Lessons from the field: Straight talk about energy dashboards
Energy information dashboards are all the rage among energy consumers, or at least, that’s what you might conclude after a survey of the offerings from consultants and advisors in the energy field. Energy suppliers, consultants and advisors all seem to be in hot pursuit of energy dashboards and will try to sell them to both residential and commercial energy customers. If we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard: “We need an energy dashboard” or, “My client needs an energy dashboard”, we’d be living on a yacht in Fiji right now. The fact is that energy dashboards can be useless and costly, because there are very few companies who do the leg work to ensure good energy information outcomes.
Bold words from an energy information company! So why are we saying this about dashboards? First, because the term “energy dashboard” itself is not meaningful. Ask four different energy companies or end-users what an energy dashboard should include and you will get four different answers. Second, because when an energy user thinks they need an “energy dashboard” they often don’t know who will use it or how? The words “energy dashboard” sound authoritative and meaningful until you get into the details.
What is the problem with energy dashboards?
A prospective client recently asked us to present our qualifications because the organization wanted “an energy dashboard.” During the process, the prospective client invited four companies to present their credentials in the energy dashboard space (is that even a thing? Yes, it is). In addition to the MWh, the invited companies included: a metering company, an energy procurement consultant, and a bill payment company. Every time we asked the prospective client a question about how they planned to use the energy dashboard, the client had to do some thinking, and the qualifications changed. On one iteration of this dance we asked who at the organization would use the information, with the follow-up question of how they might use it. The answer was: “Good question!” This kind of back and forth is not a harbinger of good outcomes.
Components of a good energy information strategy
Without clear business objectives, an energy dashboard will not provide you with what you need. What is essential to businesses is the right information to support a business’ management and operational objectives. Energy dashboards in and of themselves are not useful tools for businesses, advisors or consultants. So, what are components of a good information strategy?
5 key questions to ask before you go in search of an energy dashboard
- What energy-related information do we have access to now?
- Is there energy-related information are we missing?
- What energy-related business questions do we need answered most urgently?
- Who in our organization will use the dashboard and how often will they use it? What job functions and business areas will gain from accessing the information?
- What will we be able to do with this information that we can not do now? How will our lives be easier as a result?
Also, before you go out and look for a system, get consensus about your energy cost management strategy. Make sure that everyone in your organization is in agreement about strategy. Do you care most about making sure you have a predictable, manageable budget year in and year out? Do you care most about paying the lowest cost? Gaining this consensus across an organization can be the biggest hurdle to determining an energy information strategy.
Determine what business questions are most important. Once you have established your strategy, decide what questions you need to answer to validate that your strategy is working. Do you care most about having a reliable forecast? Do you care most about ensuring that your organization’s cost and usage meet a certain benchmark?
Determine how best to get a return on your data. Make sure your goals are clear. Once you’ve figured out what energy information provides you, make sure your program delivers what you need. Get a sense for the return on your energy information investment. Then track it and make sure your energy information program generates that return.
Bottom line for businesses, consultants and advisors.
Don’t get lured into thinking you need an energy dashboard. First, do the work to develop your strategy. Then, make sure that the energy information program aligns with your needs. Finally, make sure your energy information program enhances your business, is entirely transparent and delivers returns.