In this era of instant gratification, it may be surprising for some to learn that more than a quarter of invoices and payments involving energy data

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2 In this era of instant gratification, it may be surprising for some to learn that more than a quarter of invoices and payments involving energy data are still transmitted on paper through snail mail. If your organization is one of these, you may have wondered if electronic bills might be right for you. This ebook will help you understand the pros and cons of moving to electronic bill processing, especially if you want to maintain a database record for historical energy tracking.

3 Types of Electronic Billing Advantages of Receiving Electronic Bills Disadvantages of Receiving Electronic Bills Favorable Electronic Billing Scenarios Non-EDI File Sharing Options EDI File Sharing EDI History EDI Process EDI Transition Challenges Integration of Energy Management Software Third Party EDI Services About This ebook Table of Contents 3

4 Types of Electronic Billing There are two basic types of electronic bills - EDI and everything else. EDI stands for Electronic Data Interchange. EDI 810 is the specific standard for transmitting utility bills. EDI 820 is the Payment or Order Remittance Advice typically used by the buyer to respond to the electronic invoice. Both standards are maintained by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the governing body for defining EDI formats in the United States. $100 $100 Types of Electronic Billing 4

5 Advantages of Receiving Electronic Bills 1. No more keying errors. As anyone who has ever entered a utility bill into a computer record from a paper copy will tell you, the process will introduce errors. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is that utility bills are complicated, and there are a lot of ways to introduce error into the electronic billing record during transcription. 2. Data granularity. A bill import process can transmit large quantities of data very quickly. It might not be economically feasible to manually key 20 line items from a paper utility bill, but if the same data is available electronically, it doesn t take any more time and labor to assimilate all available bill line items. And some people want and need to see more detail. $100 Advantages of Receiving Electronic Bills 5

6 3. Business process efficiencies. Moving a paper utility bill from the vendor to accounts payable to a facilities energy manager to the company sustainability office takes time and labor. Even the best of paper-based systems may involve double data entry, multiple databases and reporting requirements, and lengthy processing times that result in late payments and fees. Electronic billing does not necessarily solve all these problems, but is often a first step towards doing so. Disadvantages of Receiving Electronic Bills 1. Setup can be costly. If your organization is set up to handle paper bills, any change to the status quo will involve training, new tools, and staff expertise. In some cases, you might need some specialized software to $100 Disadvantages of Receiving Electronic Bills 6

7 be able to read, interpret and deal with the transmittal and the receipt of electronic bills. 2. Some organizations need a paper bill. Most vendors who provide electronic utility bills will not concurrently provide paper bills it s an either/or economic proposition for them. There may be legal or other requirements that make electronic billing impractical for your organization. 3. Maintenance can be expensive. Configuration and management of electronic billing data requires a high skill level of expertise. Savings from low skill level data entry positions may be more than offset by increased costs associated with IT and project management. Disadvantages of Receiving Electronic Bills 7

8 Favorable Electronic Billing Scenarios Several factors increase the odds of a favorable ROI for receiving utility bills electronically: 1. Economies of scale. If you are receiving only a few dozen utility bills a month, electronic billing may not be worth the effort. But if you are receiving hundreds, or even thousands of utility bills monthly, electronic billing may offer the opportunity for significant savings. Favorable Electronic Billing Scenarios 8

9 2. Relatively few vendors. Multiple vendors mean multiple configuration and setup issues. Such a complex project may turn out to be unsustainable. 3. One or two primary vendors. When most of your utility bills are coming from one or two providers, it is much easier to address issues associated with electronic billing. You will be able to make the transition to electronic billing more quickly, and realize related savings more easily. 4. Regional facilities rather than national facilities. Electronic bills are more easily handled when all or most of your facilities are in the same region. This scenario tends to reduce the number of vendors, rate schedules, and geopolitical issues involved in managing energy data. Favorable Electronic Billing Scenarios 9

10 Non-EDI File Sharing Options Outside of the formal EDI protocols, a number of businesses operate quite successfully by sharing electronic billing data in more flexible formats and through less formal procedures. Web scraping: Web scraping involves navigating to a vendor website and copying or downloading the needed data. Mozenda is a popular tool for this type of procedure. Mozenda enables a largely automated procedure for logging into a vendor web portal, navigating to the correct page/file, and downloading the available data. Often these tasks can be scheduled monthly or at whatever time intervals are desirable. Web scraping typically does not involve any per-bill fees, and the tools are quite sophisticated and evolving at a rapid pace. Mint.com is an example of a popular free cloud-based web scraping tool that consumers can configure to maintain banking data for multiple accounts in a single interface. PDF downloads: PDF or Portable Document Format is a common file format for transmission of billing data, since it protects the integrity of the billing data. There are two types of PDFs. A native PDF file has raw data encoded within it. Non-EDI File Sharing Options 10

