The Internet of Things is bringing Electricity 2.0 that much closer

One of the reasons I started working with GreenMonk back in 2008 was that James heard my Electricity 2.0 vision, and totally bought into it.

The idea, if you’re not familiar with it, was that as smart grids are deployed, homes will become more connected, devices more intelligent, and home area networks would emerge. This would allow the smart devices in the home (think water heaters, clothes dryers, dish washers, fridges, electric car chargers, etc.) to listen to realtime electricity prices, understand them, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Why would they want to do this? To match electricity demand to its supply, thereby minimising the cost to their owner, while facilitating the safe incorporation of more variable suppliers onto the grid (think renewables like solar and wind).

That was 2008/2009. Fast forward to the end of 2013 and we see that smart meters are being deployed in anger, devices are becoming more intelligent and home area networks are becoming a reality. The Internet of Things, is now a thing (witness the success of devices like Nest’s Thermostat and Protect, the Philips Hue, and Belkin’s WeMo devices). Also, companies like Gridpoint, Comverge and EnerNoc are making demand response (the automatic reduction of electricity use) more widespread.

We’re still nowhere near having realised the vision of utility companies broadcasting pricing in realtime, home appliances listening in and adjusting behaviour accordingly, but we are quite a bit further down that road.

One company who have a large part to play in filling in some of the gaps is GE. GE supplies much of the software and hardware used by utilities in their generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. This will need to be updated to allow the realtime transmission of electricity prices. But also, GE is a major manufacturer of white goods – the dish washers, fridges, clothes dryers, etc. which will need to be smart enough to listen out for pricing signals from utilities. These machines will need to be simple to operate but smart enough to adjust their operation without too much user intervention – like the Nest Thermostat. And sure enough, to that end, GE have created their Connected Appliances division, so they too are thinking along these lines.

More indications that we are headed the right direction are signalled by energy management company Schneider Electric‘s recently announced licensing agreement with ioBridge, and Internet of Things connectivity company.

Other big players such as Intel, IBM and Cisco have announced big plans in the Internet of Things space.

The example in the video above of me connecting my Christmas tree lights was a trivial one, obviously. But it was deliberately so. Back in 2008 when I was first mooting the Electricity 2.0 vision, connecting Christmas tree lights to the Internet and control them from a phone wouldn’t have been possible. Now it is a thing of nothing. With all the above companies working on the Internet of Things in earnest, we are rapidly approaching Electricity 2.0 finally.

Full disclosure – Belkin sent me a WeMo Switch + Motion to try out.

SAP, the move into startups, and job creation

Sustainability job number one is putting bread on the table.

Given that, and the huge numbers of people out of work at the moment, any initiative which fosters employment creation, is a definite sustainability win.

Recent research conducted by the US Census Bureau and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that:

…virtually all net new job creation over the past three decades has come from new businesses less than one year old – true “start-ups.” New businesses, according to the research, create an average of three million new jobs annually, while existing firms of any age, type, or size shed a net average of about one million jobs each year, as some businesses fail and as others incorporate technology and become more efficient. If the policy target is job creation, new business formation is the bull’s-eye.

With that in mind, anything which specifically encourages startups is definitely to be lauded.

Now you don’t often hear SAP and startups mentioned in the same sentence, but that may be about to change. In March last year (2012), SAP decided to change that, so they set up their Startup Focus program. They help an event to which they invited startups, and they chose 10 to work with. These were showcased at Sapphire. By late last year, the number of companies enrolled had grown to 150. By this year’s Sapphire (May 2013), the number of companies had swelled to 450. And by this year’s TechEd (October 2013), it was announced that the number was now in excess of 1,000 from 55 countries globally.

That’s a very impressive growth rate, which SAP are continuing to extend, by all accounts. I spoke to several of the startup companies at TechEd and they were full of praise for the program, their only regret being that they hadn’t joined it sooner!

Internet of things, wind turbines and ThingMonk the conference.

Back in 2009 I remember attending Logica’s analyst day in Lisbon and being very impressed with their Renewables Management System (RMS) – a windfarm management desktop application which was at the time managing a live feed of 300-400 data points from 2,000 wind turbines all over the Iberian peninsula.

