It’s a golden age for solar software. Whether for automating permitting, detecting issues or sourcing new customers, solar companies are increasingly clamoring for digital solutions. I recently participated in the GTM Solar Software Summit, where the rich variety of players — and a startup pitchfest featuring drone-based infrared mapping and solar site optimization — revealed the diversity of the landscape.

From a service management perspective, however, it’s an uneven landscape. As one participant observed: “We’ve made progress with monitoring and analytics, but service management is disjointed…we need more glue and less duct tape and bubblegum.” Call it a paradox of solar software: an industry built on high-tech equipment like semiconductors and inverters, and now beginning to leverage advanced software to monitor that equipment, still often relies on relatively low-tech solutions—Excel spreadsheets, manual processes—to manage the work to be performed on this equipment.

The good news is that solar industry leaders recognize equipment-centric service as a source of competitive advantage. “The fastest growing companies want to speed up their processes and optimize workflow,” explained Paul Grana of Folsom Labs. Growth is the priority, and better processes lead to higher customer satisfaction and more growth.

What’s more, as solar companies scale they are looking beyond custom solar applications to best-of-breed cloud-based solutions. As GTM’s Nicole Wachtel writes, “The solar software space has grown substantially over the past several years, and the focus has turned from developing basic solar-specific software applications, to increasing the interoperability between solar software and other state-of-the-art data applications.” Adds Grana, “the biggest companies want a SaaS product that fits into their workflow.”

So how can third party field service software bring more value to solar? Ironing out product and pricing details — API structure, licensing costs, fit with company’s ecosystem — is key. But ultimately it comes down to tying a solution to the desired outcomes and providing real examples of solar companies benefiting from adopting the solution. In an intense environment where return on investment is critical, solar service providers need to see a tangible connection to the revenue growth and customer satisfaction that are top of mind.

But beyond the immediate focus on growth, one should not neglect the increasing importance of cost reduction. While solar modules and inverters have experienced significant cost reductions in the past decade, reducing solar’s “soft costs” around installation and maintenance has proven more stubborn. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given the early stage of service digitization. But this is where evolving service management — from reactive to proactive — through software can bring major dividends.

For solar companies evaluating service software options, the ability to lower “soft costs” through predictive service should be part of the value proposition alongside revenue growth and customer satisfaction. How equipment-centric is the solution? Are the decision and execution cycles linked (or to borrow a previous quote, is there “glue” between analytics and service management)? One of our first solar customers told us: “We want to fix issues before customers know about them.” After adopting our connected field service solution, they reported a 30 percent drop in operating costs.

Ultimately, solar companies need software to manage complexity and support growth. As Eric Reinhardt, with leading solar service provider Sunrun, puts it: “We’re trying to make solar simple with software.” Software companies that keep this in mind will become shining examples in the industry.

For more information on ServiceMax for the solar industry, visit:

ABOUT Seth Dunn

Avatar photoSeth Dunn is the former director of industry development, power & utilities, at ServiceMax. Prior to ServiceMax, Seth held a variety of commercial, policy, marketing, and product roles at GE’s Renewable Energy business. Prior to GE, he researched energy and environmental issues for the Worldwatch Institute. He holds BA, MEM, and MBA degrees from Yale University.