11 Conversion software can easily extract that data to word processing or spreadsheet documents for maintaining an energy database. A scanned PDF file is essentially a picture of your utility bill. The image file is more problematic, requiring interpretation/translation by Optical Character Recognition (OCR see below), so it is not as useful as a native PDF. CSV downloads: CSV or Comma-Separated Value files are popular because of their compatibility with a large number of database and spreadsheet applications. They are essentially text files punctuated by commas, which delineate the data into discrete bundles. Each record consists of a line of text. The next line begins the next record. A database record for an individual s contact information might look like this: John,Doe,111 First This information would correspond to the contact first name, last name, address, city, state, ZIP code, phone number and address. For utility bill information, the database record might include account number, meter code, commodity, unit of measure, bill start date, bill end date, use, demand, and cost: 43406,1424,electric,kwh, , ,40029,29, Non-EDI File Sharing Options 11

12 $100 OCR downloads: Some vendors will create and distribute image data. This is a more complex process of data sharing. The paper bill must be scanned to create the image file. Then the image is interpreted by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and the billing data is culled and saved, often in a proprietary file format developed by the OCR vendor. Finally, the resulting data is converted to the file format required by the bill recipient. OCR conversion has some unique difficulties, one being that if the utility vendor changes the configuration of the billing document without informing the recipient, the OCR conversion process may break down and require time and effort to restore. In the meantime, data records may be compromised. $100 $100 Non-EDI File Sharing Options 12

13 Some utility vendors provide non-edi electronic billing options. Many West Coast providers will provide electronic billing data to customers in a spreadsheet format. The advantage of this for the consumer is that there is no perbill fee for receiving the data in this form. Disadvantages include the lack of a paper bill paper trail, and the need for a software system to interpret and archive the billing data. And then there is Non-EDI File Sharing Options 13

14 the need to create or revise a utility bill payment process. This is one reason that bill outsourcing may be advantageous to some organizations. With outsourcing, a third party vendor will assume varying degrees of responsibility for processing your utility bills. Cass Bank is such a vendor. Cass collects the billing data, keys the bills, and generates a file which can be imported into the EnergyCAP energy management software. Cass can also pay the bills if desired. The per-bill fee varies from vendor to vendor, and must be considered carefully to determine if outsourcing is a viable option. Non-EDI File Sharing Options 14

15 Regardless of the electronic bill transfer process or the file format(s) shared, each data field (billing date, cost, and use details, taxes, etc.) must be carefully mapped to ensure that the data is accurately and consistently recorded month after month. Good data leads to good reporting and productive energy analysis. Non-EDI File Sharing Options 15

16 EDI File Sharing As mentioned previously, the electronic utility bill format is called EDI is the number of the format for electronic utility bills. There are many different kinds of specialized EDI file formats, and they are not really human-readable. The image below is a portion of an actual EDI 810 utility bill invoice with client information redacted. There are multiple EDI formats for pricing, purchase orders, shipping notices and manifestos, etc. The raw EDI file is datarich, and can be quite helpful for analytics. EDI File Sharing 16

17 EDI History EDI was originally developed in the 1990s by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today, there is a parent standard ANSI X12. ANSI is American National Standards Institute. Another important player in the development and maintenance of the EDI standards relating to utility data is the Utility Industry Group (UIG). This is a group of utility industry experts that meets periodically review and recommend updates to the existing standard. One of the problems with EDI 810 is that it is a rather loose standard. As a result, all utility companies do not implement it in the same fashion. This is understandable considering the history of the standard. At the time of its development, there were perhaps a dozen or so large vendors that worked together to fashion the standard. Each vendor had its own billing system in which the company was heavily invested. None of the companies desired to make sizeable investments to change the EDI History 17

18 way they were creating utility bills in order to meet the new standard. So the resulting standard was intentionally designed to be flexible enough to accommodate a number of different approaches. That lack of standardization can create challenges for EDI implementation, especially with multiple vendors. EDI History 18

19 EDI Process The first part of the invoice process is transmission of the EDI 810 invoice by the vendor. The typical EDI process has several requirements. One is the EDI 997 Functional Acknowledgment. After the vendor transmits the EDI 810 invoice, the recipient is required to post an EDI 997 as a response. This confirms that the file was received and was intact. This is the vendor s proof that the bill was received. These sorts of transmissions will often occur over a Value Added Network (VAN), which is a kind of commercial internet site that provides a higher level of security and control than might be available on the public internet. Once the bill has been received, the actual funds transfer is often coordinated through the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) system, and an EDI 820 Payment Order/Remittance Advice (an electronic document that specifies all pertinent elements of the electronic transaction) may be effectively wrapped in the ACH banking transaction. The EDI 820 closes the loop on the transaction, providing verification of the completed electronic exchange. EDI Process 19

