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How to Spec and Purchase
An Energy Management Information System (EMIS)

Our experience has shown that organizations follow one of three purchase processes:
1.) Contact vendors directly for product demonstrations and quotes
2.) Issue a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) to obtain bids from interested vendors
3.) Purchase via a federal GSA contract; typically limited to government or publicly funded organizations.
This guide will help you through the purchasing process that is most appropriate for your organization.

15 Questions to Ask EMIS Vendors BEFORE You Buy

Over our 40-year history, we have seen or heard about scenarios where an EMIS vendor promises, during the sales process, to deliver comprehensive functionality, only to fail to meet the customer’s requirements during the implementation stage. The solution (and the price) might have looked appealing at first glance, with lots of attractive charts and graphs, but if the client stakeholders would have taken a closer look, they might have discovered that Sales was “putting lipstick on a pig.”

If you are in the market for utility bill and energy management software, you owe it to yourself and your organization to ask potential vendors the hard questions. For each of the questions we recommend you ask, we’ve also provided an explanation and an EnergyCAP benchmark to consider as a standard for your EMIS procurement.

FG PDF: Spec and Purchase

 

1. How does your software handle deregulated pricing scenarios for commodities such as electricity and natural gas?

Utility bills have become more detailed and complex in the deregulated energy environment, where one vendor may provide a commodity and another vendor may deliver it. When your EMIS software captures all that utility data, can you be sure that you are tracking what you want to track, and not double-counting the data?

In EnergyCAP, you can set up separate account/meter relationships for each vendor (supply and distribution) and keep track of energy use with “information-only” line items that prevent double counting for reports. User-configurable bill entry templates make it easy to capture any desired bill line items. The result is cleaner and more comprehensive energy accounting.

2. Does your software offer an accounting interface to eliminate redundant data entry and streamline utility bill workflow?

Make sure that your chosen EMIS has the ability to address all interface issues. Don’t be satisfied with a system that requires you to enter the same billing information again and again in multiple systems. It’s a recipe for error and inefficiency. Your EMIS solution should deliver more.

EnergyCAP has implemented data reformatters for dozens of major clients with systems such as PeopleSoft, Banner, FAMIS, SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards, and Advantage Financials, as well as proprietary accounting systems. We have decades of experience customizing accounting workflows and helping office systems work together for greater efficiency.

3. Can your EMIS perform percentage bill splits and chargeback allocations based on imported meter readings?

Many campus-type and multi-tenant organizations manage utility expenses through internal billing. The processes involved in calculating and allocating departmental or tenant energy costs can be complex. Make sure your EMIS can perform any necessary internal invoicing tasks using calculations based on data from your submeter network.

Watch our video on how the University of Kansas solved their chargeback challenges with EnergyCAP.

Watch the University of Kansas Video

 

4. What are your options for bill entry/import?

How are you planning to get energy data into your EMIS? How many years of historical data do you intend to migrate for benchmarking purposes? Your software solution should be robust enough to handle a variety of migration options including manual data entry, flat file import, EDI, OCR, and bill image archiving. Remember, the goal is to spend less time getting data into the system and more time getting results out.

At EnergyCAP, we’ve got a comprehensive software and service solution that can reduce the drudgery and let you focus on more valuable energy management tasks.

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5. How does your software audit for potential utility bill errors?

Verification of data is critical for energy management analysis. We all understand the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” Make sure your EMIS provider has a robust set of software tools for ensuring the accuracy of incoming data.

EnergyCAP audits automatically and immediately check each bill upon entry or import to verify accuracy and flag potential problems. Audit exceptions are highlighted on the bill to help your team identify and resolve issues quickly. During manual bill entry, potential bill problems are highlighted as you type within the bill entry screen to help you catch errors before bills are saved in your database. You can also manually flag bills that warrant additional analysis or verification. Insert notes or questions to be answered and assign the bills to any authorized EnergyCAP user for resolution. Actions taken are recorded and savings realized can be documented in the Cost Recovery field.

6. Who resolves utility bill-related issues?

It’s safe to assume that you will encounter some billing or utility account issues along the way. What happens after they’re identified? You and your staff may not have time to research and resolve the issues. If that’s the case, make sure your vendor offers a service to do it for you.

