Data is everywhere. Everything we do with any consistency can be broken down into specific data points, then trended and analyzed. We see it every day. From our phones telling us how long it takes to get to work without our asking, to suggested Amazon purchases in our Facebook feeds, to cold calls and spam email—our actions become someone else’s data point because our actions have become predictable. Apartment utility data is no different.
Apartment communities, like people, have routines. Consumption increases and decreases at certain times of the day and certain times of the year. When an apartment community falls out of its routine, breaks its normal cycle, there has to be an outside force impacting that community. Could be the weather, or the market. Could be an increase in occupancy, or it could be a leak. To find out, you only have to look at the data.
How do you look at your utility data? If you grab a stack of bills and start leafing through, page by page, searching for discernable trends, you won’t get far before deciding there has to be a better way. Having someone in your organization—or a few someones—reviewing the bills and logging key data points into a database where reports can be run against the data is one way to go. Outsourcing the process is another. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been an advocate for outsourced invoice processing for years. If I admit my bias upfront, hopefully, you’ll forgive me going forward.
Extracting data from your utility bills and placing it into a usable format is absolutely necessary in order to manage your utilities.
The data that exists on your utility bills is extremely powerful. Comparing it to occupancy data can reveal whether a spike in consumption was due to increased occupancy. It can also be used to pitch a cost-saving retrofit. Every retrofit I’ve done started with an internal analysis of our utility data. Then that data was sent to a vendor to be used as the basis for their analysis.
Without such data, I would never have gotten any retrofit projects approved. My broker has access to my utility data as well. It’s the basis of their cost-benefit analyses that recommends when I should consider locking electric and gas rates.
EPA wants our data, too. Apartment communities across the country are entering their utility data into EPA’s Portfolio Manager tool in order to score the energy efficiency of their property against similar products.
What does this all mean?
I think it means that data is powerful. Those who have easy access to their utility data can make impactful decisions quickly. Those who don’t will waste precious time gathering information, rather than taking action. A wise person once told me that no one wants the haystack. Just give them the needle. Having access to the data enables you to do exactly that.
This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.