Logica has since gone through a merger/acquisition process and is now known as CGI. I’m not sure what the status of their RMS solution is now, but I was reminded of it when I attended SAP TechEd in Las Vegas recently.

At the event SAP’s Benjamin Wesson gave me a demonstration of an internet of things (IoT) solution SAP have developed. The demo app, as can be seen in the video above, showcases how a windfarm manager can manage remote (even offshore) windturbines, see the status of any errors, create/manage trouble tickets, see schematics, and deploy resources based on proximity and availability. All from a tablet.

As we head into an era where more and more devices are being connected to the Internet, creating this Internet of Things, we enter a time when we can interact with and control everything from large offshore windfarms, to light switches in our home, from our device of choice (computer, tablet, smartphone).

The implications of this are still far from clear, but it is plain to see that apart from the legitimate security and privacy concerns, the ability to measure and take charge of equipment at all times from wherever has massive potential ramifications for efficiency. Everything from “Did I leave the light on?”, to, “Do I need to alter the angle of that blade on that 6MW wind turbine in the North Atlantic?” can now be asked and answered from the screen of your device of choice.

If you want to learn more about the Internet of Things, I recommend you head along to our ThingMonk conference in London on Dec 3rd next. Benjamin Wesson will be speaking there, as will some other awesome speakers, and there’ll be great demo’s as well.

And if you can’t make it along, we plan to video as many of the talks as possible for subsequent publication.

Dell launches its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan

Dell water bottle

Yesterday (Oct 15th 2013) Dell published their 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. In this plan they commit to

leaving a positive, measurable, and lasting contribution to out planet and our society.

Lofty goals indeed, but what about some of the more concrete specifics? Well Dell has published 21 concrete goals with an end-date of 2020 by which they have to achieve them.

The goals cover three distinct categories, Environment, People and Communities.

The Environmental goals include:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our facilities and logistics operations by 50%
  • Reduce the energy intensity of our product portfolio by 80% and
  • Ensure 100 percent of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable

The People goals include:

  • Increase university hiring to a rate of 25 percent of all external hiring
  • Engage 40 percent of our global Dell team in employee resource groups by 2020 and
  • Achieve 75 percent favorable responses (or higher) in team member satisfaction globally as measured through the annual employee satisfaction survey

While the two Community goals are:

  • Engage 75 percent of team members in community service by 2020 and provide 5 million cumulative hours of service to the communities in which we live and work and
  • Apply our expertise and technology in underserved communities to help 3 million youth directly and support 10 million people indirectly to grow and thrive

The goals are all extremely laudable and measurable, and Dell has committed to transparency in the process. It will be interesting to watch Dell’s progress with the plan, especially as we come closer to the end-date 2020.

Dell claims to have worked closely with its customers in formulating this plan, but according to this Twitter conversation, not all Dell’s customers are on-board, as yet

An obvious goal missing from the People section would be to increase the number of female executives in the organisation, though Dell is already one of the top US companies for executive women. No harm to have written goals for this too though.

Finally while discussing this initiative with David Lear, Dell’s Executive Director of sustainability programs, I asked him what was going to happen to this program given Dell’s move from being a publicly traded to a privately owned company. He responded that because the plan was generated in consultation with Dell’s customer base, those customer’s were unlikely to change significantly after the privatisation, and Dell’s commitment to them wouldn’t change either.

Utilities should open up API’s to their smart meter data

Smart meter

The world of utilities is changing with the roll out of smart meters. One of the biggest changes will be the wealth of data that utility companies will suddenly be flooded with.

As we noted in a previous post on GreenMonk, Centrica has:

18 million residential accounts and one million business accounts. Right now they are billing residential accounts every three months and they are managing 75 million meter reads per annum.

With the move to smart meters, Centrica will take electricity reads every 30 minutes and gas reads once per day. This means a shift from 75 million meter reads per annum to 120 billion meter reads a year. 120 billion – that’s billion with a b. That’s a phenomenal amount of data to have to deal with.

What will utilities do with this sudden influx of data?

Apart from the traditional billing function, many utilities have no idea what, if anything, they will do with the data. And this is hardly surprising, this is a new level of energy consumption information that we have not had access to previously. And furthermore, utilities have not traditionally been in the data business.

So, what should they do with all this new data? Obviously, I have a couple of ideas (more on that later), but likely you do too, and possibly so too do some utilities.

