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9 key attributes of energy dashboards and analytics tools

<p>What does it take to have a leading energy management tool? It may be time to follow the &#39;LEADR.&#39;</p>

Energy data applications have become an integral part of all energy management initiatives. Automation systems form the backbone of such initiatives, with various software applications for energy data analysis and visualization serving as a natural, almost quintessential extension. We need such applications for many reasons, including:

  • Data normalization for easy analysis
  • Intuitive data visualization for information interpretation
  • Inclusive features to actively engage multiple stakeholders
  • Value-added functionalities

The energy management market today is flooded with dashboard and reporting tools. Automation as well as technology companies are vying for leadership positions in this space. Advancement of technology is enabling new features and functionality, allowing newer toolsets to differentiate and claim new capabilities. In a recent global survey we conducted, 40 percent of facility and operations managers expressed the need for more features, functionalities and capabilities. However, no reference framework exists to evaluate energy data or energy management applications.

We believe that this market will consolidate and global standards will emerge. Some solutions will become more popular because of their features and capabilities. We call such solutions "LEADRS"Leading Energy Analysis, Dashboards and Reports Solutions. In this discussion, we will delve into nine key attributes of LEADRS and explore the market trends that make them successful.

1. LEADRS look beyond the visible.

Effectiveness of energy data applications intimately depends on the data quality coming from the installed control systems. Low data fidelity compromises the value of the energy management applications. Data quality is affected by many factors including sensor accuracy, network stability and accuracy of point mapping, amongst others. Leading energy management solutions police the incoming data quality and alert in case of discrepancies. Such solutions do not use erroneous data for analysis and reporting. They usually provide the capabilities to classify data discrepancies and predefine alert conditions. Leading energy management applications help improve the health of control systems by highlighting network and device failures.

2. LEADRS think global, act local.

Around the world, priorities and policies related to energy are different and evolve to cater to country- or sector-specific aspirations around growth and sustainability. As a case in point, growing concerns around sustainability and energy security have precipitated a host of public commitments by most nations limiting their environmental impact; energy efficiency, especially in buildings, is one of the leading options practiced for the same. However, balancing the tensions of economic viability and environmental sustainability, different nations have defined different efficiency requirements of buildings or systems contained in them. Because of such reasons, today there are no global standards on the functions and capabilities of an energy management application. The energy applications market is therefore composed of many niche local participants.

LEADRS are cognizant of this fact, and are able to tackle this challenge by first building a robust modular platform with the basic energy data management functionalities, then localizing the applications by adding specific reporting and analytical capabilities in the geography or sector specific versions of the application. In our experience, this creates a resounding win-win situation, wherein the specific functionalities make the LEADRS more relevant in the target country/sector, and at the same time give them the option of offering the same functionalities as value-added features in other countries, thereby increasing the solution's overall appeal.

3. LEADRS look at energy first and software second.

Data visualization and analytics capabilities in software platforms are becoming more sophisticated by the day. This is made possible by improvements in software tools and influence of other disciplines such as family tree concepts used to dynamically depict meter and equipment architecture in a facility. Each new energy management application brings new features to differentiate themselves and develop new markets. With higher financial and human resources, software companies are making a major impact in this space.

Often the end customer or consumer gets lost in the application's bells and whistles because the energy management application developers focus so much on the software features. LEADRS in the market put special focus on the customer's energy needs, and develop solutions that meet those needs. For example, while all energy applications allow trending of any (or most) energy data points, the LEADRS also go the extra mile of defining standard templates for data visualization based on type of energy data and standard industry norms for their analysis. In another example, standard load profile analysis involves trending minimum, maximum and average load over a period of time, LEADRS would have such a feature in-built within so the user need not define any additional calculation for such analysis.

4. LEADRS combine capabilities seamlessly.

Most energy data applications usually have different sections for plotting energy graphs (often called dashboards), for generating energy reports and for other types of graphical representations. Customers want flexibility to see data across these various representation formats and for the data and analytics to have synergy – customers want interoperability. The LEADRS understand this customer need. As an example, the end user of an energy data application spends most of his or her time looking at the energy dashboards, and yet needs to change back to the reports section in order to perform any specific analysis based on an insight seen on the dashboard graph. LEADRS provide an ability to generate reports straight out from the dashboard graph screens; this means that a user can download and analyze data whenever he or she spots something interesting on the dashboard graphs, therefore providing a powerful platform for the end user to work upon.

5. LEADRS provide actionable insights.

Many times applications using energy data stop at only providing a historical perspective of what has happened; they may not delve into why and what if scenario simulations. LEADRS provide actionable insights which were previously the domain of select few experts. Similarly presenting alarms, having the ability to acknowledge alarms and even taking some simple actions for some preselected alarm types makes energy data applications versatile. It is important to continuously refine the art of the possible with available data, looking at new forms of analysis and changing market needs. This will continue to be the hallmark of LEADRS in future as well.

6. LEADRS enable stakeholder actions.

Leading energy data applications which work directly on top of control or automation systems are well positioned to deliver more than conventional analytical and reporting activities. For example, a billing or energy analysis system working off the meters in a building can give tenant-based analytics; with some backward integration, it can be modified to control tenants' usage of some utilities such as after-hours provisioning. LEADRS innovate to provide such capabilities using existing data from control systems, capabilities previously considered out of scope for energy data applications.

7. LEADRS are intuitive.

Steve Jobs' vision delivered through Apple products and apps changed the way user experiences were designed, eliminating the need for help manuals, training or special skills to use new devices or applications. Historically, energy data and energy applications were built by engineers and for engineers. Today, such applications are more in the consumer domain. They need to reach their appeal beyond a select group of facility managers and energy analysts. They need to appeal to occupants as well as seem useful to busy executives who influence critical decisions around energy and sustainability. LEADRS are intuitive by design, requiring no training. Help menu in LEADRS is built into the application and mostly on tool tips. LEADRS also have easy adaptability to different types of devices and browsers without any developmental interventions. Leading energy data management and analytical tools will continue to evolve in increasing their mass appeal.

8. LEADRS start quick.

Most energy data analytics, reporting and management systems require complex setup processes. Configuring the information from various data collection points in the control automation systems such as device or controller points takes enormous time and is prone to errors. Mapping these points to visualization outputs such as graphs, dashboards and reports is also an intensely manual process most of the time. Making changes in the configuration when the application is in operation is equally difficult. Most of these applications were developed with linear engineering considerations as opposed to advanced software design and implementation principles for consumer markets. LEADRS are designed for easy setup and configuration so that users can start benefitting from the features and capabilities in no time. LEADRS also accept the changes from its source systems seamlessly and quickly.

9. LEADRS are fun.

When we get bored in our work or other routine activities, we often switch our attention to games, networking sites or other fun sites on our computers or mobile devices. Gaming is being increasingly considered an important delivery mechanism for new concepts and messages. Energy is a very important topic for the world, for our collective future sustainability of our way of life and privileges. We need people’s attention to important analytics from energy data so that there can be right education and right actions. We need energy to be fun and not grown-up boring stuff. LEADRS make using them fun. They have cool features which may have limited practical utility but high emotional appeal.

Leadership is contextual to the time in history and related influences. The market place of energy data applications has been evolving and will continue to do so with progressive technologies, changing user preferences, influences from other walks of life and increasing sophistication of our understanding of the possibilities. Keeping pace, LEADRS’ attributes also will evolve. Let’s watch this space.

The views presented in this article are the authors' personal views and in no way represent those of the company they work for or any industry body they are associated with.

Image by donskarpo via Shutterstock

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