Forecasting Deliveries

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Energy marketers who want to improve delivery efficiency without a large investment in software can integrate degree-day forecasting into their delivery scheduling with a subscription service from Degree Days Online.

The Connecticut-based company enables marketers to generate delivery tickets based on a combination of degree-day forecasting, calendar-based delivery and call-in scheduling. Brothers Bill and Steve Hill founded Degree Days Online based on a project they did for their late father, Sherwood Hill, who operated Vernon Oil and then S&S Oil Co. in the Manchester, Conn., area. Bill was in the family oil business in Connecticut, and Steve was a software developer living in California. Their father was using an index card system to schedule oil deliveries, and in the early 1990s they decided to write software that would help him integrate degree-day forecasting into his scheduling.

One of the strengths of Steve Hill’s software is a simple design. “When we were designing this, we had to make it so Dad could run it, and he was 72 or 73 years old at the time, so we had to make it very easy to use,” he explained. There is one screen for entering customer information, one for entering a delivery, and one for printing tickets. After Sherwood Hill died in 2011, the brother decided to form Degree Days Online to share the delivery scheduling software with other marketers.

The software is hosted online, so companies do not have to concern themselves with downloading the application or maintaining it. Instead they simply pay a monthly subscription fee of $79.95 to $99.95, depending on how many customers they have. To access their data and software, marketers simply log in to the Degree Days Online website with a unique user name and password.

The Hill brothers said they developed their software for small-to-medium-sized companies that want to maintain a customer database and use it to schedule deliveries while minimizing data entry duplication. The software integrates with QuickBooks accounting software from Intuit. Clients can share customer data between Degree Days Online and QuickBooks, enabling them to enter customer data only once. Degree Days Online works with both the online and desktop versions of QuickBooks.

The software is designed to be flexible so that marketers can schedule deliveries for different customer types. They can use degree-day forecasting to schedule a portion of their accounts while using calendar-day scheduling for others and also incorporating will-calls. For accounts that use deliverable fuel for both heat and hot water, Degree Days Online combines standard degree-day forecasting for the heat with a fixed-load formula for the hot water.

The Degree Days Online software offers dealers flexibility in printing delivery tickets. They can choose from a wide variety of ticket formats and print continuous forms using either Epson or Okidata. Degree Days Online uses tickets provided by Degree Day Systems, because they have an excellent selection of ticket formats, according to Bill Hill.

Degree-day data is automatically fed into the program. When setting up their account, a marketer chooses the temperature reporting location that is most suitable for their business, and the software uses data from that point to calculate their degree-days and forecast delivery needs.

As with any degree-day forecasting system, each customer site is assigned a K Factor to determine the rate at which they are using oil or propane. Degree Days Online makes it easy for marketers to review and adjust K Factors based on actual usage. The software’s K Factor Adjustment Screen uses the last two deliveries to calculate a suggested K Factor, which it compares to the K Factor currently being used. “This allows them to compare the two numbers and see if there are any huge differences and then decide what the K Factor should be,” Steve Hill explained. This helps companies avoid using inaccurate K Factors that might be skewed by a customer’s vacation or the addition of new family members to a home, he said. “We try to think of everything that could come into play,” he added.

Accurate K Factors are essential when scheduling deliveries with degree-days, according to Bill Hill. “To let an automatic customer run out is taboo,” he said. “You don’t let that happen.”

Simplicity remains a strength of the software. “We find it to be so intuitive that people can just get in there and see how to use it with very little training,” Steve Hill said.

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