This paper explores two of the key software components that Charge Point Operators (CPOs) use to manage their business:
- Charge-Point Management Systems (CPMSs)
- Service Monitoring and Management (SMM) platforms
Why do these exist, what is their functionality, do they overlap, and how do they interoperate in day-to-day use?
Market shifting from vertically-integrated monolithic to horizontal ecosystem stack
The first CPOs built their entire hardware and software stack themselves in a proprietary, vertically-integrated way - because they had to, there was nothing to buy off-the-shelf. A potential disadvantage of building the whole stack yourself is that you are forever 'on the hook' to maintain and evolve the entire stack, as it gets bigger and bigger.
As any new market grows it becomes competitive, and the EV charging market is certainly doing that, creating the risk that by competing on too many fronts you become the worst at everything. But as the market grows, gradually vendors emerge who each build just one piece of the EV charging stack - not the whole thing. These vendors are able to invest in making their piece very good, because they can recoup their investment by selling it to multiple CPOs. The market becomes an ecosystem made of ‘horizontal’ pieces which CPOs can assemble to deliver much of their offering. In a horizontal world, openness is key to success and the emergence of standards such as OCPP enables the different pieces of the stack to interoperate and compete.
- for new CPOs it's better, faster and cheaper to assemble an EV charging stack from off-the-shelf pieces where possible.
- for existing CPOs who already built their own proprietary stack, it's strongly worth considering whether aging pieces of that stack can be replaced with new off-the-shelf components which are a better fit-for-purpose.
The CPMS platform and the SMM platform are two of stack pieces that a CPO might choose to buy rather than build.
A simplified view of how these stack pieces fit together is shown (right). At the bottom we have the charging hardware. Above that is the CPMS whose primary function is "device management" of the EVSEs. Above that, the SMM platform which turns CPMS telemetry into business metrics and process. And finally at the top, all the applications used to run the business from day to day, such as Salesforce and Zendesk.
Every EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment, aka “charge-point”) needs a piece of software in the cloud to talk to it and make it do useful things. That's the CPMS - Charge-Point Management System - now available off-the-shelf from many vendors including Ampeco, Current, Driivz, EVAA, EVBox (Everon), EVcore (Efacec) and Versinetic amongst others.A typical CPMS may provide the following features:
- Connect to EVSEs: Cloud termination point, using standards like OCPP and ISO15118, plus legacy protocols. Secure communications. Supporting many manufacturers and their quirks.
- Device management: Over-the-air updates to fix bugs and add features
- Billing management: Monetise your chargers: tariffs and pricing models, interfacing to payment processors
- Customer-facing app: White-labelled portal, scans QR codes for access control, provides user admin, payment setup and billing info
- Roaming and access control: via interface to eMSPs (mobility service providers)
- Operations/network management: Monitor and manage station health, detect issues and alert, remotely resolve issues. Reports and dashboards.
These features are plenty to deploy your first 100 EVSEs. The focus is on providing a secure connection, device management (updating EVSE software) and the essentials for monetising your assets. As your EVSE estate grows, CPMSs provide interfaces to extend their capabilities with more advanced and specialised functionality. For example, although they usually come with some kind of billing solution out of the box, you might in time choose to integrate a custom 3rd-party billing engine.
Operations limitations of CPMSs
Amongst this list of CPMS features you'll notice “Operations and network management,” because of course you need to know if everything’s working, and if not why not. On most CPMSs this functionality is basic: Perhaps a live list of devices with the current status of each, and a list of faults - and that’s about it. This is fine for managing a few hundreds EVSEs since at that scale the overall number of issues is quite small and can be dealt with in a manual "shopping list" fashion.
But over time CPOs outgrow the basic Operations capabilities of CPMSs, for three reasons:
- Long lists of changing data is a bad way to help humans understand and track information.
- What are the root causes of your issues? How big is each? Is it getting better or worse?
- You need actionable information, and to see the big picture as well as the detail.
- CPMSs deliver a live view of "now" which is great for many purposes, but misses much of the vital context needed to identify, diagnose and resolve many problems.
- Problems tend to manifest themselves over time.
- An EVSE that is working right now but has been up and down throughout the past week needs urgent action taken, even if it's working right now.
- It’s not just a case of logging reported fault codes, it’s often a matter of inferring problems from the data over time. For example, when an EVSE has physical damage, or a software error, or unreliable comms, often no explicit fault code will be emitted - the problem needs to be inferred by looking at data over time. That way you can also even catch trending problems before they cause trouble.
- You will increasingly use other business tools to manage your business.
- For example, you will almost certainly have some kind of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool such as Salesforce Service Cloud to track of your customers and tickets raised across the business.
- CPMSs don’t speak the language of CRM tools, nor vice versa. This prevents your team seeing a complete picture of the situation in their tool of choice. It also makes it impossible to build unified processes across your business, which is essential to deliver service quality at scale.
Service Monitoring and Management
Addressing these operational challenges as you scale is the goal of a Service Monitoring and Management platform such as DevicePilot, extending the rudimentary operational capabilities of CPMSs as you scale into 1,000 EVSEs and beyond, and providing an effective interface between the CPMS and your business applications and processes.
SMM platforms provide:
- Powerful streaming analytics
- Digesting huge amounts of streaming telemetry into the key metrics you need to run your business
- Detecting situations which evolve over time, such as increasingly intermittent connectivity, or recurring problems
- Detecting not just specific events such as faults, but complex situations over time, even across large numbers of EVSEs. For example, software bugs or issues which are site-specific or customer-specific
- Taking action to flag and trigger technical or business processes to resolve the issue, by interfacing with your CPMS and other business tools
- Integrating with all common CPMSs and business tools (DevicePilot interfaces with 300+ other tools)
- Synchronising to keep CRM and ticketing systems in sync with EVSE reality on the ground
- Putting all this power in the hands of the Customer Service and Operations team with a modern, business web application that everyone can configure and use. No geeks required.
Your customers will judge you on service quality. SMM platforms work with your CPMS and other business tools to let you see, manage and automate your estate and business processes together, making you proactive, driving-up your service quality, and making you increasingly efficient as a business.
See also (click to view)
- DevicePilot for CPOs (1-pager)
- How Service Monitoring KPIs drive action to achieve business goals
- Getting beyond the hundreds
- Who will win the race? (as EV charging becomes a competitive market)
- The Future of EV charging (panel session)
- CRM integrations (Q&A with our Head of Product)
- EV chargepoint installation - better, faster, cheaper with service monitoring