Over our 40-year history, we have seen or heard about scenarios where an energy and sustainability ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software vendor promises to deliver comprehensive functionality, only to fail to meet the customer’s requirements during the implementation stage. The solution (and the price) may have looked appealing at first glance, but if the client stakeholders would have taken a closer look, they might have recognized that the application was more flash than substance.
If you are in the market for an energy management and sustainability solution, you owe it to yourself and your organization to ask potential vendors some hard questions.
To get you started, here’s a list of questions we recommend you ask:
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 ERP solution has a history of success in the industry. Follow up with references, and make sure to ask the questions that reflect your organizational priorities.
It is becoming increasingly important to measure, track, and minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Providing a standardized and transparent approach to measuring an organization’s carbon footprint, which includes all the direct and indirect emissions associated with its activities, may likely be a key imperative for you and your organization. Even companies without sustainability goals will need to support carbon reporting requirements of their supply chain, so having a financial-grade carbon accounting system may be a good idea.
Electricity and Natural Gas commodities can have two vendors associated with them in deregulated markets. The producer of the commodity and deliverer of the commodity. The way these two vendors send you bills may include the same energy amounts (specially on the vendor doing the delivery for information). If your software does not recognize them as the same energy purchased, you will end up double counting your energy and carbon impact.
Analyzing a facility’s energy use pattern enables 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? Identifying resource saving opportunities and optimizing operations will help you better manage your projects and achieve savings for your clients. So, it may be handy to select an ERP that offers the ability to import, monitor, and analyze real-time energy data.
Many U.S. municipalities require that government and commercial entities report energy usage to the EPA on an annual basis to receive an ENERGY STAR score for each building they own. A software solution that offers an easy way to interface with ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager would alleviate the need to double-enter data into your ERP and Portfolio Manager, simplifying benchmarking legislation requirements.
Many ERP 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.
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 ERP 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.
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 ERP vendor is conversant in the methods and processes for performing accurate and verifiable M&V calculations. Is your prospective solution compatible with commonly accepted assessment practices?
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. Check that your ERP can perform any necessary internal invoicing tasks using calculations based on data from your submeter network.
Utility data is the first step in your sustainability strategy, but how do you plan to get energy data into your ERP? How many years of historical data do you intend to migrate for benchmarking purposes? Your 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. The goal is to spend less time getting data into the system and more time getting results out.
Verification of data is critical for energy management analysis. We all understand the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” Make sure your ERP has a robust set of tools to ensure the accuracy of incoming data.
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.
Make sure that your chosen solution has the ability to address all interface issues. Don’t settle on a system that requires you to enter the same billing information again and again into multiple systems. It’s a recipe for error and inefficiency.
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 ERP can deliver.
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 ERP at any time.
If you are going to be contacting energy and sustainability software vendors for a direct purchase or evaluating RFP responses, these questions should help get you the answers you need. Navigate your purchase successfully and procure a product that will provide your organization with years of reliable utility bill accounting and valuable energy and sustainability insights.