However, to really maximise their chances of coming up with a good use of the data, it’s best to expose it to as many people as possible. Crowdsource the ideas.

Utility companies should now give serious consideration to exposing their data, anonymised, through the use of openly documented API‘s and allow developers have at it. They should then run hackathons and competitions to see who can come up with the best applications making use of the data. Why not?

A couple of ideas – how about an application to highlight exceptional energy use. For example, would customers pay an extra €1 a month to receive an alert if their elderly relative’s lights didn’t go out at 11pm, or come on again at 8am? Or for people with holiday homes, would they pay €1 a month to be alerted if the lights went on when they’re not there? Or if the electricity went off (and there was food in the freezer, or worse beer in the fridge!), for example?

If utilities were to open the data to developers, who knows what amazing ideas would emerge – developers are after all, as we are fond of saying, the New Kingmakers.

SAP for Utilities event 2013 was all about utility customer communications

Huntington Beach

GreenMonk attended the North American SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach California last week. The theme of this year’s event was Designing the Modern Utility. This was our fifth time attending the event, and for the first time we saw a significant focus on the voice/opinion of the customer (although in fairness, we didn’t attend the event in 2012).

Utility companies, as we have said many times in the past, have a very poor record with customer communications. Typically, the only times you hear from a utility company is when they are sending a bill, a disconnection warning, or notice of a rate increase. None of these are very positive interactions. It is no surprise then that in an age of increasing customer importance, trust in utility companies is the lowest level it has been in years.

It is hardly surprising though. Many utilities are coming from a situation where they are, or until recently have been, regional monopolies. Their customers had no choice of supplier, and so the utilities didn’t feel a need to listen to their customers views. Furthermore, utilities are, by their nature, extremely conservative organisations. They need to be, given they are handling such necessities as water, gas and electricity. So any change in their attitude to customer communications will happen slowly.

Change, it would appear, is very much underway now in the utilities industry. Jane Arnold from City of San Diego Public Utilities, San Diego’s water utility, gave a talk entitled Putting the “E” in Customer Engagement. Kevin Jackson from Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OGE) discussed in his talk how OGE have rolled out 800,000 smart meters and are using these to provide their customers with access to realtime energy consumption information. They hope that by providing customers with this information, and by rolling out time of use billing to defer the need to build a new power plant in 2020.

And Tracy Kirk from New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSEG) talked about how PSEG started to use Twitter to begin a two way conversation with its customers. Then it was hit with Hurricane Sandy, and Tracy outlined how Twitter helped PSEG to manage its customers expectations and reduce frustrations associated with the hurricane’s damage to its infrastructure.

There was even a keynote from Julie Albright, a research scientist at the University of Southern California, on the topic of the Social Utility, strongly echoing the closing keynote GreenMonk gave at the same event in San Antonio in 2011 on the topic of Potent Social Media strategies for Utilities.

Even the conversations in the corridors referred to the need for increased customer communications, far more than at any previous SAP for Utilities event.

Utilities are starting to realise the necessity of improved customer communications, and this can only be a good thing.

How SAP achieved LEED Platinum certification for their headquarters in Pennsylvania

As I was in Pennsylvania to attend SAP’s Analyst’s Base Camp event earlier this year, I took the opportunity to get a tour of the new LEED Platinum certified Headquarters building. I was shown around the building by the facilities manager, Jim Dodd, who informed me of the different steps taken to enable the structure to achieve its an impressive LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

I videoed the tour and see below for a transcription of it:

Tom Raftery: Hey everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV, I am here in Newtown Square at SAP Headquarters. I am with –

Jim Dodd: Jim Dodd.

Tom Raftery: Jim, you are –

Jim Dodd: The Facilities Manager for the campus.

Tom Raftery: Okay, now we are standing on a — we are in the new building in Newtown Square.

Jim Dodd: The new LEED Platinum Headquarters’ building, right.

Tom Raftery: Okay, and can you tell me about the floor that we are standing on?

Jim Dodd: In comparison to the floor in the headquarters’ old building, where we used marble that was imported from Italy, what we wanted to do was to reduce that cost and do a sustainable floor. And so this floor is a concrete floor, and it has a mixture of seashells and glass in it on a terrazzo finish and then we polished it and honed it up, so it would be nice and shiny. But it’s considerably less expensive obviously than the marble floor in the main building and we use it in the atrium area in a radiant floor which we’ll talk about in a minute.

