Open StandardsE-MobilityDevelopment

Custom Charge Point Operator platform - pros and cons

09 MARCH 2021 • 10 MIN READ

Piotr Majcher



Pros and cons of ready-made and custom Charge Point Operator platform

So you are a Charge Point Operator or a Charge Point Operator to-be. Wandering through the web of available options, as it is the same for any software, you face the challenge: will the ready-made solution meet your expectations, or maybe it is worth investing in an individual solution that covers 100% of your business needs? Trust me, you are not alone. Having heard this dilemma repeatedly I’ve decided to gather critical thoughts on both sides and present the outcomes.

Stating with some brief basic explanation - Charge Point Operator can be defined as an owner or administrator of charging hardware and software. With a market booming and demanding infrastructure, IT providers offer off-the-shelf solutions.

What are the benefits of a custom CPO platform?

A custom solution is especially beneficial for operators who want to keep the processes 100% up to specific demands. The backend management system for Charge Point Operators is what sets the business on a path to success. The whole charging network demands a properly tailored solution that adequately covers business relations and dependencies. Specifically, in the e-mobility world, supportive backend software should embody device management, business insight, and customer relationship management.

The device management module is a tool for monitoring and managing emerging issues promptly and efficiently. In addition to real-time alerts, it also allows framing price schemes.

The business insight module provides a transparent glimpse into key metrics on how the charging network is performing. The insights should be given at a fixed frequency and the dashboard should be flexible enough to support deep and extensive business intelligence.

The customer* relationship management module stores users’ data, billing information, and contracts.* Here pointing out ‘customer’ we have in mind, eMobility Service Providers.

With customization comes independence. The e-mobility market evolves steadily, hence the charging network needs to follow the novelties and recent updates. Setting focus on what the future can bring, how the trends evolve, and which standards to follow will ease interoperability and scalability. Being self-reliant allows faster implementation of new features, standard updates, and development covering specific market needs. The backend system should provide accurate information in the BI area, consumer behavior and preferences, as well as malfunctions and enable remote repairs. This applies to the basic approach but forward-thinking resonates with more advanced supplements.

The essence of the EV charging business must be met and this is what off-the-shelf software suppliers offer. However, the goal is to develop standards of work and find repetitive behaviors. Based on that, the processes can be adjusted and refined for future changes. The custom approach puts the company one step ahead, ensures better responsiveness, explores specific niches thus finding ways to exploit new opportunities. The e-mobility market reaches a point where multiple operators offer the same or similar services. Further steps towards establishing a pole position, are detailed segmentation and prompt meeting particular divisions' needs.

One of the advantages of a custom solution is access to and control over the source code. This means the upgrades and new deployments are set and prioritized by the owner. Taking a step further, a strong point for which it is good to choose a custom solution is a case when a company intends to do something unique and addresses some existing problem with one and only innovation. Then the chance that it will be covered by some ready-made solution is very low - so it needs to be customized. If there are some patented resolutions, then these certainly will not fit into a ready-made solution.

What are the cons of a custom CPO platform?

The matter of the cost of developing a custom solution depends on the scale. Operating on a relatively small market or having a limited number of charge points will not necessarily require custom software. If so, a ready-made solution will cover our needs and work well. However, if the business assumptions reach forward, addressing the needs of a particular niche or out-of-the-box explications, here customization will be vital.

Besides the cost of a tailor-made solution, the other con is timing. The individual approach requires careful evaluation. This incorporates the whole development process, with a discovery phase, technical clarification, usability design, iterative product development, and further support. Matching technology with business goals and flexible product design to incorporate required changes on-demand fast and seamlessly. Whether it’s eMSP or CPO platform, the whole process requires time and commitment from business and IT representatives. Although the initial outlay is large, this approach allows you to identify pain points at an early stage, hence better estimate time and effort, and thus avoid unnecessary expenditures.

Off-the-shelf CPO platform strengths and limitations

Operating on a general course could be successfully supported by vendor-dependent software. These solutions usually cover ongoing common market demands. When working on a relatively small scale, it may perform well. So, the question is ‘Do I really need a custom solution?’. As an alternative, you can acquire an off-the-shelf product. The arguments in favor of purchasing a ready-made solution are faster implementation, lower up-front costs, and your business needs are considered as regular (don't include much specific or novel). In this case, off-the-shelf software will remain more cost-efficient for your business. Usually, ready-made software is the best choice for small business that needs budget resolution.

The difference lies in the vendor’s business goals. The speed of change for upgrades and security updates is affected by the business case and objectives set by the supplier. A question here is whether our needs will be a key priority while obtaining a steady product line. Usually, the ready-made solutions providers are familiar with common issues and offer a broad range of features and modules to cover market requirements. However, some of the offered specialties might be unnecessary for our business case, we still have to pay for them.

Providers supply crucial overview for general purposes. Most of the offered white-labeled CPO platforms offer a dashboard for monitoring stations’ condition, notifications about malfunctions, statistics and insights into charging courses and tariff revenue, transaction reporting, insights into driver behavior and expenses. In their respective limitations, pre-built software vendors supply fine analytics-powered platforms for business accounts. This enables monitoring and optimizing EV charging infrastructure, e.g. identifying charging trends. Access to historical data enables informed decision-making. With some sort of customization, off-the-shelf products also offer to create brand recognition. For the aspiring player or with limited funds, implementing a turnkey solution may be a great starting point.

However, becoming a vendor-locked-in also may cause future turbulences in the matter of transition. This should be kept in mind. The aforementioned applies to charging providers willing to switch in the future to another software. When reaching the decision, to change the provider or switch to a tailored solution, may cause turbulences (unless integration is done through open standards, but even that's not always enough). Still, limiting opportunities will not be an obstacle in every situation.

The individual case to take into consideration is whether the vendor company stock performs well. It is worth checking out if the long-term business partnership is going to execute adequately. Long-term stability will depend on the number of customers and the level of satisfaction. In the dynamic market, staying up-to-date is one of the key factors of success. Being trapped on an obsolete version that no longer responds to market and business needs will quickly generate a loss. Make sure your partner sets the right focus and follows market demands and recent updates.

Define your CPO goals

At this point, my recommendation is to take some time to define and evaluate your business goals. Finding answers to the nagging questions - how do we want to operate, what are our expectations and what do we want to achieve over the first year of existence and the next five years. Add the unknowns - predictions of how the market may evolve and what the expectations of partners and users are. This will help plan the resources and reveal potential areas of focus. Perhaps an additional niche will be discovered that is worth developing. The e-mobility market is growing rapidly and now is a good time for a profound analysis. Some answers can be provided by open standards development organizations. Be familiar with OCPP, OICP, and OCPI standards. Follow the recent trends and updates to make sure you respond to market requirements accurately. This will help you scale fast. Besides, don’t forget about your defined personas, final recipients of your service. Whether it’s off-the-shelf or custom-made, it won't work if we don't correspond precisely to user requirements. Letting ourselves off the hook will quickly put us out of business. If having difficulties recognizing your needs, don’t hesitate to leave a message. We’ll gladly help!

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