Minority Report

Minority Report
Thoughts on Energy Audit Reports
I’ve been thinking a great deal about energy audit reports lately. These thoughts aren’t unrelated to the fact that I’m charged with designing new audit reports for OptiMiser, a new energy modeling program. I think that we all know the current state of audit reports, at least most of them. They typically go something like this:
1. The Auditor as a Young Man (the James Joyce model) – a stream of consciousness approach to reporting the findings of an audit. Tending toward epic length, rarely less than 40 or 50 pages. Read completely as often as Joyce outside of English Lit classes. These reports take roughly as long to prepare as Joyce took to write his novels.
2. The Twilight Series model – as long as the James Joyce novel but far more tedious. However, as opposed to the Joyce model, the Twilight model is actually 97% boilerplate and thus is an overwhelmingly formulaic approach to producing an audit approach. Like Joyce and unlike the Twilight books, these reports similarly go unread.
3. The Auditor as channeled by the Graphic Designer model – getting overly cute with graphic design to the detriment of delivering the information to the client. I’ve seen some really beautiful work out there that if delivered exclusively to hip, urban audiences would be a true blow to the solar plexus of energy apathy. However, if delivered to my parents would be as effective as texting to a teen with actual real live words. More on this later. By the way, orange print on white and vice versa is difficult to read for anyone over the age of 27.
4. The Dr. Science approach (with credit to Dr. Science from Ducksbreath Theater “I’m a scientist and I know more than you”) – this model is far less about giving the client (aka homeowner) the information they need than about showing the client how staggeringly smart you are as the auditor. Makes liberal use of words like “permeance”, “thermography”, and coupling anything with “barrier”. Really. Step back from this mode unless you happen to be delivering an audit to another auditor. Seth Godin has a great comment on data vs intuition.
5. The if less is more then even less is even more model – wherein you drain the report of detail to the point that it really ought be delivered on a post-it note. Now this approach actually is much closer to what I think the “right” approach is (more on what’s “right” soon). An audit report is part of the big picture of what I call “Audit to Action”. Strip of the “why” and you’ve lost some of the potential of the report.
I could probably go on here, but I hope the point is made.

Now, full disclosure time: I’ve delivered every single one of the types of audit reports I’ve listed above. I think our industry is in a period of frantic and rapid evolution. Figuring out the “best” way to prepare and deliver an audit report is part of that evolution.
Now, how about some generic mistakes that I think we’ve made and are still making.
1. One size fits all – we don’t all buy the same tv, phone, car or any other product. Similarly, for services, we make distinctions on based on customer service, reputation, price and even how snappy the graphics are on a companies vehicles (quick, what do Geek Squad vehicles look like?) Why are we content to deliver the exact same report to everyone regardless of their needs, interests and motivations? We need to fix this.
2. Timeliness – producing epic reports by hand leads to epic turn around times on audit reports. Any of us who have been guilty of this approach have probably had the following exchange:

“Hi Steve, gosh, you were out at our house, what three weeks ago and we’re wondering where our report is?”
“Yes Mrs. Smith, I’m just putting the finishing touches on your report. I’ll get it out to you tomorrow.”
Which translates to one of the following:
• You haven’t actually even started the Smith report because you’re really busy and you keep meaning to get to it, but doggone it you just haven’t.
• You really are putting the finishing touches on the Smith report, but it takes a long time to write an epic, even one that no one will actually read. By the way, did you forget to do last month’s billing?
• You finished the Smith report, but you forgot to send it. Oi!
3. Not understanding the point of the audit – Really! What is an audit for? “Audit to Action”, say it with me! “Audit to Action”. If there isn’t a living, breathing call to action front and center on your report there ought to be. Corollary mistake, bury the call to action on page 45. Oops. They never got there. People are busy. How often do you sit down to read a technical opus outside of your chosen profession? Do you read all the fine print in the contracts that you sign? Ever scrolled to bottom of the terms of use for an online tool? I thought so. People are generally asking one, sort of simple question, “What should I do?” You are the professional, for the most part, the “why” they should do it is white noise. Not for everyone, but for the vast majority.

I don’t have all the answers to be sure. We’re working on audit report tools that address each of these issues. We’d love to hear what you think.