7 Shortcomings of Manually Entering Utility Bill Data (And the Benefits of Automation!)

Cole Greenberg  |  August 19, 2019   |  Data & Technology  

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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, 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 energy decisions. However, that is not the case, and many of these organizations still resort to manually entering utility data. 

The cost of manually entering utility data

Manually collecting and entering utility bill data comes with several shortcomings, all of which are magnified by the enormous amount of data that’s available today. Specifically, this manual approach poses seven critical limitations:

1) It’s time-consuming

The process of aggregating utility data typically includes gathering the most recent data from a variety of sources, pulling the relevant data from those reports, normalizing the data into a standard format and then inputting the data into a system, be it a spreadsheet, your software or anything else. All of that adds up to a lot of time, especially when you factor in the need to cycle through this process on a regular basis.

2) It’s error-prone

We’re all human, and humans make mistakes. That means that any manual process is prone to errors. In this case, those errors might include reading, normalizing or inputting the data incorrectly or even working off of the wrong dataset. While none of these errors are intentional, they can have a very real (and negative) impact on any resulting analyses or decisions.

3) It limits visibility

How smoothly does your data aggregation process operate? Where do you stand in that process at any given time? How long does it typically take and what costs and bottlenecks exist along the way? Manually entering utility data typically doesn’t offer the necessary visibility to answer these important questions with a high degree of certainty.

4) It lacks granularity and depth of data

A major shortcoming of manually entering utility data is the limitation of the number of data elements captured. Utility bills contain a wealth of information, and can sometimes contain more than 100 data points per bill. Most data entry processes simply do not account for capturing each and every data point, which can lead to missed reporting and cost savings opportunities.

5) It creates a lag in data reporting

With manual processing, you simply cannot capture data in a timely manner. This lag in data capture then translates to a lag in reporting, which can mean costly delays in decision-making or even making decisions based on information that is out-of-date.

With manual processing, you simply cannot capture utility bill data in a timely manner. 

6) It leads to high soft costs

All of the limitations outlined above lead to high costs in terms of people, time and opportunities. For example, the time-consuming nature of manually entering utility data can lead to a less than ideal balance of time when users spend more time gathering and entering data than they do analyzing it. Meanwhile, the possible errors and reporting lags can lead to missed opportunities for improvements.

7) It poses logistical and user experience challenges

Let’s face it, manual processes aren’t easy for anyone. As described above, they come with several logistical challenges, and this can create a poor experience for users (your own employees or your customers).

 

It’s time to automate utility data collection

When it comes to collecting and organizing utility data, the energy solutions ecosystem is long overdue for a step forward into the digital age. Industries of all kinds have already embraced automation to overcome challenges related to data access, operational efficiencies and organizational silos, and it’s time for the same practices to become standard in the energy industry.

What exactly does automation look like when it comes to collecting utility data? An automated aggregation solution should collect data from a variety of sources, be they utility bills, meters, etc., at set intervals and normalize this data in order to deliver the results in a standard format — all without any human effort.

Here are 5 benefits of the automated approach:

1) Increase operational efficiency and scalability

By their very nature, automated processes are faster, more accurate and more scalable than manual ones. Automation means that the data collection and standardization processes can happen behind the scenes without any manpower from your team or your customers’ teams. Automation shortens the bill processing time without sacrificing data quality. It also allows for increased scalability, as expanding to new facilities or accounts is quick and easy with a data collection process that doesn’t rely on labor-intensive teams.

By nature, automated processes are faster, more accurate, and more scalable than manual ones.

2) Maximize profits

Automating utility data collection can lead to significant cost savings for your company that you can then pass on to your customers. For example, it can reduce the costs associated with executing manual processes and eliminate the need to increase manpower as your needs increase. Additionally, by providing accurate and timely data, automation can eliminate costly mistakes and allow for better decision-making that leads to more cost savings. This accuracy is especially critical given that more than two percent of utility bills contain errors. In turn, you can translate these cost savings into increased revenue and maximized profits.

3) Focus on strategic endeavors

Since automation eliminates the need to spend time collecting and standardizing the data, it frees up their time to focus on more strategic endeavors, like analyzing the data and developing plans for energy efficiency improvements.

4) Optimize decision-making

As described above, automating utility data collection ensures more timely and accurate data. In turn, these improvements allow for better decision-making, as users will always have the most up-to-date information at hand and are guaranteed that data is accurate.

5) Gain a competitive advantage

By providing the benefits described here — increased efficiency, lower costs, more time to focus on strategy and optimized decision-making — automating utility data collection can also provide a competitive edge for end users to outperform their peers and solutions providers to help reach new customers and retain existing ones.

We are all interested in saving time on manual tasks and spending time on more value-added activities. Automating the utility billing, payments and reconciliation process results in measurable time returned to property managers that can be spent on attracting and retaining residents or other more valuable projects. 

 

The Urjanet Utility Data Platform was built to help businesses eliminate the costs and errors that arise from manually entering utility data, with the power of automation. Learn more about how our platform works in our solution brief

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About Cole Greenberg

Cole Greenberg is a Marketing Intern at Urjanet who has a passion for sustainability. When he’s not at Urjanet, he can be found studying Marketing and Legal Studies at the University of Georgia.


Tags   Competitive Advantage   |   Operational Efficiency   |   Urjanet   |   Utility Bills   |   Utility Data   |