At EnergyCAP, we’ve got you covered. If a bill is flagged by EnergyCAP due to a suspected issue, your assigned Bill CAPture representative will review the issue and take appropriate action—setting up new accounts and meters in EnergyCAP, resolving missing, duplicate, or corrected bill issues, and more—to keep the bill processing workflow moving. When needed, we will contact your vendors to request missing invoices, confirm account changes, update contact information, question unexpected charges, and request appropriate refunds or re-bills.

7.How frequently do you update your software, and what services do you offer to assure long-term customer success?

A key metric for software solutions is the pace of development. Too many EMIS vendors are willing to sell a legacy product with the full knowledge that their solution is not keeping pace with technological advances and energy industry changes. Make sure you understand your software vendor’s release schedule and development commitment for your specific solution. Verifying the vendor’s long-term viability is also important for your peace-of-mind. Start-up firms may claim to have, and even “demonstrate,” a lot of bells and whistles, but they often lack the experience required to provide a holistic solution or understand the energy management intricacies that are unique to your industry.

The EnergyCAP application is updated frequently, typically one to two times per month. Updates are applied automatically and seamlessly for customers whose database resides in our hosting environment. Releases are commonly announced in advance via a Customer Service Message (CSM) that is emailed to designated customer contacts. The functionality of EnergyCAP’s software and our complementary service offerings provide a turnkey solution and reflect four decades of experience, a successful track record that is uncommon in the EMIS market.

8. Do you outsource your technical support? If so, where?

We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of speaking to a support representative who either couldn’t understand our questions or couldn’t answer them. Too many EMIS vendors are willing to outsource Customer Service without outsourcing the expertise required to meet customer needs. Maybe it’s cheaper, but will it work for you or against you? Make sure that your solution provider has the bandwidth for timely technical support and customer success.

At EnergyCAP, our experienced Customer Success staff is 100 percent in-house, with direct access to our software implementation and development teams.

9. Does your software offer the ability to create estimated bills (accruals) based on historical bills when it’s necessary to “fill” an accounting period with data?

There are 15 business days left in the quarter, and your Accounting Department is demanding a quarterly utility expense report. What do
you do?

Your energy management software should be able to help you fill in those awkward gaps at the end of the accounting period so that you can tell an accurate story regarding your energy use and cost. If accruals are
important to you, make certain that your EMIS can deliver.

EnergyCAP offers two options: (a) an accruals report that provides estimated energy cost numbers based on historical values, and (b) an Accruals module that generates accurate estimated bill transactions—including use, demand, and cost—for a user-designated time period. So, don’t fret when Accounting comes calling. EnergyCAP makes it easy to give them what they want, when the want it.

10. Can your software accommodate a customizable workflow process that allows for supervisory approval of bills prior to payment?

Utility bill management can be a challenging and cumbersome process, especially for large organizations with hundreds or even thousands of monthly bills from numerous vendors. When processes break down, late fees, even shut-off notices, may result. Your EMIS needs to provide options for streamlining and enhancing your bill payment workflow.

EnergyCAP provides user-configurable workflow tools to accommodate your organization’s review and approval process, from initial data entry through payment and beyond.

11. Can you provide a list of three references from organizations using your software for five years or more?

There’s a lot of venture capital floating around the energy management industry, but all that glitters is not gold. Startups have their place, but can they really provide the expertise and experience that you need to take your energy management program to the next level? Ensure that your EMIS provider has a history of success in the industry. Follow up with references, and make sure to ask the questions that reflect your organizational priorities.

EnergyCAP is always pleased to provide references and can often provide contacts in your locality/region that match your organization type.

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12. Does your software include
IPMVP-compliant measurement &
verification (i.e., Cost Avoidance)
functionality?

You invest heavily in retrofit projects, employee education, and other efforts to conserve energy, but how do you know that your efforts are yielding desired results? Make sure that your EMIS vendor is conversant in the methods and processes for performing accurate and verifiable M&V calculations. Is your prospective EMIS solution compatible with commonly accepted assessment practices?

EnergyCAP helped write the book on Cost Avoidance, and provided the very first computer-based cost avoidance tools in the 1980s. We use the Option C: Whole-Building Verification, a primary M&V technique for thousands of organizations.

13. Do you offer the ability to view, analyze, and report on my energy use and cost data in Actual, Calendarized, and Weather-normalized formats?

