and messages that you want to offer to your clients or prospects.
So, at this point, it’s time to ask the right questions to the providers.
10 Questions to Ask your Energy Management System Provider
This part of your buying process is especially important if you have never had any energy management tool.
At this point you will probably not know which questions you should be asking your energy management software provider. And it’s not easy to ask the right questions in this situation.
But asking the right questions matter. Why? Simply: when you ask the key questions to this kind of provider you will get real and actionable information to make a smart decision.
Today, based in our experience after a gazillion meetings with our clients, partners and prospects, we’re going to share the cornerstone questions with all of DEXMA’s blog readers.
- What are my branding options?
You might be wondering why you need branding for your energy management platform. Well, it’s a way of offering a more customized service to your customer and a way to increase your company’s awareness in the marketing.
Differentiation is worrying for many business owners in energy services companies or utilities, so this way you can use tools according to your brand and give your clients a better experience.
If you’re not an ESCO company and you’re planning to use the tool just internally, having a branded platform will help you to increase the user experience of your target user.
A branded tool will look similar to existing tools in your company; therefore, the user will more quickly identify the features and how to use the tool.
Ask your energy software provider about your branding options.
- Can I create my own reports?
Many energy management providers offer reports as a part of their solutions. But, how flexible and customizable are these reports? That’s what you need to discover, understand and evaluate.
Imagine that you’re an energy manager working in an ESCO company for four different projects. And, in each one of these projects, the person managing the energy efficiency plan needs to report to three different profiles: CEO, finance director and sustainability manager.
This will put you in a situation where your energy software platform will need to support 3×4 = 12 different reports, if each profile needs a different one. Add 4 more for that profile leading the energy efficiency efforts.
And, of course, each organization is different. Will your new tool (or the one you’re changing into) support the creation of so many different – and customized – reports?
And, if it does, can you automate the report creation and sending? This will decrease the amount of time that you need to work with reports.
Ask your energy management software provider which reporting options they offer
- How secure is my data?
This is a BIG one.
Energy analysis platforms run on-premise or on the cloud. In both models, you need to be sure of the security of your data.
And this is important indeed if you provide energy services to others. Why? Because it’s not your data. It’s your client’s data.
Your provider must give you a secure solution for your company’s data and the on-premise solution must have a robust way of working, and protecting, local databases.
If you are considering any energy management software on the cloud, please be sure to ask this question before making your final decision.
Cloud solutions are evolving really fast and it’s time to forget old fears about cloud-based technological solutions. But, of course, we need to advise you to work only with a trustable provider, someone who has a realistic plan for security breaches or server issues.
Therefore, be clear, open and direct. Ask your provider about their data infrastructure and how they secure it. Also ask them about what could happen in the event of problems with servers: will you lose any data? Will the service be interrupted?
Don’t forget this one:
Ask your energy software provider about the security of your data
- How fast is your tool?
When you work with energy consumption data or you try to generate cost analysis you will probably be in the situation of analyzing historical data from even over a year…
And some meters gather data every 15 minutes.
Imagine performing a regression analysis for a huge project with 2 million data points. How much is that going to take?
If load time is long in your energy management tool, you will be losing much more time than needed on each client, building or account.
And remember: time is money.
Ask your energy management software provider how fast their software is.
- Can I use your tool to verify savings?
Keep this in mind: no matter how big or small your energy efficiency project is, at some point you will face a crossroads.
You will reach your energy savings limit with the budget or investment that you planned in your energy efficiency plan.
There is a very good image that we love to share in order to understand this situation; we call it the “energy efficiency pyramid”.
In this image, you can see 3 horizontal stages. They involve more or less degrees of investment in the energy efficiency plan.
And, of course, each one of them gives you different results in terms of how far you can go with your savings.
The pyramid helps you to situate where, strategically, you would like to be with the first draft of your energy efficiency plan.
When you reach your limits, you will need to figure out what’s next. And you will need to demonstrate what you have accomplished so far.
In order to decide if you need to invest more time and money in the same stage of the pyramid, you will need to, somehow evaluate what you have being doing
That’s exactly what the measurement and verification tools in an energy management software do. Therefore, it’s very important to ask your energy software provider what kind of tools they offer.
Essential tools in this area include:
- Overall project looking at a glance. This gives you the advantage of seeing, in a single screen, the different lines of work in the project and where the team is for each line.
- Percentage of savings achieved versus goal
- Set up tools for verification.
Finally, keep in mind that measurement and verification tools for energy management are a must have for several projects. For example, it’s one of the most common requirements when applying for public tenders.
So, as you see, measurement and verification, also known as M&V is a key, strategic tool to have in your energy software.
