Utility dashboard helps building managers spot usage spikes, save money

Zilker Zephyr miniature train in Austin full of families riding through Zilker Park.

Organization-wide, the City of Austin has thousands of utility billing accounts. These include all of the electric, water, and gas meters for everything from City offices and recreation centers to libraries and parks. When it comes to managing usage for so many properties, it can be challenging to spot issues and intervene quickly enough to save resources and money.

The department with the largest number of utility accounts is the Parks and Recreation Department, with a whopping 472 water/wastewater accounts and 350 electric accounts. In order to help PARD gain more visibility into their utility usage, Cavan Merski, a data analyst with the Office of Sustainability, worked with Jim Clark, an engineer at PARD, to build a utility dashboard tool using a software program called Tableau.

The tool provides Jim and PARD division managers with an easy-to-use dashboard detailing utility billing and usage information for all of the properties they oversee. There, they can view auto-flagged higher-than-normal usage, track trends, and drill down on any water, wastewater, or energy account of interest. Because of this tool, Jim and his team are now able to identify problems and intervene when necessary.

Recently, Jim was able to spot a spike in wastewater bills from a meter in Zilker Park, near the Zilker Zephyr miniature train. Because of the dashboard, Jim was able to identify four cycles of unusually high bills for that water meter, which turned out to be a billing error. Because the issue was identified, Jim was able to get the bills corrected, which saved PARD over $35,000.

“Cavan’s Tableau dashboard is a fantastic tool for utility bill oversight,” said Jim. “This is just one example of how we have financially benefited from the dashboards, in addition to much-reduced time for conducting utility bill analyses. Being able to quickly access and monitor usage for specific locations is the first, essential step towards conservation and efficient use.”

Cavan has been working with Jim on fine-tuning the utility dashboard for the past six months, and is planning to roll it out to all City departments over the next year.