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Monitoring opportunities

Jul 2018 General | Comments Off on Monitoring opportunities
Monitoring opportunities

What if one system could provide peace of mind and repeat business for both electrician and SME customer? Jocelyn Golding, of Schneider Electric has a suggestion

We hear a lot about businesses needing to ‘keep the lights on’ – usually a reference to large enterprises having to ensure their complex IT infrastructure is functioning perfectly 24 hours a day.

There’s a more straightforward and literal meaning to this phrase, and it’s much more relevant to the more than 99% of businesses that are classed as an SME. Small businesses such as a neighbourhood supermarket, restaurant, retailer or light industrial firm all depend on a reliable electricity supply.

Since most of these businesses lack backup generators, any power failure can have a disastrous effect on their ability to operate, with the lights (plus heating, air conditioning, alarms, point of sale and much else) going off until an electrician can remedy the fault.

What customers want

Prevention, they say, is better than cure – and it’s certainly cheaper. One of the best ways to avoid power outages is to implement monitoring systems for all electrical installations, (including the capability for remote monitoring), as well as alarms that alert the business owner of tripped breakers, and scheduled shutdown and start-up of lights and other electrical systems.

But what incentive do electricians have to recommend such systems, seeing that they threaten to take away a large part of their business – especially the lucrative fees they gain from urgent jobs?

Any good electrician – indeed, any good business owner – understands the importance of building long-term relationships with their customers and clients, and not merely being there for when things go wrong. So, it is in the best interests of the electrician to help their small business customers deploy the systems they need to avoid a damaging power outage – or to reduce their monthly electricity bill through better power management. After all, if you make your customers happy, they’ll be more likely to choose your business in the event of a future problem, or when they need an upgrade to their electrical systems.

There is also the fact that monitoring systems can bring immediate benefits in the form of extra (and ongoing revenues). It’s a win-win for all involved.

Efficiency without a BMS

There is, however, a problem. This kind of monitoring has traditionally meant using a Building Management System, a BMS. But that’s too complicated and too costly for many small businesses. So, what’s the ideal solution?

Well, it needs to be simple. Electricians would much rather find a solution that’s not complicated to install and operate – as, indeed, would small business owners.

It should also be comprehensive. It should monitor every piece of electrical gear – compressors, fans, heaters, lighting, alarms and so forth. This provides critical diagnostic capabilities that will help electricians to identify, quickly, where the fault is and so remedy the situation that much more quickly.

Finally, it should be affordable. Any system can’t cost too much to purchase, install, or use. After all, we’re talking about systems for small buildings here, with owners that typically need them to be cost-effective.

The ideal solution would be a monitoring system that integrates directly into the electrical panel. Being embedded in such a central location, one that ties all the electrical assets in a building together, ensures both the business and its electrician can easily monitor every electrical system in real time, while ensuring any changes or additions to the devices on the network will be easily accommodated.

There’s also a hidden benefit in any solution that integrates with the electrical switchboard. Typically, switchboards are installed and then forgotten about for years. However, standards such as IEC 61439-1 and -2, which govern low voltage switchboards, continue to evolve. New installations get the benefit of such advances.

A connectivity and monitoring solution that touches the switchboard provides an opportunity for older buildings to also reap the rewards of greater safety and reliability that the latest standards enable. And with the internet and a secure cloud server, such a solution would make it possible to collect data and access it anywhere using a smartphone app.

Connectivity means that alarms and notifications could reach business owners easily and immediately. If an alarm sounds outside business hours, for example, the business owner can contact the electrician straightaway, and avoid not finding out that there’s been a problem until they unlock the premises in the morning. These warnings could also potentially prevent a devastating and business-destroying fire, by alerting the owner to a potential fault before it causes a conflagration.

Electricians would also be able to configure the system using their own version of the app on their smartphone. This would make configuration simple and fast, saving time and reducing the workload.

Boosting connectivity, growing profits

Thanks to these capabilities, electricians could also offer other services in the future. These could include maintenance subscription contracts, for example. Some of this could involve selling peace-of-mind. Say a shop owner is at the beach, taking a well-deserved vacation. A circuit breaker trips, an oven goes off, and he’s notified instantly. He can then contact an electrician to fix it.

Consequently, electricians could increase revenues by offering the products needed to connect to the customer’s switchboard. With that done, it would then be possible to build a new business relationship based on this connectivity. One outcome is that electricians can then bring valuable innovation and expert advice to customers.

With the latest generation of monitoring systems, electricians have an opportunity to do much more than merely keep the lights on for their customers. Instead, they can build stronger and more meaningful relationships through establishing peace of mind and supplying what business owners really crave: reliability, lower cost, and full control over all their electrical systems.