ON BRAND: LEARNINGS FROM THE FIELD
Wattwatchers CEO Gavin Dietz explores the ups and downs of being Wattwatchers ‘inside’, which means our brand is often invisible to the end users of our energy technology, and sometimes others are handed the credit for our innovation.
In recent months Wattwatchers has experienced a couple of instances where recognition for our technologies has been mistakenly credited to one of our key customers in important energy industry case studies.
To their credit, the team at Solar Analytics – which white-labels Wattwatchers devices and sells them very successfully, in an own-branded version, as an integral part of their world-class solar performance monitoring solution – have acknowledged the problem and have taken steps to set the record straight.
This includes writing to key industry association Energy Networks Australia (ENA) in one case, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in another, to highlight the mistakes contained in their influential public reports, and to ask for corrections. (Details of both instances have been included at the end of this post.)
But we all know that once something is published, whether in the media or other reports, then it can be very difficult to correct it, much less erase it from the public record. Nor, however, is it a viable option for intellectual property owners like Wattwatchers to allow such mistakes to go unchallenged, because that can imply acceptance of erroneous reports by default, and they sit on the record as undisputed fact because no one knows any different.
Such instances present Wattwatchers with a significant brand dilemma, and are an inherent commercial hazard of a business model that readily facilitates own-branding for partners. That said, such challenges are faced by many technology manufacturers, and perhaps most famously have been addressed by a global computer chip maker with its long-running ‘Intel Inside’ campaign.
Wattwatchers doesn’t impose co-branding on our white-label customers, but where we are ‘inside’ – and our innovation and intellectual property is not readily apparent to end-users and others – then we need to be proactive in ensuring that credit is paid where credit is due. This is becoming increasingly important as the number of white-label partners grows, both in Australia and internationally, already including Solar Analytics in Australia and New Zealand, Simble here in Australasia and also in the United Kingdom, Genesis Energy in New Zealand, and several others on the way including the internationally-deployed Buddy OHM.
A bit of context
Several years ago Wattwatchers set off down a commercial path – part strategic, part pragmatic necessity – to present to the market as a ‘half stack’ solution, meaning that we do the site-level jobs of capturing energy flow data and sometimes switching energy flows on and off, and then deliver the data and connectivity to the cloud; then others, our third-party partners and customers, do the ‘energy intelligence’ piece and the interfacing with the end-users to complete the ‘full stack’ solution.
At Wattwatchers, we often talk of how we are ‘software agnostic’ and a ‘horizontal platform’, when many competitors in our space are ‘verticals’, tying hardware, cloud infrastructure and user interfaces into united proprietary offerings, and not infrequently locking data into so-called ‘walled gardens’.
On the opportunity side, our white-labelling approach is core to our differentiation. We advocate for data accessibility via commercially open, industry standard APIs (application programming interfaces). We reject having more and more data locked up in proprietary systems. We champion flexibility and ‘working with’ other hardwares and softwares, in an industry sector where many espouse the virtues of interoperability, then do the exact opposite in their products and services, often making integrations more difficult and costly than they need to be.
Wattwatchers is at the forefront of cross-solution integrations in Australia, and increasingly internationally as well, with 40-plus completed or underway, ranging across software-as-a-service, energy and other industrial services, and utility use cases, and including hardware, software and communications. You can find Wattwatchers as a half-stack solution, enabling monitoring and control of electrical circuits in real-time through the cloud, sitting inside end-user facing solutions for solar optimisation, home and business energy management, specialist data centre energy efficiency, EV charging coordination, energy saving certificate measurement and verification, demand response orchestration, billing services, building ratings, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) integration, and more.
Many of our partners have already migrated to our recently-released third-generation cloud infrastructure, including our server (we call it ‘Mercury’) and enhanced API, which enables Wattwatchers to globalise more easily, and to scale readily to 100,000-plus devices in the field (currently around 30,000).
Lessons we’ve learned
In arriving at Wattwatchers as we know it today, we’ve learned important lessons from our business model mistakes as well as our successes. Here is a small selection of the more significant ones:
- Own-branding – This needs to be well thought out, efficient and effective. One of our early mistakes was to allocate different coloured plastic boxes to different customers, for example in the image below you can see that Solar Analytics was given yellow, AGL Energy took blue, and Wattwatchers itself began with a less than attractive grey. It quickly became apparent that multiple colours were a bad idea. For starters, in practical terms the numbers of colours was finite, and prospective partners were lining up to fight over ‘colour rights’. More importantly, each colour had to be a separate production run, which closed out volume discount opportunities. Set-up costs were high. And the different colours further diluted brand recognition for Wattwatchers itself. Our solution, with credit to Henry Ford, is that now customers can have any colour plastic they like as long as it is black. Own-branding is confined to a screen-printed plastic lens that sits in the face of the device, which in most cases is the only part visible once devices have been installed in distribution boxes.