But it’s a less expensive solution and yet it’s a very attractive solution in terms of the flooring for both the link to the new building and the atrium that runs the full length of the floor downstairs on the promenade.

Tom Raftery: So, Jim, tell me about the floor.

Jim Dodd: Okay. In the promenade area, below us here, is a radiant floor, we have pipes that run through that floor and we have ten geothermal wells that are drilled in the back of our property. We take the water out of the ground where it comes as a constant temperature and we pump it through the piping on the concrete floor downstairs and the floor radiates heat or air-conditioning depending on what time of the year it is. And it helps to keep this big atrium very comfortable without having to use large amounts of air-conditioning or heating.

Tom Raftery: So it’s just using natural heat or cooling from the earth.

Jim Dodd: That’s correct, yes. So the water really comes out about 55 degrees out of the ground and we can pump that through the floor and that cools the concrete and radiates coolness in the summer time, and then in the winter time what we got to do is heat that water up to about 72 degrees and then we pump that through the floor and it heats the concrete and it radiates heat off the floor, and because it’s on the floor, it affects the employees immediately and it keeps the atrium very, very, very comfortable.

Tom Raftery: Okay, and you’ve got these nice banisters.

Jim Dodd: Yes, it’s an interesting situation here. When the original site survey was done for this building, it would have wiped out of a grove of the mature Chinese chestnut trees that are absolutely beautiful and are part of the aesthetics of the campus. So we moved the building in order to save half of those chestnut trees, but the chestnut trees that we did have to harvest in order to put the building here, we had them milled into handrails for the whole building.

About 90% of what’s in this building to construct it was sourced locally within 500 miles of the building and that’s a sustainability feature again, it provides points on the LEED scale because it cuts down on your carbon output because you are not exporting things from thousands and thousands of miles away.

Tom Raftery: So Jim, tell me about the under floor?

Jim Dodd: Yeah, the difference — the primary difference between the original building and the new building is in the original building the air distribution comes down from the ceiling plenum, and of course, that’s not very efficient because heat rises, so if you are trying to get heat down to where the people sit, it’s not in a very efficient approach. In this building, we use an under floor distribution where the air comes up through the floor and it’s controlled in each location with a vent, so people can control the amount of air coming in their space and by coming up from the floor, the treated air gets to the employee immediately and there is an immediate reaction to that temperature adjustment.

In the other building of course the hot air comes down but it turns around and goes right back up, so it’s not as efficient as this underfloor system is in this building here. We have a wood feature in each of our hallways that separate the neighborhoods and it’s made from bamboo. Again a sustainable wood that’s renewable every seven years in comparison to oak or walnut or some other wood that takes 40 or 50 years to mature. We decided to use bamboo in this building because it’s sustainable.

Tom Raftery: So, tell me about the carpets.

Jim Dodd: So the carpet, in most instances when you install large amounts of carpet, there is volatile organic chemicals in the carpet like formaldehyde that require you to aerate the building for a period of time before you can occupy it. We work with the manufacturer of this particular carpet to reduce or eliminate VOCs in it. So we did not have to ventilate the building for a period of time prior to occupancy.
And it makes for a cleaner environment for the employees overall without the organic chemicals off gassing from the carpet.

Tom Raftery: So what have we got beside us, Jim?

Jim Dodd: This is a filter water system that we put in. A number of years ago we used to provide bottled water for the employees and then we realized how much plastic waste was being generated, and even though it was being recycled. We decided to eliminate bottled water from the campus and we installed one of these Innowave water systems in each of our pantries. It’s filtered and it also cools the water and heats the water. So if you want to make tea, you can get hot water, and if you want cold water, you can get cold water.

But it reduced our cost by over $120,000 on bottled water, and got rid of the plastic issue.

Tom Raftery: So, Jim, where are we now?

Jim Dodd: We are in the chiller room of the new building of the Platinum LEED building and what we do that’s unique in this building in comparison to other buildings is we actually make ice at night and store it in these very big tanks behind me, and we use the system because at night the electricity is less expensive and the pressure on the grid is lower. So we don’t have to run the chiller during the day, because what we do is, we melt the ice during the day when we need air-conditioning and then we use that to cool the building and we don’t have to use our chiller during the day, when the grid is being stressed by everyone else, wanting air conditioning.

