The Importance of Equipment Information Consolidation

A few weeks back I attended the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) National Key Accounts Workshop. This is a twice-yearly event hosted by the electric utility industry trade organization to address energy-related issues with national retailers, restaurant chains, and other organizations with large numbers of facilities. I was struck by an exchange between the Director of Facilities for a large retailer and a utility representative. At one point the Facilities Director said something like: “I have to interact with 500 utilities across the country; I can’t go to 500 different websites to download all of my utility bills”.

This resonated with me for several reasons. First; on a personal level I have the same reaction to entreaties from companies to pay my bills on their websites. I may not get 500 bills a month (the retailer actually receives several thousand per month), but the 30 or so I do receive are more than enough to make it impractical to do anything other than find a way to pay the bills in one place. (Which I do through my bank). Of course, to address these issues companies have had access to utility bill aggregation and audit services for years.

Of more relevance, however, is a potentially disturbing trend we are beginning to see, and the reaction we are hearing from our customers, who are primarily major restaurant, convenience store, and retail chains.

Most major equipment OEMs, be it manufacturers of HVAC equipment, hot water equipment, or kitchen equipment, have either begun connecting their newer equipment models to the Internet, or are working on making those connections available as soon as possible. Most of these OEMs are assuming that their customers will come to their websites to get real-time equipment performance data.

Most operators we speak with are very excited about the potential for real-time access to this information. Data generated by HVAC systems but only now released when a technician comes out in response to a problem can help identify and diagnose issues before equipment fails. Real-time data generated by ovens can have a major impact on food quality, food safety, and food waste.

But, even though there are many fewer OEMs than utilities in the retailer case described earlier, the operators we have spoken with have had the exact same reaction; they do not want to go to multiple websites to get data on their equipment. Moreover, with current legitimate concerns about security, they do not like the idea of having many pieces of equipment from multiple manufacturers independently gaining access to the local network (or alternatively having to pay cellular charges for each piece of equipment).

Some operators may also be looking at the need to connect to a fair amount of equipment. A typical Quick Serve Restaurant, for example, may have more than 10 pieces of critical kitchen equipment (refrigeration equipment, ovens, fryers, hot holding cabinets, ice machines and more) from multiple OEMs – and purchase HVAC equipment from 10 different OEMs nationwide. And, unlike utility bills which are delivered monthly and have only a limited amount of information, we are talking about large amounts of information being delivered in real-time. (One of the HVAC models with which we have successfully integrated delivers 190 data points every minute – although this is the current outlier in terms of data volume generated). This greatly exacerbates the problem of interacting directly with each piece of equipment delivering different information in different formats independently.

Operators understandably want and need systems that are simple and easy to use and that make their jobs easier, not harder. That will not come from having to learn and work with totally separate and highly different systems from multiple OEMs. Systems will be made available to fill this need, just as systems were developed to address the issue of dealing with many utility bills. These systems will help operators unlock the value in this real-time information, leading to improved efficiencies, increased profits, and enhanced quality.

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