20 Here is a typical EDI workflow: 1. Vendor generates the EDI 810 invoice. 2. Vendor transmits the invoice via the VAN. 3. Recipient (or proxy) returns the EDI 997 receipt. 4. Proxy delivers the EDI 810 invoice to the customer. 5. Customer imports the relevant EDI data, often into an energy management software application. 6. Customer passes appropriate data to the internal A/P system. Customer also generates the EDI 820 electronic payment stub and payment via one of several methods to the utility company. Each utility company has an implementation guide that spells out exactly how the 810 transaction will be implemented EDI Process 20

21 through their billing system. The Guide might easily be a hundred pages long. It will spell out exactly what each of the EDI codes mean, and what the billing conventions are. Of course, the invoice and payment processes are only one piece of the utility bill puzzle. There are many related business processes including energy analysis, bill approval, sustainability reporting, etc. Often, energy management software can facilitate and streamline many of these processes. The City of Virginia Beach, VA, recently won a national award for a revamped bill payment process that included EDI. Their successes reveal that the possibilities for efficiency gains and energy savings through electronic bill payment processes are numerous. CONGRATULATIONS Virginia Beach, VA EDI Process 21

22 EDI Transition Challenges There are several challenges related to transition from paper billing to EDI. The first is that it is usually all or nothing. Most utilities that use EDI for invoicing require EDI for payments. This may require buy-in from your company s finance department, which may be difficult to achieve if the transition would involve significant changes to established accounting procedures. Some people are simply not comfortable not having a paper bill. It s easy to print out a bill likeness, but for some people it just isn t the same. Another challenge is the compressed time period typically allowed for the transition. Most vendors do not provide a period of parallel processing (paper and electronic). This is unfortunate, because without a significant time period, it can be challenging to ensure/verify that the process has been completed satisfactorily for all accounts/meters. How can you find out if your vendor uses EDI or at least offers EDI? First, browse the vendor website. Utility vendor websites EDI Transition Challenges 22

23 generally include a Search feature. Do a site search for EDI or electronic billing, and see what information is available. You may find that your vendor(s) have some kind of electronic billing and what they really might mean is electronic payment option that is limited to residential customers. Make sure that they offer EDI for commercial customers with multiple accounts. If you don t see any EDI articles or instructions when searching the vendor website, it is probably an indication that the vendor is not keeping up with EDI. Generally, if the vendor does not have an EDI contact phone number and/or an easily-accessible implementation guide, then their EDI program is probably not very active. You will find that most of the IOUs (Investor-Owned Utilities) have well-defined EDI processes and offerings. These vendors include Florida Power, Southern Cal Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Dominion. The EnergyCAP website provides a list of all the known vendors providing EDI bills. The list, which is periodically updated, also indicates which EDI vendors require the EDI 820 response. EDI Transition Challenges 23

24 Integration of Energy Management Software Energy management software can play a valuable role in the EDI process. For example, EnergyCAP energy management software can import the EDI file data and then audit the bills automatically before the data is even transmitted to the customer A/P department. The software can be configured to integrate with existing departmental approval processes. When the bills have been audited and approved for payment, they can be exported from EnergyCAP to the accounts payable system with any required file formatting and general ledger data for each transaction. In this case, EnergyCAP essentially becomes a smart front-end for the customer accounting system. Miami- Dade County is using an automated nightly audit routine to integrate EDI with their bill approval processes. Integration of Energy Management Software 24

25 Third Party EDI Services Because of the complexity involved in managing EDI communications, some companies prefer to work with an experienced third party provider. Essentially the provider is a middleman between the business and the utility. The middleman receives the EDI invoices, formats them in the customer s preferred file format, sends the 997 confirmation, and even creates an image of the bill for archive purposes. Third party services can be very valuable, especially if your organization is working with multiple EDI vendors, each with different processing requirements. Many EnergyCAP clients subscribe to EDI services provided by Xebec Data. For those clients, the low per-bill fee is well worth the cost when balanced against the challenges of dealing with multiple EDI vendors and file formatting requirements. Third Party EDI Services 25

26 Schedule a live consultation of EnergyCAP software to learn how EnergyCAP can help you improve utility bill processing and payment through features such as electronic bill entry, audits, and an interface to your accounts payable system. Schedule a Live Consultation

27 This ebook has been prepared by EnergyCAP, Inc. (ECI). For over 30 years, ECI has published the best-selling utility bill management software with online and installed software for organizations of any size. EnergyCAP delivers powerful energy and greenhouse gas tracking, utility bill processing, auditing, reporting, analyzing, and benchmarking. The website is (For sales in Canada, please contact EnergyCAP Canada at Clients include government, education, and business organizations of all sizes including: Government State of Colorado, State of Maryland, State of South Dakota, Fairfax, VA; Orange, CA; Pima, AZ; Denver, CO; San Francisco, CA Education University of CA, SUNY, Texas A&M, University of Colorado, Yale University, The University of Alabama, Montgomery College, Grand Rapids Community College Commercial Equity Residential, Forest City, Enterprises, The Irvine Company, BJ s Wholesale Clubs, Yardi, UniFirst Corporation, Rock-Tenn Company 2014 EnergyCAP, Inc. About This ebook 27

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