We work with local government clients of all shapes and size, from regional councils with only a few assets through to large metro councils with portfolios of over 500+ assets. But no matter what the size, our experience has show us that all Sustainability and Asset Managers face the same fundamental challenges when it comes to the acquisition, validation and reporting of utility data. More often than not, many of these challenges can be overcome through the implementation of a few logical internal processes that can reduce management time and cost as well as identify billing errors in Council's favour.
Below are our top tips for councils to streamline their utility data management processes.
1. Choose the right energy retailer
Like many things in local government, it all starts with procurement. We recognise that Sustainability and Asset Managers often have very little sway over the procurement process of utility retailers. However, our experience has shown that there can be significant disparity between retailers in terms of the format, quality and lead-time of the electronic data they provide. Retailers have different systems for account management and bill generation. These systems are big and rarely change so if you select a retailer who cannot provide timely, quality data you are very likely to be stuck for the duration of your contract. The most useful way to interject in the procurement process is to quantify the cost to council of not having good data relative to the cost differences between different retailers tariff offerings.
We’ve developed a simple ranking of the different energy retailers, based on a range of criteria including accuracy of data, timeliness in provision of data and access. Get in touch if you’d like us to send you a copy.
2. Negotiate electronic access to your data during the tendering process.
If you are unable to influence who the contract gets awarded to, you may be able to work with the Procurement Team to negotiate the terms of the contract. Most importantly you need to ensure that a clause is included in the contract regarding the provision of regular electronic access to all data. Also, it’s important that you understand the format and frequency of the data provision.
3. Establish and maintain a master asset/meter/account list.
It goes without saying that you can’t validate any data unless you know which meters are aligned to which assets, and which retailer they are connected to. Therefore it’s vital that you keep and regularly update a master asset list that acts as your go-to reference point. This is the first thing we check when on-boarding a new client into CCAP. We provide new clients with a standard master asset list template which sets out the important details. Get in touch if you’d like us to send you a copy.
4. Implement/purchase a utility data management system and check it regularly.
Without sounding like a blatant plug for our product, it’s clear that implementing a formal data management system or software tool will have substantial savings for the council in both time and money. However it is important to understand this succinct concept from Wired co-founder Kevin-Kelly, "a tool is just an opportunity with a handle". We know that unless you grip that handle regularly the benefits of a data management system will not be realised. You know and understand your assets best so it’s important to make sure your system is up to date and accurate.
5. Keep an eye on both consumption and cost
Retailers do make billing mistakes or provide estimates for excessive periods. In most cases these anomalies are overlooked by Asset Managers, who will briefly skim the paper bills and send through to finance to be paid. If you aren’t looking at both consumption and cost in context there is no way of being able to determine if you are being charged appropriately.
To combat this, CCAP asset has in-built Tariff Validation Report that will highlight billing anomalies and rank them in priority of variance. This is the first and easiest way to identify savings, in some cases covering the cost of the license within the first 8 months.
6. Find the signals in the noise
Even in cases where a data management system has been implemented, the sheer volume of data means that it can be hard to know if it is accurate or how it can help identify strategic project opportunities. If you are questioning the accuracy of the data here are a few simple techniques you can implement:
i) Use an example account and compare the raw data with that in your bill and on your software. This will help build your confidence in the data moving forward.
ii) Pick a winner and a loser: Use your best or worse performing assets as case studies. Remember them and keep checking them regularly to spot the most obvious opportunities.
iii) Compare and contrast similar assets: Councils are lucky enough to have portfolio's of similar assets, which means you can benchmark similar assets to find anomalies that would not be obvious when considering an individual asset.
7. Provide information not data
Our experience working with asset managers has shown us that most of them don’t have time to pore over data. If you want to get anything done on a particular asset, rather than sending them a spread sheet with questions, try engaging them with a potential solution to critique.
8. Focus on areas where you can affect change
I know from experience that the position of a Sustainability Manager in local government can be one of the most frustrating in existence. The reality is that if you are able to achieve just a handful of initiatives in a year you’re doing well. However, in order to affect change you need to have a clear idea of operational control. You will only realise a financial return on initiatives implemented on assets that Council owns and operates plus you will have better control over the implementation process. One of the best ways to get things done it to integrate efficiency initiatives with the Asset Management Schedule so that essential building works are the driver and sustainability can draft in the slipstream.
9. Report regularly – Keep it on the agenda
While it may appear that senior management isn’t meaningfully interested in utility consumption (or greenhouse emissions), if it’s on the agenda regularly and they are updated on wins and losses you will improve engagement. We recommend our clients first find the subject that best motivates their audience (choose dollars, consumption or emissions) then use the reporting functionality built into CCAP Asset to generate and distribute quarterly reports with a single click.
10. Understand and use estimates
We are yet to come across an organisation that has 100% data accuracy. The reality is that there will always be gaps in your data and hence there will always be a requirement for estimates. Estimate are an accepted methodology for NGER reporting standards, so as long as they are not the majority within your reports we recommend that you understand them and embrace them.
So there you are. Follow these top 10 tips and start reaping the benefits of improved utility data management.
If you have any further questions about how to streamline you internal data management process or if you have any enquires regarding CCAP Asset please get in touch.
Lachlan Kranz, Associate Director, Kinesis