If your billing period is 33 days long in one year, and 30 days long in the next, it can be very difficult to make meaningful comparison from year to year using actual billing data. A robust EMIS is one that will give you reporting options to normalize for key variables such as billing period length, facility square footage changes, and weather. Determine the specific nature of your reporting needs, and make sure that your EMIS vendor can deliver before you sign on the dotted line.

EnergyCAP helps you keep a log of facility changes, and automatically considers that history when making important calculations such as use/area or cost/sq ft. EnergyCAP’s weather normalization process involves a meter-by-meter linear regression analysis that quantifies the degree of weather sensitivity. This makes it possible to perform year-to-year energy use and cost calculations without weather bias. When this is combined with click-of-the-mouse simple calendarization, the result is incredibly accurate monthly reporting that adds real value to your energy analysis.

14. Does your solution offer the ability to import and analyze interval (time-series) data?

Analyzing a facility’s energy use pattern will enable you to answer a variety of questions: Is my building turning on at the expected time each day? Are lights and other building systems setting back when they should be evening and on weekends? Are there any demand spikes that could be resulting in increased costs via ratchet rates or other tariff-related penalties? It’s important that the EMIS you select offers a convenient method for importing and analyzing interval data. Being able to sum interval data readings to generate a monthly bill is also useful for internal cost allocations and verifying utility vendor invoices.

EnergyCAP has a flexible import wizard that enables you to import delimited files from any metering system, or we can manage the import process for you via our Smart CAPture  service.

15. Will my data be hosted in a secure environment? And will we retain ownership of our data?

Okay, that’s really two questions, but both related to the security of your organization’s data. It’s important to verify in advance that any potentially sensitive data—utility account numbers, employee names and email addresses, accounting information—is stored in a secure environment. And remember: It’s your data. You should always retain ownership of the data and be able to export it from the EMIS at any time.

Multiple hosting service options are available to EnergyCAP licensees, as data security and accessibility
requirements vary from organization to organization.

 

If you are going to be contacting EMIS vendors for a direct purchase, these 15 questions should help get you the answers you need to navigate your purchase successfully and procure a product that will provide your organization with years of reliable and valuable energy management insights.

Creating an Energy Management Software RFP

Many organizations require that major purchases be made via a formal Request-for-Proposal (RFP) process. While the RFP process can be daunting and time-consuming, it can also be a valuable team-building exercise that sets your organization up for energy management success. Following are tips for creating an RFP for a utility bill accounting & energy management solution.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Most procurements, especially for software-based solutions, involve some sort of requirements analysis. Basically, this involves a few steps:

  • Assessing the need. What are the issues or problems that you’re hoping to solve with the software?
  • Describing functionality and capability. What are the software features or functions that will help you solve your problem(s)?
  • Defining integration. How will the software be integrated into existing business processes?

A requirements analysis is important because it helps identify opportunities for productive change. This sort of thinking can lead to some very creative synergies. Preparation of the analysis will naturally draw out stakeholders, who will contribute to those synergies in ways that will add momentum to the procurement project.

In the end, your analysis will provide a technical framework that will become your RFP. It will probably take the form of a requirements list and/or a set of use cases, and will include details on who will use the software, how it will be used, what goals are to be accomplished, how software performance will be evaluated, and how and where the different software functions will be integrated into existing workflows.

BE SPECIFIC

A quality RFP should include a detailed specifications list. Developing such a list can be one of the most time-consuming tasks associated with software procurement. Thankfully, prospective vendors are often willing to assist with this process and may be able to supply a list of specifications that only their product will satisfy. Working through such a list is often a valuable exercise, since the process will better acquaint you with the capabilities and limitations of each product.

As you review each specification, make certain to fill in all the necessary details. If you are looking to interface with your accounting system, note it. If you want an unlimited number of users for the software, include it, and so forth.

BE INCLUSIVE

You may have heard the maxim, “When in doubt, leave it out.” This is NOT good advice to consider when preparing an RFP.

What are the specifications that are most important to you? If you are part of an RFP committee, gather the group and have each member create his/her wish list for product performance. At least in the early stages, ask your team to dream big. Encourage feedback like, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could…” Then have them fill in the blank with their answers. This is not the time for timidity! Remember, you won’t receive something if you don’t make the request.