Tom Raftery: So Jim, tell me about this garden, where are we?

Jim Dodd: We are on the roof of the new building, believe it or not, and this is a green roof, this is a very unique approach to maintaining constant temperatures in the building. By having a green roof we keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
The other unique thing about this, as you can see we have to mow grass and we didn’t want to have to store gasoline up here, because it’s a hazardous flammable material. So we sought out a company that made a very good electric lawnmower and we mow the grass up here with electric lawnmower. In that way, we don’t have to store any gasoline up here, and it’s quite and it doesn’t just dirt people when they are working, it’s just a very unique approach to roof construction.

Tom Raftery: Jim, what have we behind this?

Jim Dodd: Behind this is the meadow as a part of our 102 acres of property here, and what we did this year, was working with the Triskeles Foundation and One Village, One Farm, these are non-profit organizations; we agree to put in an organic garden. We have enough room. So we put in a 100×50 organic garden with 22 raised beds and we’ll donate the food at the end of this year to all the local food banks.

We expect to produce hundreds of pounds of produce in this garden, and working with organic, no pesticides or anything like that, all natural ingredients to keep the bugs off, and then there is a 6 foot deer fence around it, because we have a lot of deer on the property and the garden would just get eaten to nothing. So we put a fence around it to protect it from the deer.

So we’re doing cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes and peppers, and then, we’ll have a fall planting as well, and all of that food will go to the local food banks.

We have 80 volunteers that have volunteered to take care of the garden. So we have plenty of people to take care of it, and it’s going to work out really, really well, and it’s another sustainable aspect of the property.

We also have two beehives on the property as well. We have a beekeeper that works for SAP and he had asked us if he could put beehives on the property. And we agreed to do that, because we felt that that was another sustainable issue in terms of pollinating and protecting the bees.

There has been a degeneration of bee colonies around the world and so having good bee colonies is very important to the propagation of all the different plant life that we have on the campus. So we decided to put the beehives here as well.

Tom Raftery: So what have we behind us, Sir Jim?

Jim Dodd: Okay, what you see behind us here is a 60,000 gallon cistern, buried in the ground, and we collect our rainwater in that cistern and then we use the rainwater for irrigation and flushing toilets, you know what, they call brown water or gray water, and with all the rain that we’ve had it’s full.

But it’s another way for us to get LEED points, but it’s also a better way to manage our water consumption on campus because we can use that rainwater to irrigate. We have a beautiful courtyard in between the two buildings and we irrigate that with that water. We also irrigate the green roof that you’ve seen with the cistern water. So it all goes into that 2 million gallons of savings of water per year.

Tom Raftery: So why are we standing beside this artwork, Jim?

Jim Dodd: This is part of our social sustainability program where we work with local non-profits to do certain things. In this particular case, we work with a non-profit called Fresh Artists. These are young children, these are not adults, these are children who have painted this artwork that you see behind you.

We make a donation, substantial donation to fresh artists, so they can buy supplies and easels and paints and brushes for their children, and then we in turn purchase their artwork to hang in this building.

So except on the executive floor, all other floors of this building have examples of this artwork from these young children and some of them are quite attractive and fun. But it’s a social sustainability thing as a part of our work with the community.

And the IT systems?

Jim Dodd: It’s a dashboard.

Tom Raftery: Right.

Jim Dodd: And it tells you the consumption of electricity in this building, the consumption of electricity in the other building, and it tells me what my PUE is in my data center, which is a –

Tom Raftery: I know PUE.

Jim Dodd: Okay, you know what that is. So it tells me how we’re operating, whether there’s some kind of anomaly, we’re using more electricity than usual. We can get just a quick glimpse of how the building is functioning, and what its consumption rates are in both buildings.

But then they go far beyond that and they can drill down to an individual air handler, right to the motor and determine if it’s running, how fast it’s going, how much power it’s using. We monitor over 10,000 points of information of data on all the systems in the building.

