It’s 2014 – Why Are You Still Doing Manual Utility Bill Data Entry?

Urjanet Inc  |  June 9, 2014   |  Energy & Sustainability  


For decades, multi-facility organizations have struggled with the frustrating task of collecting data from their disparate utility providers. With all the talk about big data, going green, sustainability and reducing energy costs, you’d think it would be easier than ever for organizations to access the energy data they need to make smarter, more profitable and eco-friendly energy decisions.

We decided to get an energy management industry newcomer’s perspective on the state of energy data, so we caught up with Urjanet’s CMO, Gary Brooks.

Q: As a novice to the energy management industry, what surprised you the most?

A: I was shocked when I heard some of the world’s largest and most respected companies make million-dollar energy decisions based on manually entered utility data that is prone to human error and often incomplete and inaccurate.

Energy data today is an interesting paradox. We have more energy data than ever, and the world is more connected than ever, yet successful organizations still rely on antiquated, manual utility bill data entry to get data they need to understand their energy usage and identify opportunities to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.

A large, multi-facility, public company, which will remain anonymous, recently shared their utility data collection process with us. Their process is about manual as it gets. They receive paper bills from their geographically dispersed utility providers, then ship them all to one of their facilities. Then, a team of clerks manually scans and emails the bills to another team, who manually enter the bills into the company’s accounting system. Talk about a paradox. I thought the phrase “manual data entry” went out of style with the 8-track player, but apparently I was wrong.

Q: Why do organizations still do manual utility bill data entry?

A: During our recent webinar, What Happens When Good Energy Data Goes Bad? Alisdair McDougall with independent analyst firm Verdantix, said, “if data is the foundation of all decisions then energy data is the foundation of all energy decisions.” I asked myself – why do organizations ship boxes of utility bills to locations where very limited data from the bills is manually entered into accounting, energy management or business intelligence systems?

Until now, automating the collection of energy data from hundreds or thousands of utilities has been a very frustrating task because of the lack of energy data standards. Imagine attempting to communicate with 3,000+ utilities in North America that all speak a different language. That’s basically what happens when multi-facility organizations attempt to automate the collection of their utility data. Each utility uses disparate data formats, different types of tariffs, taxes, semantics, rates and more. This makes it insanely difficult for multi-facility organizations to automate the collection of utility data. As a result, many large companies, organizations and governments rely on error-prone manual data entry, which is still shocking to me.

Q: Why is only a limited amount of utility bill data manually entered?

A: Because manual data entry is expensive and time consuming. Utility bills can have as many as 125 data elements that can provide deep insight into utility usage and pricing, but much of that data never makes it into software applications for further analysis. In an attempt to contain costs associated with manual data entry, most companies only enter a small portion of the elements, which sub-optimizes their ability to identify cost reduction opportunities. Utility summary bills can have thousands of pages which are packed with valuable data; however, this data never makes it into the systems that need it to enable analysis because it’s simply too expensive to manually enter all those data points.

Also, it takes real energy domain expertise to interpret the bill and key in the detailed energy consumption, usage, and tariff information. Accounts payable clerks just aren’t trained to do it.

Click here to read part two of this three-part blog post in which we’ll discuss the pitfalls of manual energy data entry, why companies assume energy data will be magically available, and executives’ big awakening about the value of energy data.

To learn about alternatives to manual energy data entry, check out Urjanet’s new infographic Big Energy Data: The Foundation of Smart Energy Decisions.

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About Urjanet Inc

Urjanet, the global leader in utility data aggregation, simplifies how organizations access and use utility data, enabling them to focus on their business. Our technology collects, processes, and delivers data from over 6,500 electric, natural gas, water, waste, telecom, and cable utilities worldwide.

Tags   Energy   |   Sustainability   |   Urjanet   |   Utility Bill Management   |   Utility Bills   |   Utility Data   |