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Program & Project Tracking for Small Utilities

Created 11/24/2014 by Rob Currier
Updated 2/18/2015 by Rob Currier
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This past year, Emerald PUD worked to better define its processes for project completion in all of our programs. From project origination (audit or other contact) to reporting, our goals are to to improve workflow efficiency, increase customer satisfaction, and maximize program opportunities.

One of the results of this process improvement exercise was the need to supplement or replace our existing project/program tracking tools. Like a lot of small to mid-sized utilities, Emerald has relied on a small galaxy of spreadsheets and paper file folders to track project leads, generate rebate checks, and report to BPA. This has proven more or less effective so far, but we know we can do better. New features we'd like to see include: online applications for customers and trade allies, lead management, workflow and task management, some time tracking, and some field staff scheduling. 

We've talked to a few vendors that develop solutions especially suited for EE and renewable energy programs. These solutions offer trade ally management, field work scheduling, rebate processing, measure library management, reporting dashboards, and much much more. However, from what we've seen so far, many of these are out of reach for our utility's budget. 

Does anybody out there use other cloud-based (or otherwise) tracking and reporting tools that are more suited for small utilities? I'm thinking there may be other solutions more generically offered for Business Work Flow, or Project Management, or CRM that could be applied to our work. 

Anybody have any experiences to share? Requirements documents?

Thanks everybody!!

Rob Currier
Emerald PUD
rob@epud.org
541-744-7402






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Comments (8)
Justin Holzgrove on 12/04/14 on 06:16 PM (Pacific Time)
Consider me "subscribed" to this post. I'm also very curious and see this as an important self-assessment for us to do as well. Thanks for paving the way, Rob!
John Walkowiak on 12/08/14 on 08:24 AM (Pacific Time)
Hi Rob and Justin:   believe you have two issues: (1) data tracking and (2) processing.

(1) Data tracking - Tacoma Power is now in the RFP process for a third party vendor for tracking and reporting our savings.  Lie others we currently utilize two major Access Databases (CI and Res) and several spreadsheets along with paper files for tracking and documentation.  We buildt a business Case and used an RFI process to see what was out there and costs - we had over 11 respondents gives us ideas some tied to other platforms such as CRM MS Dynamics or Sales Force and others unique EE databases tied to either on premise to cloud, with costs  from $120,000 to $800,000 for a utility of our size.  So could share a high level review of the third party programs out there .   

(2) But before we got to the RFP level we conducted a LEAN/Total Qulaity review of our major processes for both CI and Residential using an internal review team to document the current process, ID waste and determine what was within our control (etc. no longer requiring waste disposal forms from CI vendors) and outside out control (legal forms and contracts).  We found lots of time savings efforts.  This allowed us to build a business case for internal funding request for the data tracking system and other needs.

John Walkowiak, Conservation Information Manager
Tacoma Power
jwalkowiak@cityoftacoma.org  
Adam Hanks on 12/08/14 on 01:24 PM (Pacific Time)
Rob,
I had a follow up conversation with Paul Rich from ESG after the LaPine roundtable and we discussed this issue and the growing demand/need for a solution that fits us in the smaller end of the BPA customer spectrum and I would still like to pursue a solution for Ashland and would love to figure out if there is a solution where more of us could jump on together and drive the cost down and have a solid product that we could all use.

If you find something that you think has some promise, I would love to hear about it and I will let you know if I find something from my end.

Adam Hanks,
City of Ashland
Rob Currier on 12/08/14 on 01:56 PM (Pacific Time)
Adam/Justin - I'm happy to use this space to talk about our findings and sort of live blog our process and ultimate direction. I really think there's a need out there for a robust solution that offers small utilities a chance to increase program productivity and customer satisfaction. Whether that's a shared "big" solution ($800k!) or an adapted off the shelf option, remains to be seen, but the opportunity is definitely there. 

John - Thanks for the offer to share Tacoma's high level review! Emerald went through a similar exercise in 2014 to review our process, cut the waste, and define what would make for a process that delights customers and increases productivity. We've probably talked to some of the same vendors along the way.

The first quarter of 2015 we'll be doing a more formal release of a requirements document and a request for quotes from vendors. We want to begin implementing by April of 2015. Recently we've turned our attention to some web based tools that are not necessarily built for our industry exactly, but offer some nice project tracking functionality. Some of these include Wrike, Project Insight, and Clarizen. These require small upfront investment, maybe a relatively small subscription fee, but the trade off is that some time will be required to adapt these tools for our needs. 

Rob Currier
Emerald PUD
Jacob Henry on 12/23/14 on 04:47 PM (Pacific Time)

Rob,

 

This post could not have come at a better time. GHPUD has just completed creating a tracking system for all sectors, but as with anything, there is still room for improvement.

 

We too have used a central residential MS Access program that was written in 2003. The commercial and industrial tracking just got an facelift with a "fancy" new excel process. The new tracking program for all sectors was created as a sort of "dashboard" that could give a snapshot of our progress at any point, however it updated monthly so, our tracking is always behind the "actual". The dashboard creates a report for different data (CY budget, I937 Targets/YTD savings, BPA FY EEI tracking, etc..). Still there is too much data entry and transfer, which also limits the "real time" aspect we were shooting for, but it was better than what we had, and I hope we will be able to improve upon the process and streamline with a centralized database.

 

Another interesting dynamic to this scenario is how for us smaller utilities, is how will our systems overlap with, BPA's second attempt at a centralized data dump, NED?

 

Very interested in where this conversation goes, and what type of product you eventually settle for and what the costs maybe.

 

Also I think the idea of online application for customers is great!

Rob Currier on 12/23/14 on 05:59 PM (Pacific Time)
After the Christmas/New Year's break, I'll be back at defining our final requirements document and develop a short list of solutions. We'll be comparing features and costs for a number of options. We're ultimately hoping to begin implementing in April 2015 and I'd be happy to share our progress in this space. 

Also, I've been banging this drum for a while, but if others feel like it's an area that could use some improvement let BPA know. NED will be great for reporting and dashboarding the stuff we share with BPA, but it won't help with day to day workflows in a utility's EE department. Much like E-source, or BPA's excellent Marketing tools, this is something else that can enhance utility's abilities to acquire savings even if it doesn't directly acquire kWh.


 

 
Rob Currier on 02/18/15 on 05:44 PM (Pacific Time)
As these things sometimes do, our selection process has grown to be a more formal RFP. Our purchasing agent has posted the announcement (NWPPA website) and if I could figure out how to attach it to this thread I would. 

We're still aiming for an April deadline for a decision and to begin implementing with our selected vendor. We're also trying to pay attention to everything that's happening in the region including NED 2.bleh. The time is now to get something done at the local level here at Emerald and I'm happy to continue sharing our progress. 


Rob Currier on 02/18/15 on 05:49 PM (Pacific Time)
Try this for viewing Emerald's RFP - click here

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