Full disclosure – SAP paid my travel and expenses to attend the SAP Analysts Base Camp

IBM tackling water issues globally

Home electricity consumption

Water, water everywhere…

Water is becoming scarce resource globally – even more-so in rapidly growing urban environments.In fact, according to the UN, water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population growth in the last century. – See more at: http://www.unwater.org/statistics_use.html#sthash.SVRxbpoE.dpuf Also, increased droughts, and flash floods are not helping matters.

To help alleviate this, it is great to see IBM stepping up to the challenge and helping with the issue in various communities:

  1. In London for example IBM announced that it will be working with Thames Water to improve operations and customer interaction. According to the announcement, the alliance will analyse big data and social media to boost “safety, reducing total expenditure and environmental impact alongside lowering energy and chemical costs”. This is important as Thames Water ramps up to meet the obligations of the next regulatory period (Asset Management Programme 6 – AMP6) from 2015-2020.
  2. IBM are also using big data and analytics to help the Arad Group process water consumption data of water meters. The Arad Group has water utility customers in 50 countries worldwide who could potentially benefit from this getting quick insights into water losses in its system. This solution also reduces by around the number of technician visits required by about 50%, freeing up those hours for more valuable work.
  3. IBM and Waterfund LLC, have signed up the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda to become the first African nation to become a member of the Water Cost Index (WCI). The Water Cost Index calculates the unsubsidised cost of freshwater production, to bring financial transparency to investors in water infrastructure. The hope is that this will help Uganda attract private sector funding and facilitate Uganda in the provision of clean and safe freshwater for its citizens.
  4. In South Bend, Indiana, federal requirements to change the way the sewer systems work meant that this small city (pop. 100,000) was going to be faced with a bill in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    To avoid this they instrumented their sewers, and wirelessly piped the information from these sewers to IBM’s Intelligent Operation Center (IOC). South Bend now has the most instrumented sewer system in the world, reducing the number of waste water overflows and keeping the local water system cleaner. The system saves South Bend $100m in water capacity and reduces the number of fines South Bend would have been subject to by $600,000
  5. IBM has worked with partners to manage Lake George, one of New York’s most pristine natural ecosystems. This project aims to create a sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction system giving scientists and the community a real-time picture of the health of the lake. The hope being that the software and lessons learned can ultimately be used to help other lake systems worldwide.
  6. And, IBM worked with the Dutch Ministry of Water (Rijkswaterstaat) on a project called Digital Delta. Theis project aims to provide realtime information on water quality, the impact of extreme weather events, and the risk of floods or droughts. It will enable relevant agencies to share this information quickly so response efforts can be quickly coordinated.

Ready access to water has been an issue for mankind since the dawn of time. With our ever growing global population, water is going to become an ever more pressing concern. Companies like IBM who can help alleviate some of these issues will no doubt have a ready market for the foreseeable future.

Image credit Tom Raftery

Belkin brings the Internet of things home (with bonus IFTTT)

Home electricity consumption

We had a fascinating conversation with Belkin’s Kevin Ashton recently about home automation. Kevin is the general manager, global product management for Belkin Business.

Right now, Belkin have a nice home automation platform called WeMo where they have devices like Wifi connected wall outlets, Wifi connected motion sensors, WiFi connected baby monitors, and WiFi connected webcams. The platform also has smartphone apps for Android and iOS so you can connect yo your home on your phone or tablet from anywhere in the world and switch your appliances on/off, listen in on your baby, and even check the webcam to make sure your child/elderly parent are doing ok.

Wemo even connects to IFTT so you can set rules for your devices (turn on lights when sun sets, alert me if there’s movement in my house, alert me if there’s no motion in my parent’s home, etc.).

This would be very cool if Belkin just stopped there, but Belkin’s CEO Chet Pipkin, has an interest in home connectivity, and so the company is taking it’s home networking and internet of things several steps further.

Belkin recently announced that they are working on a new series of products branded Belkin Echo. They will bring to market two devices, Echo Water and Echo Electricity. The two devices are for analysing and reporting on your usage of water and electricity respectively.

One of the things which is unique about these devices is how unobtrusively they work. Echo Electricity uses a single sensor which can be placed at the meter, breaker box or in an outlet and it detects current and voltage signatures within the building’s electrical circuit to determine which devices are being used, when they are being used, and how much electricity they consume.

