Utility Data Collection: Build vs. Buy

Urjanet Inc  |  December 16, 2015   |  Energy & Sustainability  


Energy and sustainability solutions providers are especially privy to the challenges associated with utility data collection, especially because this data is increasingly becoming more varied and complex. With the constant development of new innovative solutions and rising competition, these companies are reevaluating their utility data collection processes in search of a more scalable, up-to-date method. Firms are moving away from OCR and manual data entry and considering two different options – to build web navigation and data parsing technology or to buy utility data services.

Where did all the servers go?

Before continuing with the notion above, I’d like to take a moment to address a parallel situation that comes to mind: Why do SaaS companies refrain from building their own servers, and instead invest in third-party services, such as Amazon Web Server? The reason is that quality third-party services leverage scale across many customers and lower their customers’ operating costs. Additionally, over the years, they have developed the expertise that has enabled them to provide the best servers on the market at a reasonable price point. If it were easy and relatively inexpensive to build servers, fewer companies would purchase such services from third-party providers.

These ideas can be applied to the build vs. buy utility data services debate. While building your own utility data collection technology for a few utilities might be economical, as the numbers increase, an entire business unit itself would likely need to be devoted to managing the data network, developing new channels as the company enters new geographies, and keeping up with the never-ending changes of bill formats.

One size does not fit all

On top of this, one utility does not equate to one standard integration – some providers have multiple portals, and history pulls often require yet another unique integration. To make things even more complicated, there are multiple document types: standard invoices, adjustments and re-bills, inserts, shut-off notices, and more. With thousands of gas and electric utilities in the U.S. alone, it becomes very difficult to keep the technology updated and to also continue to execute on more important, value-added services and projects for clients.

Here is a brief list to describe some specific barriers to success that companies face when they try to build their own web navigation and data parsing technology for a growing volume of accounts:

  • Dual billing with remarketers in deregulated states
  • International requirements – language, currency, units
  • Access to a limited number of data points, usually only 5-10
  • Having to build data auditing capabilities and have dedicated staff on site to help when something goes wrong
  • Hefty cost associated with maintaining navigation and parsing integrations

Key factors to consider when deciding to build or buy:

Business Risks to Consider In-house Development Third-Party Service
Time to Value System will need to be built and tested before it’s ready-to-use – how long will this take? Virtually no risk. Data service is available with little ramp up time.
Development Upfront development – how much will it cost? Minimal if any upfront development required.
Maintenance & Support Ongoing maintenance and support  – how much will it cost on a recurring basis? No system maintenance or support required. Fixed recurring subscription fee.
Execution When completed, how well will the system work? Data service is fully implemented and already supports a large number of accounts.
Opportunity Cost Can you use your existing resources better? Resources are freed and can be deployed on other initiatives.

How is Urjanet different?

Far more advanced than internal web scrapers, Urjanet’s utility data platform employs a proprietary federated architecture to normalize hundreds of disparate utility data sources into a single electronic feed while preserving source fidelity. With over 5,000 utility integrations, Urjanet has mastered the techniques to keep up with utility bill format changes, add new utilities to its network, and provide its ecosystem of energy and sustainability solutions partners with quality, timely data. Additionally, our feed provides access to over 100 data points from each invoice along with original bill images.

Struggling to build or maintain in-house web navigation and data parsing technology? Losing focus on your core value proposition? Let Urjanet handle the dirty work of collecting and standardizing the data. Contact us today to get started.

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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   Data & Technology   |   Data Quality   |   Urjanet   |   Utility Bill Management   |   Utility Bills   |   Utility Data   |