The Pros and Cons of EDI Utility Data Feeds
A few weeks ago, we published an in-depth look at the difference between processing utility bills with OCR software and acquiring utility bill data through Urjanet. We received some feedback from readers saying that in addition to using OCR software for a subset of utility providers, their organizations were also receiving EDI utility data feeds. So what is EDI, and what are its advantages and disadvantages? Let’s take a look.
Pros of EDI utility data feeds
EDI (electronic data interchange), in very loose terms, is an electronic communication method built on standards for exchanging data between two entities. In the context of utility billing, EDI provides a process solely for invoicing and payment. EDI implies a series of sent and received messages, and due to its electronic nature, human intervention is minimal.
EDI utility bill feeds produce a number of benefits over using paper bills, manual data entry, or OCR software. They significantly reduce the time-intensive process of dealing with paper bills, the human error that arises from manual data entry, and the inaccuracy and cumbersome auditing of OCR. And of course, EDI’s biggest benefit? It’s free.
Cons of EDI utility data feeds
However, this doesn’t mean EDI feeds can meet all of an organization’s utility data needs. Deploying EDI comes with its own set of drawbacks and restrictions that may require users to either replace or supplement it with other data sources.
Lack of standardization
The standard used for utility billing, EDI 810, has allowed utility providers to implement it rather loosely. What this means is that the format in which you receive the bills varies from provider to provider, oftentimes requiring additional resources to manipulate the data, in order to get all of the bills in the same format. This lack of standardization can create challenges when a multi-facility organization has many different utility providers, as it can be costly and time-intensive to execute this additional step of re-formatting.
The requirements needed to properly set up and implement EDI utility feeds involve a lot of time and money, not to mention technical know-how and a deep understanding of business processes. Users must first establish a method to translate or interpret the received files before accepting them. The next step is to validate the sender (or “trading partner”), the file structure, and the individual field information.
Finally, users must convert the file into the right format for the organization’s backend systems. Many providers also require quite a few forms and agreements to fill out and sign prior to implementation, adding even more steps to complete before the process gets up and running smoothly.
Missing data points
Because EDI 810 is the standard used for invoicing, it’s typically not a great method of accessing bill data for any purpose other than to pay the bill. Data points that are available from an actual utility bill – like tariff rates or peak demand charges – get left out of EDI utility feeds because they aren’t absolutely necessary in the bill payment process. Managers in other departments like sustainability or energy management would find use for those data points, but with EDI, they have to find and pay for another way to get the data they need.
Doesn’t include original bill
Not only do EDI utility invoice feeds leave out several data points; they also leave out the original bill image. In the event that a particular statement needs to be referenced for accuracy, viewed, emailed, or printed, having the bill image is tremendously helpful. Furthermore, as we mentioned, sometimes data points get left off the EDI feed that could be useful for analysis. Having a bill image provides every single data point on the bill so that nothing gets left behind.
No historical data
Another major drawback for EDI is that some utility vendors do not provide any past information regarding a particular account. Benchmarking and forecasting becomes virtually impossible without historical data, and to do so requires starting from scratch to gather enough data to report on. Some utility providers may provide this information through EDI, but will generally only do so upon special request.
How to expand beyond EDI
All that being said, where EDI feeds are offered, they are a convenient source of utility bill data. But out of the 3,300 electric utility providers in the U.S., only about 12 percent offer EDI. In order to automate access to utility data for the rest of your accounts, you’ll need some additional help.
That’s where Urjanet comes in. Our automated Utility Data Platform collects, aggregates, and normalizes utility data directly from more than 6,000 providers around the world. Plus, in contrast to EDI, the data that you get with Urjanet:
- Is standardized across providers and formats
Requires minimal setup effort on your end
Can be delivered and integrated into your accounting systems, as well as your sustainability, energy management, energy procurement, and business intelligence programs simultaneously
Includes all data points available on the bill, as well as the original bill image
Can be traced as far back in time with historical data as the utility will provide
Looking to expand your utility data portfolio with automation? Speak with one of our experts to start evaluating how Urjanet can help your business today.
- eBook: A Guide to Modernizing Your Energy Data Collection
- Webinar Recap: Managing Energy Data from End to End
- 7 Shortcomings of Manually Entering Utility Bill Data (And the Benefits of Automation!)
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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.