Similarly, the Echo Water sensor can be attached to your plumbing and it senses changes in pressure and vibrations which occur everytime you use your water. It uses these to identify every fixture which uses water (shower, dish washer, toilet, etc.) and can report on how much water each device uses. This enables you to use water more efficiently, and identify leaks before they become a serious problem.

We asked Kevin if people would buy one of these Echo products. He replied that “We all care about things which affect us now, and tend to discount things where the benefits are down the line.” The Echo platform, he said can help with immediate savings. It can identify waste, identify costs and potentially shut off water in the event of a burst pipe (which leads us to wonder if insurance companies might discount customers with an Echo Water device installed).

At the moment the devices are still in development but the US Department of Defense is currently trialling the Echo Electricity in an effort to increase its energy intelligence, and reduce its carbon bootprint. A “major US utility” is also trialling the Echo Electricity, and this gives a hint to one possible route to market for these devices. The Echo Electricity could well be a customer service differentiator for a utility company (especially in deregulated markets). Customers ringing to find out why their bill is so high could potentially get an immediate answer, and utility bills could become itemised, and so look more like a credit card bill, than the current single line item bill customers receive.

When will these devices be available?

Don’t hold your breath – according to Kevin, Echo Water will be generally available in 2014 while Echo Electricity is a bit more complex so there will be pilots through 2014 with it being generally available in 2015.

As Kevin said at the conclusion of our conversation, “The goal at Belkin is to launch the products when they work, not before”.

Image credit Tom Raftery

Ariba’s AribaLive conference reviewed

AribaLive 2013

I attended the AribaLive event in Berlin last week – this is the European conference for Ariba customers and partners to share stories, network and learn from one another.

Ariba is a company which provides electronic sales and procurement solutions for companies. There are over 1 million companies in 190 countries using Ariba. Customer companies mentioned or presenting included Clariant, Solvay, Disney, Deutsche Bank, Astra Zeneca, Fujitsu, Aviva and EADS. Naturally I was curious to hear how their customers fared from dematerialising parts of their buying and selling processes.

I wasn’t totally clear on some of the advantages the Ariba offers buyers and sellers until Ariba President Kevin Costello, in his keynote explained it with a good analogy to the likes of Facebook, Amazon and eBay. As Costello said, Facebook has completely changed how people connect/reconnect. Similarly, eBay and Amazon have totally transformed how people shop for goods. I knew exactly what he meant as I’ve recently bought a new camera. I started by checking camera review sites and Amazon reviews to find the best camera for my needs. I then went to both eBay and Amazon to identify the best deal, from the most reputable seller. Being able to see peer reviews not just of the camera, but of the sellers as well, meant I was very confident when I decided to buy my secondhand camera, that I would get a good product at a good price.

In the same way, Costello said, the Ariba Network brings huge transparency to enterprise buyers and sellers, allowing them to make purchasing, or sales decisions more efficiently and with fewer concerns. In fact, the consumerisation of business commerce was a term used throughout the event.

Several customer presentations followed with organisations like Spanish building company FCC mentioning that they both source €2 billion, and cut 80,000 electronic invoices with their Ariba system annually. They estimate they are saving 10% per annum by using Ariba.

Apart from the efficiencies of using electronic solutions, how else does one benefit (to the tune of 10%, for example) by using Ariba?

invoice

Well part of the answer was provided in the talk given by EADS Vice President of Accounts Payable, Bob McCartney. He talked about the cost of dealing with incoming invoices for EADS. According to McCartney, dealing with an invoice manually costs EADS €15, running it through OCR brings the price down to €4 per invoice, while the price of dealing with e-invoices is €2. That is massive – electronic invoicing is half the cost of OCR’d invoices and seven and a half times cheaper than manual invoices. Right there you see a huge business case for e-invoicing.

Other advantages of electronic invoicing outlined by McCartney were – a recurring 22% cost saving, increasing on-time payment of suppliers, improved visibility/forecasting of the company’s cash position, and improved relations with suppliers (more process transparency, as well as on-time payments).

Finally, Ariba’s Supplier Risk Management solution was interesting to learn about as well. This solution allows users to, for example, figure out in the event of a natural disaster in a distant part of the world, what the potential impact may on your organisations supply chain. Though a more interesting use case, given it can drill down several layers into your supply chain may be avoiding the use of conflict minerals in your products, for example.

Full disclosure – Ariba paid my travel and accommodation to attend this event.