Webinar Recap: Bridging the Data Divide
Last week, we were joined by thinkstep solution engineer Mike Bruce and Urjanet director of partner sales Tim Porter in a thoughtful conversation about breaking down data silos. With over 500 registrants for the webinar, it’s clear that finding a way to organize and unify all the data sources needed for sustainability reporting is a pressing topic for many organizations.
Watch the full recording of the webinar here.
Data Silos Form a Hurdle
The initial catalyst for the webinar itself came from a recent discussion Mike had with a customer. A key part of Mike’s role is to sit down with organizations, understand their corporate sustainability initiatives, see where any challenges lie, and frame a solution that gets them to where they want to be. His customer, the corporate responsibility director of a global manufacturing business, said his team had a system to collect data, but it was time-intensive. They often went right down to the wire when it came to corporate reporting.
One of his major frustrations was feeling like he wasn’t using his team to the best of their abilities. Mike paraphrased his sentiments: “I’ve got all these really smart people, and they spend all their time collecting data and checking that it’s there. What I really want them to be doing is analyzing the information. Sharing insights, advising on investments, making recommendations — things I can actually use to guide the business forward.”
“I’ve got all these really smart people, and they spend all their time collecting data and checking that it’s there. What I really want them to be doing is analyzing the information…to guide the business forward.”
Mike asked the customer if he’d thought about connecting an automatic feed from the utility supplier directly to a cloud-based system. The customer didn’t even know that was possible. That’s when Mike knew he needed to share this information with others like him, so he picked up the phone and called Tim.
Bridging the Gap in Sustainability Reporting
So, how do organizations break down these data silos? Gathering data from thousands of utility providers across the globe, each with its own bill format, raises an especially tough hurdle to overcome.
Thinkstep and Urjanet’s solution lies in automation. Together, thinkstep’s SoFi Software and Urjanet’s Utility Data Platform help customers onboard their utility accounts and automatically feed data into SoFi for ready analysis.
Said Mike: “Using the right combination of technology and know-how, we’re able to create connections to set up an efficient data ecosystem for the organization. We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel here. If there’s data that sits in an existing system, we work to connect it to a single source of truth for sustainability data.”
Do you have the ability to incorporate interval data as well as monthly information from invoices?
Mike: Yes. Like we showed in the dashboard, we actually have a dedicated high-frequency interval data capability in SoFi. What that allows customers to do is to discover any energy wastage which may have occurred, take steps to prevent further wastage, and further improve energy performance by evaluating it on that high frequency. It gives them the ability to look at the effectiveness of any improvements they’ve made. It also allows them to provide evidence and back up any business cases that team needs to make to invest in these improvement projects going forward.
Tim: The combination of the detailed supply-side information that you get each month from these invoices with really detailed demand-side information at that granular level, I can see being really valuable. It’s worth noting that on the Urjanet platform, as we were writing integrations to automate getting invoice data from these utility companies, we realized many of those also make interval data available on their portals.
So in support of that, Urjanet has at least 70 or 80 utilities around the globe today for which we can automate the gathering of that half-hour, 15-minute, or 10-minute interval data daily. Just like your invoice data can show up automatically in the SoFi system every month as new invoices are posted, the Urjanet platform can also automate that granular interval data showing up every day. So when you show up every morning, inside of that SoFi system and powerful set of graphs would be yesterday’s consumption information.
If I onboard my buildings with SoFi, is there a way to view historical data there; can you go back in time and see performance year-over-year?
Mike: That’s actually a key part of every SoFi implementation. When we deploy SoFi, we run a dedicated implementation project to set the system up in line with the customer’s requirements. As part of that project, the customer historical data is incorporated into the system. What it allows them to do is set baselines and track performance against those baselines going forward.
Tim: We have a similar setup with many of our customers. When you’re activating accounts on the Urjanet platform, it’s possible for you to just flip a switch to say, in addition to the most recent bill, please give me everything you see from the past. Fortunately, most utility providers do keep some level of historical invoice information and interval data stored on their site. Urjanet can grab all that data and populate it inside the thinkstep system.
What suppliers do you cover? Do you only cover North American and European suppliers?
Tim: First, we should make clear what commodity types we support. We automate collecting power data, gas data, water data, and waste data (both liquid or sewage and solid waste). From a geographic standpoint, we do have integrations with over 30 different countries. We’re definitely outside of just North America and Europe. We’ve done high-bit character work to support all the multi-bit languages as well: Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, for instance. Recently, we’ve even done an integration with a utility in Mongolia. That’s one of the values that thinkstep and Urjanet together can offer: good visibility into locations across the globe.
Mike: Just to add to that, we have customers globally, so a really important part of the partnership for thinkstep and Urjanet was that Urjanet could provide those suppliers globally.
Is waste data central to SoFi?
Mike: Waste tracking is a core requirement for many of our customers. Our customers need to analyze different waste streams and treatment methods, such as:
- Hazardous vs. non-hazardous
- Landfill vs. diverted from landfill
- Proportion recycled or incinerated
- Absolute values (wastewater in gallons or meters cubed)
- Intensities (water consumed per square foot, waste produced per unit)
These values are all configurable within the SoFi system.
Tim: We’ve seen waste to be an interesting commodity type in the U.S. We’ve got many integrations with waste haulers in the U.S. — there are thousands of them. I don’t know that I would consider them the most sophisticated of the commodity types in terms of what kinds of data access they provide, but they’ve got lots of information they’re providing on their invoices.
It was a challenging exercise for us at first to make sure we could consume all that information in the different formats, but it’s certainly a really important part of sustainability reporting. We can support waste data, both from a solid waste standpoint, as well as the waste elements that show up on a typical water bill, such as sewage and irrigation types.
Check out the full presentation below:
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About Andrea Duke
Andrea is a former Marketing Communications Manager at Urjanet. She is an experienced writer and content strategist, and is passionate about sustainability.