BE REASONABLE

At some point in the process of preparing your RFP, reality will have to set in. In the software world, functionality comes at a price. As wonderful as your idealized software would be, it probably will never exist in the real world, at least not exactly as you might wish. This can lead to disappointment, but it doesn’t have to.

Plan for at least one specification review meeting near the end of the RFP development process. Then go down the list and make certain that each specification is detailed, unambiguous, and acceptable, at least to the majority. Use this opportunity to separate “nice-to-haves” from “requirements” and scale back unreasonable expectations.

This can be very helpful in avoiding misunderstanding and disappointment. By drawing a distinction between “must haves” and “options,” you and your chosen vendor can avoid “scope creep” down the road that might lead to delays and cost overruns. The “options” category may prove to be valuable in negotiations during the vendor selection process.

One final word of advice—don’t shortchange the RFP preparation process. Preparing an RFP is an important part of the energy management software procurement process. The very act of preparing a quality Request for Proposal encourages collaboration and consensus—the kind of teamwork that will be vital for you to reap the full benefits of utility bill accounting and energy management software.

If your organization requires a formal purchasing process via RFI, RFP, or RFQ, our template can help you create your own document quickly.

GSA Advantages for EMIS Procurement

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) provides centralized procurement for the federal government, offering billions of dollars’ worth of products, services, and facilities that federal agencies need to serve the public. The mission of GSA is to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people. Below we look at GSA options and advantages for utility bill/energy management software procurement for a range of public institutions, including federal, state, municipal, and higher education.

GSA HISTORY

According to the GSA website, GSA was established by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government.

GSA’s original mission was to dispose of war surplus goods, manage and store government records, handle emergency preparedness, and stockpile strategic supplies for wartime. GSA also regulated the sale of various office supplies to federal agencies and managed some unusual operations, such as hemp plantations in South America.

Today, through its two largest offices–the Public Buildings Service and the Federal Acquisition Service–and various staff offices, GSA provides workspace to more than one million federal civilian workers, oversees the preservation of more than 480 historic buildings, and facilitates the federal government’s purchase of high-quality, low-cost goods and services from quality commercial vendors.

GSA ELIGIBILITY

GSA was designed for federal government procurement, so any federal department or agency can use GSA to access GSA-vetted products and services from across the country. However, a variety of state and local government entities are also eligible to via GSA contracts, including: states, counties, municipalities, cities, towns, townships, tribal governments, public authorities, school districts, colleges, and other institutions of higher education, councils of government, regional or interstate government entities, or any agency or instrumentality of the preceding entities, and including legislative and judicial departments. The term does not include contractors of, or grantees of, state or local governments.

THE GSA ADVANTAGES

There are two primary advantages to purchasing an EMIS via the GSA process. First, you’re guaranteed to get the lowest price. In order to secure a GSA contract, the EMIS vendor must guarantee that the GSA price is the lowest price at which it will sell its EMIS to anyone, regardless of organization type. Secondly, since GSA has vetted the product and confirmed the lowest price as part of the contracting process, GSA-eligible entities are usually permitted to forgo the labor-intensive and time-consuming RFP process. This is a huge advantage, often saving the purchasing organization thousands of dollars in labor and other costs and expediting the purchase by months.

GSA Advantage is the government’s central online shopping superstore. The store provides online access to millions of products and services from thousands of federal contractors. EnergyCAP’s GSA-contracted products and services catalog can be viewed on GSA Advantage by searching for our GSA Contract Number: GS-35F-231CA.

Because the EnergyCAP solution is tailored to meet each organization’s specific needs—number of meters to be tracked, custom system integrations, varying data hosting requirements—it’s too complex, and potentially limiting, for an online shopping experience. State, regional, or municipal government organizations and other public entities interested in acquiring the EnergyCAP utility bill and energy management solution will obtain a price quote directly from EnergyCAP.

‘ADDS’ AND ENDS

As with any government service, there is a tax. Regardless of the GSA purchase procedure, clients must pay an Industrial Funding Fee (.75% of total GSA purchase price). This amount is paid directly to the vendor (EnergyCAP in this case) and passed on to the GSA. Fortunately, the discounted GSA purchase price, as well as the streamlined procurement, will be a greater benefit to the purchaser than the cost of the IFF.

EnergyCAP’s GSA Contract Number is GS-35F-231CA. This number can be helpful in completing procurement documentation, locating EnergyCAP products and services at GSA Advantage, and researching pricing and purchase options.