The GSL Group is focused on maintaining facilities that are economically and environmentally sustainable. They need to ensure building resources are managed effectively and utilized conservatively.
The management team responsible for these initiatives analyze data that is collected by the Building Engineers and transformed into charts by Excel power users in their Finance team.
The multi-step process to collect and deliver the data to management was labour and resource intensive. It was all completed by hand with lots of duplication of effort. The process also pulled a large group of staff from multiple departments away from other mission-critical responsibilities and daily duties.
Here is the breakdown of how the process worked before the solution was implemented:
- Every day the engineers used paper and pen to record the meter reading numbers from the facility’s energy meters that measure the amount of electricity, gas, and water used.
- Engineers would later log on to a computer to enter the data into a digital list in the GSL Portal website.
- Next, the Finance Department would re-type the data into an Excel spreadsheet and check the data for errors or missing numbers.
- The Finance team would then manually manipulate the data into a visual graphic by making a PowerPivot chart inside Excel and saving the chart as a static image file.
- The static image file would be uploaded onto a web page in the GSL Portal website.
It could take days for information pass through the various departments and systems and reach the management team for monitoring and analysis for anomalies. GSL Group could literally be leaking money while they waited – should, for example, a water leak in a building go undetected.
Delivering useful reports was also a challenge as missing data was not being caught in real time. The system lacked a way to notify staff in a timely fashion if data was not entered on a specific day. This often-left gaps in the data collected.
The data entered was often speckled with inaccuracies. Typos would not be noticed until days later when it was too late to go recheck the meter. The list used to store the meter reading information used text fields to capture numeric data.
GSL Group asked Regroove to build them a better system to manage meter readings. Regroove suggested creating a cloud-based, mobile “Meter Reading” app. Data can be entered and analyzed from anywhere, on any device, at any time. Both the building engineers and the management team already carry their smart phones everywhere with them when they are working.
Regroove selected Microsoft PowerApps for the data entry solution because it is simple to setup (“download, login, and ready to go”). It also requires little-to-no end user training for building engineers to open the app and select the Meter Reading form to enter data into the form fields.
Regroove designed the form to increase speed and accuracy. Most of the form fields use drop-down choice menus to minimize typing and eliminate typos. The meter reading field is one of only two fields requiring the building engineer to type, and only accepts numeric values. Data validation checks are built into the app to catch incidences of missing data and pop-up alerts to flag possible data errors when data does not fit into the averages. Building engineers must type an explanation for why a meter reading number has spiked – such as setup for a special event like a concert consuming extra power – before submitting a reading that is flagged as an outlier.
The Finance team does not need to touch the data in the new solution. Data entered in the PowerApp form by the building engineers automatically flows into a SharePoint database, powered by the Microsoft Flow automation engine.
Regroove also configured Microsoft PowerBI automatically adds the fresh data to the charts and graphics on the Meter Reading dashboard web page in the GSL Group Portal. The data automatically updates every time the management team opens or refreshes the webpage.
The Management team can now consume current data from their device of choice in the office or on-the-go in real time through the magic of electronic forms and process automation.
Outcomes and Benefits
Eliminating the need for building engineers to transcribe numbers from a paper notebook into a computer speed up the process and reduced errors.
One of the biggest successes of the project is the reduction of staff time required to clean the data to prepare it for management to consume.
The Finance team is no longer needed to perform data entry in Excel, validate the data for completeness or correctness, create Excel charts, or publish images of those charts to a website for management to review.
Management no longer must wait days for their staff to find time in their already busy days to update data or create static graphs.
The hours of human effort saved every week from automating the procedure can be invested into other mission-critical tasks.
The multiple safeguards built into the app produce clean, correct, and consistent validated data, which is essential to produce useful, accurate reports for trend analysis.
Building engineers can respond immediately to probable problems since the app helps spot spikes and drops in the data in real time when the numbers are being entered into the form.
The management team now have clean, colourful, and easy-to-read business intelligence visualization charts and graphs on their management dashboards to identify rolling trends for their meter readings per facility and by date.
The company is empowered with real time data to detect anomalies in the data trends and take swift action when needed.
GSL is now mindful of their daily usage in real time. They can clearly see when energy levels are trending higher than previous years. GSL can identify ways to save money by reducing energy consumption.
GSL Group will be able to quickly and easily customize their business intelligence charts and graphs to display the data in a way that works for their team as their strategic objectives shift and business needs evolve.
This solution was built using:
- Microsoft PowerApps
- Microsoft Flow
- Microsoft SharePoint
- Microsoft PowerBI
- Microsoft Azure
- Microsoft Office 365
- SQL Database