During the early development days of our remote monitoring solution, I spoke with the Director of Engineering for a major bulk chemical distributor with over 100 facilities in the United States alone. This particular distributor deals mostly with bulk liquids and has been working with remote monitoring solutions for over a decade.
I was impressed with the company’s extensive experience in remote monitoring sensors and technology. The Dir. of Engineering had tried several brands, and was (at the time of our interview) working with at least three different solutions. Needless to say, he was very versed with what remote monitoring of his bulk liquids could do for his company and his customers.
Thankfully, he was very willing to share his experiences and his opinions with me. In fact, I was a little surprised at how forthcoming he was with the details – much of which will be kept private. However, I will share a few of the more insightful tidbits that I hope will be helpful to you as you consider what is important for your own application.
Some Sage Advice
First, he shared with me that he had not yet found a perfect solution. Some were too complex and difficult to implement. It’s just not worth it if you have to hire an integrator or send one of you own electrical engineers to each site just to have it installed correctly.
Additionally, many of his suppliers relied on expensive technology, such as guided wave radar. Now this is fine if that’s what the application requires, but a lack of breadth in the available sensor options plagues many solution providers. We know from our own research that many of you are hoping for a cost of hundreds per tank, not thousands – though this varies according to industry and technological need.
Finally, there are few things more annoying in life than hidden costs. He related an experience with me of one particular provider that wasn’t forthcoming with all costs involved. He finally had to demand that they disclose all costs, which they did very reluctantly.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for hidden costs. I can speak for APG when I say; we’re committed to treat you with far more respect. Our pricing is straightforward, and we disclose it all once we’re to the quoting stage (and if you call and ask us about it, we’ll tell you everything – e.g. hardware costs, installation requirements, typical Internet expenses, etc).
So to wrap it all up, I asked him what his priorities are when he examines a remote monitoring solution. To me, this was the bottom line. He had two main requirements:
1. Ease of installation
2. And a good web interface (or website)
He did, of course, expound on these two points, which I’m happy to share with you.
Ease of installation is a top priority because otherwise it’s too complicated and costly. If it takes too long, requires too many people, and is fraught with troubleshooting, then it just won’t work. That said, we are dealing with networking equipment, so there are a few things to learn along the way. But hiring an integrator just to install the equipment isn’t a viable option for most.
A good website means the data portal, or web interface, where you view your tank levels and other data has to be easy to use and capable enough to fit your organization. Ease of use here means that anyone can get into the website with very little instruction and figure out all the basics. Now advanced features usually require some explanation, and that’s okay. But the basics should be easy.
Capability of the website is also important. A biggie here is permissions – which means some users can do more than others, based on their roles. So you’ll have administrators who can do it all. They can edit any information, manage sites, configures sensors, etc.
You’ll also have user level personnel. This group(s) can view inventory levels, maybe even edit alarms, but they might not be able to change configuration or play with how things are organized.
Another important capability of a remote monitoring website is sensor programming, or configuration of operational parameters. It defeats the purpose if you have to visit the site to program the sensor, or fine-tune it to the application.
We are also passionate about alarm flexibility. If you’re investing in remote monitoring sensors, it’s nice when they automatically notify you when an inventory level is too high or too low – any time you need to pay attention or take action.
In a follow up post, I’ll explain what we’ve done with our own website to meet and exceed these requirements. Keep your eye open for that in the near future.
Priorities matter when selecting a new system – particularly for the first time. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the details until you’ve determined that these priorities have been met.
If you’d like to discuss how our system satisfies these priorities, give us a call at 888-525-7300, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.