Don’t forget to ask your energy software provider:
Which measurement and verification tools do you offer?
- How many users and levels can I have in the platform?
You will probably find information about this question during pricing with the energy software vendor.
Normally, tech companies have prices based on the number of users that will use the tool and the features that you need to include for your everyday work.
But the key question here is not how much does it cost per user or per project. The key thing that you need to know is, if you set up a new account in the energy software for a new client, can you have different users with different roles?
If you’re working in an ESCO company, you will probably need to handle different accounts with different users.
And your clients will probably request of you that only a couple of users have access to the entire platform with all features and others just to a dashboard or certain tools.
So, before deciding, ask your energy software provider:
Can I have users with different roles? What are my limits for users?
- What’s their hardware approach?
When choosing an energy management platform, the hardware issue is extremely important.
You might face your decision to buy an energy management software (or changing to a new one) with or without any software installed.
In both situations you need to know if the energy software that you’re evaluating works with any hardware on the market or just with a few. Or with only one!
You will find, basically, two kinds of platforms:
- Hardware-neutral platforms. Where almost any hardware in the market is already integrated (or, thanks to the neutral approach of this kind of vendor, it’s really easy to integrate).
- Hardware-closed platforms. Where you will need to pay consultants to integrate any new source of data and it will impact the entire platform.
Of course, ideally, you would like to choose an energy software vendor from the first category. If the hardware that you’re currently working with is not available in the platform this will mean an extra cost.
If you don’t have any hardware installed yet, get the list of possibilities from your potential new provider.
And here, you will need to do some research again, focusing just on hardware. Don’t feel bad if, at the first steps in this process you find it difficult to situate yourself in the hardware world. It’s completely normal.
We will cover hardware in detail in future blog posts in this blog, so you can subscribe now to get the articles in your inbox!
So, in the next meeting ask your energy software provider:
Which hardware is supported by your platform?
- Is the platform open?
Remember the first question? It was about branding, but this is only one level of customization that a software vendor can offer, connected to your way of communicating with clients.
If you want to take your company to the next level, you will need to understand how easily you can customize the tools included in the platform.
We have talked about one of them specifically when we mentioned reports, but there’s much more that you will need to please your clients.
Typically, open platforms and cloud platforms are easier to customize.
If you choose a closed on-premise platform, without possibilities of integration, any new feature will require development, probably, by your energy software provider.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to create your own widgets or apps with this kind of platform. It only means that it will cost you much more.
The main takeaway from this question is that, if you end up working with an open and flexible energy efficiency platform, you will be able to add value and services more easily to your clients.
So, don’t forget to ask your energy software provider:
How open is your platform? Do you offer an API for integration and app development?
- What kind of support will I get?
When you did your research and tried DEMO accounts, how difficult did you feel that the tool was? Is there a smooth set-up process ready for you?
Always ask your provider what kind of support they offer, and which kind you will expect depending on the plan or license that you buy.
In addition, there’s another important thing to ask related to support: can you give them your feedback about their energy management system?
For example, you should be able to propose new features, and understand what kind of feedback you can expect when you give them improvement ideas.
Do they have a channel for that? Do you have to pay for improvements or developments? Try to get a complete picture of their support and the limits of their platform before buying.
This is closely related to the model of platform that they offer. Usually, open platforms are easy to customize, and vendors with APIs are normally more open to the idea of extending their energy management platforms.
Therefore, your ninth question will be:
What kind of support will I get? Can I ask you for new features or improvements? How?
- How much do they invest in R&D?
The invested amount on Research and Development will give you the key of how much innovation and new features can you expect from your new energy software vendor.
If the company that you’re choosing does not invest money, time or development resources on making their product evolve, then you need to understand that the tool that you’re buying is the tool that you will have… at least for a while.
This is not essentially bad. It’s closely related to the question 8 about open versus closed platforms. If the platform is open, then you will get the chance to develop it yourself.
If it’s closed and the vendor does not invest in R&D, then the product will probably be outdated soon. Or you will need to cover the vendor’s R&D budget when you need to do something new.
R&D projects are essential in the energy business because things are evolving fast. Thanks to renewable energies, for example, facility managers have new ways to make their buildings more efficient, clean and compliant with carbon regulations.
Ask your energy software provider:
Do you invest in R&D? How big is your product development team?
Do you have any other questions about how to choose the best energy software solution? Please write us and we will try to cover those questions in a future article.
And, if you want to consider our platform, DEXCell Energy Manager, remember that you can get instant access through our DEMO platform, just sign up here.
Our free DEMO platform showcases our full license, and the professional level of our tools. This includes all of the apps that we released, latest features like gas and thermal costs analysis and much more!