Midwest Energy is a customer-owned electric and gas utility that services just under 100,000 meters in central and western Kansas. Even for a utility of its size, it has a relatively small IT department with no shortage of projects and infrastructure to maintain and manage. Streamlined workflows and automation are central for staying on top of both commercial and residential billing and reporting.
Midwest Energy identified two areas where they needed something different from what standard industry software was giving them. First, Midwest Energy needed and wanted to help residential customers measure and improve their energy efficiency. A large part of this effort included the offer of free home energy audits, measuring air leakage and thermal loss. These audits required an application that could analyze thermal scans of customers’ homes and find areas where leaks were wasting energy.
Second, Midwest Energy is required, by law, to make some of its infrastructure available to resellers. This created a complex data problem, where precise metering, billing and reporting were needed. For some time, Midwest used industry-standard software for this, but they turned again to Skeleton Key when they got a message from the software company that presented a new problem: Recurring costs.
Like many utilities, Midwest Energy’s database admins had been using one of the two industry-standard, off-the-shelf software solutions for quite some time. The staff always knew they used only a small percentage of what the overall package provided. Eventually, those admins were contacted by the software company and informed that the software itself needed to be upgraded to the most recent version.
The catch? Midwest Energy was going to have to plunk down nearly $200,000 for a one-time licensing fee and pay additional annual licensing fees of nearly that much. Instead, the team asked if they could pay a reduced fee and partition the software down to the functionality for which they used it exclusively. As IT manager and developer Justin Cook puts it: “That legacy software did what we needed plus a bunch of other stuff that we just did not use.”
Midwest Energy discovered what many professionals who deal with massive software giants also find out: Custom packages and slimmed-down licensing arrangements are simply not possible. After looking for a competing solution (and not finding anything readily available), they decided that a custom FileMaker app would easily do the job and save them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Skeleton Key first began work with Midwest Energy to develop a custom app that could process and store the data related to their in-home energy audits. This gave Midwest Energy a quick and easy way to complete the audits, with functionality that simply didn’t exist with any off-the-shelf software. Through the process, Midwest Energy came to realize the possibilities that exist with custom software.
Which meant that, when licensing fees became an issue, they were willing to turn to FileMaker and Skeleton Key again to find and develop a solution. As Cook put it: “Skeleton Key develops custom applications with a FileMaker backend. FileMaker isn’t just a database. You can do a lot with it. You can have some programming behind it that goes beyond just another way to store data.”
Our highly consultative and iterative process included several scoping calls to understand Midwest Energy’s needs and competencies when it came to this more complex challenge. Our team members completed several rounds of building and testing, which included proactive go-live support until the software was stable and the staff was trained.
“They have a sound methodology of how they do these rollouts.” —Justin Cook
For a fraction of the cost, a standalone FileMaker app now tracks transaction data for wholesale agreements, which represent a substantial portion of Midwest Energy’s revenue. The app tracks all of these special contracts and all of the transactional data associated with each sale, including the price and the volume sold.
Because this was a functionality they were already enjoying to an extent, cost was a major driver. The Skeleton Key development team was able to restore and retain existing functionality at a fraction of the investment, saving them, as Cook puts it, “a ton” year over year.
How Skeleton Key Can Help You
Utility and energy companies provide some of the most crucial day-to-day commodities to their customers. Costly, off-the-shelf software packages may offer far more functionality than you need at a cost that is far in excess of the worth it delivers. We create streamlined apps that help you deliver electricity and services to your customers and communities.
A custom FileMaker app isn’t just more cost-effective. Claris FileMaker and Claris Connect solutions enable your team to own an in-house solution that conforms to your business and revenue models, integrates easily with existing systems, and keeps track of important data with easy-to-use, intuitive interfaces.
Are you a utility company, energy company or energy services company? Interested in seeing how FileMaker could be put to work for you? Visit and fill out our form for a free consultation.