Submeter reading and billing for most buildings is a painful and tedious monthly task. Walking around with a clipboard to write down meter readings that then go into a confusing spreadsheet takes up valuable time and opens your team up to costly mistakes.
But it’s difficult to see a reasonable solution. Replacing all of your meters with networked meters seems like a solution, but it’s unrealistically costly to do that all at once, especially when there are so many higher priorities for those budget dollars. And even if you do network your meters, that only handles the reading, you still need to manage the billing side of the process.
So, how can you make your submeter billback less painful without a total overhaul? Here are a few things to consider as you evaluate your options.
Identify the Easy Wins in Your Process
There are a lot of steps involved in manually reading and/or billing your submeters, so you first need to identify the aspects that are the most problematic. For most buildings the biggest issues are the clipboards and the spreadsheets. The clipboards are problematic because handwritten values can be incorrect or difficult to decipher. The spreadsheets are problematic because they’re usually outdated or incorrect and no one on the team has the time or Excel skills to rebuild them.
By identifying the parts of your process that are the biggest headaches, you can identify your top priorities for change, which will help you evaluate the right vendors or software to improve your process.
Look for Software that Works with Existing Hardware
When it comes to a submeter overhaul, the hardware and installation costs can really add up. So ideally, you want to work with something that supports your existing hardware ecosystem. But you also want it to support future hardware (like smart meters) you might install as you convert to the latest and greatest over time.
Identifying a hardware-agnostic solution will both remove the need for a massive hardware investment up front and allow you to implement a tool that will work with your changing submeter environment over time.
Don’t Expect Perfection
With a process as involved as submeter reading and billing, there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle. Without committing to a massive (and pricey) overhaul, you might not to be able to eliminate every single friction point in the process. Maybe you still need to physically walk around to get those readings, but the readings are being collected in a software platform that’s more accurate and reliable than your old clipboard.
By focusing on the easy wins you identified up front, you can improve the parts of your process that are most problematic, and compromise on the parts that aren’t deal breakers. This will allow you to implement an impactful solution without an excessive price tag.
Pass the Cost Through to Your Tenants
Finding room in the budget for new initiatives is tough. So consider if you can pass through the cost of the improvements to your tenants. If you were completely overhauling your submeters, you likely wouldn’t be able to pass that cost through. However, if you use TI dollars when a new tenant moves in to replace their manual meter with a smart meter, you can improve your ecosystem over time without a massive addition to your operating budget. As long as you have a software solution in place that supports mixed environments, this can be a great option.
You can also often pass the cost of submeter reading and billing software through to your tenants. While you cannot profit from selling utilities, in most cases you can charge an administrative fee to tenants for the submeter management. This allows you to ensure that the tenants benefiting from the software will bear the cost.