- Data to the cloud – Going back five years and more, our earliest software-as-a-service integration partners received energy data from Wattwatchers devices directly to their own cloud servers (the main examples are Solar Analytics, Simble and an early home energy management dashboard, Our Green Home, which is no longer recruiting customers). This approach pre-dated Wattwatchers establishing its own cloud infrastructure, the first generation server and API, which went live circa September 2016. Now that we have moved to cloud 3.0, all new integrations are via our API, which is easier and less costly for our partners, and improves our ability to manage and upgrade a rapidly-growing device fleet, and to drive further development of our solutions, including support tools and by-products such as value-added data services.
- White-labelling adds value – In spite of the brand recognition challenges, Wattwatchers has remained committed to expanding our white-labelling offering, including options to own-brand all collateral materials such as packaging and guides, as well as on-device branding. We know that branding is important to our partners and customers, and in a number of cases they have discontinued their own hardware to embrace Wattwatchers solutions. This is good for Wattwatchers, but it also adds value to our customers. For example, Buddy OHM recently disclosed via an ASX announcement that moving from its own hardware to Wattwatchers as a third-party supplier would reduce its bill of materials for installations by 70 percent, and its ongoing cost of operations on a per-site basis by 75 percent.
4. It pays to be visible – Wattwatchers not infrequently is contacted by Australian and international enterprises that have become aware of our devices under the brand of one or another of our white-label partners, but have never heard of Wattwatchers itself. The most common story is that they find us when they do a bit of googling, for whatever reason. and then sometimes they get in touch directly. So it’s on us to make sure that Wattwatchers can be found, from anywhere.
Corrections to the record
As indicated above, Wattwatchers, with assistance from Solar Analytics, is seeking to correct the record in regard to our intellectual property and recent industry reports, and also to ensure that future reporting is accurate.
In both cases, Wattwatchers is not only a commercial partner to Solar Analytics, but also is a technology partner in the projects captured in the relevant case studies. As such, Wattwatchers is highly supportive of the projects being profiled by the ENA and AEMO, which are supported by CRC-P and ARENA respectively, and applauds Solar Analytics’ leadership of these important initiatives for the clean energy transition.
1. From the Energy Networks Australia ‘Innovating in the Electricity Network Sector’ report:
SOLAR ANALYTICS ADVISED THE ENA THAT: In the section titled: “SOLAR ANALYTICS CUSTOMER DEVICES ENABLING RENEWABLES” on page 12 of the report, there are several references to the hardware component of the project being developed by Solar Analytics. While Solar Analytics is the lead participant in this CRC-P funded project, the hardware described in the report is the exclusive product of Wattwatchers (which is a technology partner for the CRC-P project). The two companies do have a close partnership, and in fact Wattwatchers provides their hardware to Solar Analytics under a “white label” arrangement, however it is important to make the distinction between the two companies and give credit where it is due.
2. AEMO document April 2019 – Technical Integration of Distributed Energy Resources
AEMO REPORT SAID: Solar Analytics** collaboration
An ARENA-funded project, focusing on improving the capabilities of Solar Analytics’ monitoring devices to provide increased resolution and data accuracy for the purposes of understanding DER responses during disturbances. Includes:
• Analysis of existing Solar Analytics datasets to understand DER behaviour during recent disturbances.
• Development of firmware upgrades to improve device monitoring capabilities. • Exploring potential for triggered upload of higher resolution data.
• Analysis and development of insights from power system disturbances occurring during the project.
** Solar Analytics is a software company that designs, develops and supplies solar and energy monitoring devices to consumers.
SOLAR ANALYTICS ADVISED AEMO THAT: In section 2.1 Collaborative Projects, there are references to Solar Analytics’ monitoring devices. While Solar Analytics is the lead participant in this ARENA funded project, the hardware described in the report is the exclusive product of Wattwatchers (which is a technology partner in the project). The two companies do have a close partnership, Wattwatchers provides their hardware to Solar Analytics under a “white label” arrangement, however it is important to make the distinction between the two companies and give credit where it is due.
It’s understandable that a degree of confusion will occur, from time to time, around Wattwatchers products appearing in the marketplace under a growing number of partner brand names.
In the past we’ve been patient with this, and sometimes have even turned a blind eye. But as our business grows and spreads internationally we will be more vigilant about protecting our intellectual property, and ensuring that Wattwatchers innovation always gets the recognition that it deserves.