Choosing the Right Charging Station Management System: A CPO Buyers Guide

The transition to electric vehicles is here, and Charge Point Operators (CPOs) are at the forefront. The selection of a Charging Station Management System (CSMS) is a critical decision for CPOs, requiring careful consideration.
Choosing the Right Charging Station Management System: A CPO Buyers Guide

At first glance, a CSMS might seem like just another piece of the technological puzzle, a necessary yet interchangeable tool in the grand scheme of your IT landscape. But your CSMS isn't just a system; it's the heart of your operation and its importance is hard to overstate.

In the following sections, we will delve into the essential aspects of choosing a CSMS. We aim to provide you with clear insights and guidance, helping you make an informed and strategic decision.

What we will cover

  • Assembling a requirements list
  • Evaluating your vendor options
  • Additional considerations
  • Key Takeaways

Step 1: Assess Your Existing IT Landscape

The main purpose of the CSMS is to provide seamless and secure communication between the charge point and backend system using OCPP but the typical CSMS has evolved from managing charge points to a complete Charge Point Operator (CPO) Platform, encompassing all essential functions for CPO operations.

That said, it's not uncommon for organizations to have other systems that manage some of these functions. User data may be stored in a CRM system, billing could be handled separately through a payment processor, and analytics and forecasting might be conducted through third-party Business Intelligence tools.

By determining the scope of responsibilities for your CSMS and identifying the potential needs for integration support, you can effectively narrow down your features list. This ensures that your evaluation focuses on what truly matters for your operations.

Some  typical responsibilities of a CSMS to consider are the following:

Charge Point Management:

  • Monitoring and control of charge points
  • Remote diagnostics and fault resolution
  • Software updates and maintenance

User Management:

  • Registration and profiling of users
  • User authentication and authorization
  • Handling user inquiries and feedback

Pricing and Transaction Management:

  • Dynamic pricing models
  • Real-time transaction processing
  • Billing and invoice generation

Reporting and Analytics:

  • Performance monitoring
  • Utilization statistics
  • Trend analysis and forecasting

Step 2: Catalog Your Existing Hardware

Proceed by evaluating your existing EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment). What manufacturers are you currently using, and what types of chargers (Level 1, Level 2, DC Fast Chargers) are in your portfolio?

Take a close look at the compatibility, functionality, and overall condition of your existing EVSE. Are there specific limitations with the manufacturers' hardware that you are using? Do you need to consider upgrades or replacements to ensure alignment with industry standards or technological advancements? Specifically, consider the firmware installed and whether updates can be made that improve the capabilities of your current hardware.

Conducting a detailed inventory of the current hardware, and thinking about how it might need to scale or adapt in the future, will guide you in selecting a CSMS that will seamlessly integrate with your current system and support your long-term goals.

Step 3: Survey Your Organization

To ensure effective CSMS operation, input from various teams—such as operations, billing, customer service, and technical support—is needed in the decision-making process. Though the operations team may oversee daily CSMS functioning, feedback from all potential users is vital for a selection that aligns with the organization's broader needs and benefits.

Develop detailed user personas for each user category. Understand their primary tasks, pain points, and what they value most in a CSMS. Crafting user personas begins by gathering data through surveys, feedback sessions, and user research. You'll want to understand their roles, responsibilities, pain points, and the kind of interactions they have with the system.

Step 4: Create a list of requirements

The next step is to create a list of requirements and assign them with a level of priority. A simple “Must Have”, “Want to Have”, “Don’t Need” might be enough at this stage. To establish the list, begin by referencing the user personas you've crafted. For each persona, walk through their typical user journey, identifying potential touchpoints and interactions. 

As you navigate this process, take note of the features needed and ensure that each type of user can effortlessly complete their daily tasks. Minimize points of friction and remove any elements that might cause frustration.

In doing so, you'll be tailoring the list of requirements to better cater to the specific needs and preferences of each user group. Remember, a seamless experience for all personas ensures overall satisfaction and system success.

You will also want to consider the requirements found while analyzing your IT systems and existing hardware. Together, this forms a comprehensive list of requirements, giving you the best possibility to find a CSMS that closely aligns with the unique needs of your organization.

Step 5: Evaluate CSMS Vendors

After determining and ranking the requirements essential for your CSMS, a side-by-side comparison of vendors helps to analyze how each vendor meets the feature requirements and offers a clear view of how they stack up against one another.

At first, a basic "Pass" or "Fail" rating might be enough to gauge how well vendors align with your requirements. After narrowing down the list to a few vendors, a more qualitative analysis may be necessary, taking into account additional considerations outlined in the following section.

Additional Considerations

Vendor Reputation

Choosing the right CSMS is not only about the system itself but also about the vendor behind it. The software's full potential can only be realized with proper training and support. Therefore, the reputation and capabilities of the vendor should be key considerations.

Training: It's essential to ensure that the vendor offers comprehensive training for your team. The multitude of features in a CSMS is of little use if not properly understood. Inquire about the robustness of their training programs, including options for on-site instruction, virtual guidance, or continuous learning platforms.

Customization Support: The ability to tailor a system to fit your unique business model is often vital. A vendor should be willing and able to assist in customizing the system to align with your specific needs. Their active collaboration in understanding and solving your unique challenges signifies a commitment to your success.

The Value of Third-Hand Accounts

While CSMS might not be as ubiquitously reviewed online as other software categories, insights from industry peers can be golden. Ask for references, not just of clients who've had smooth sailing, but also of those who've faced challenges. How a company handles adversity speaks volumes about their commitment to their partners.

By speaking to industry contacts and gathering firsthand accounts, you'll get an unfiltered perspective on a vendor's reputation. Did they stand by their clients when glitches arose? Was their support team responsive? Were training sessions impactful or just a formality?

Cost of Implementation

The implementation of a CSMS involves several layers, including hardware setup, software customization, training, integration with existing systems, and ongoing support. These aspects can add complexity and costs that are not immediately apparent during the initial selection process. ​​By considering not only the operational costs but also the initial implementation expenses, you place your organization in a strong position to make an informed decision.

As a provider of CSMS implementation and Systems integration services, Metergram is well-positioned to advise on the true costs of implementation. We recognize the complexities involved and can provide a clear understanding of what to expect, both in terms of time and budget. Our services include a thorough assessment of your unique needs, followed by a tailored approach to ensure a smooth transition to your new system.

Build your Own

As a final consideration, we would be amiss not to mention the ever-occurring question of build or buy. Having been involved in quite a few Custom CMSM projects at this point, we feel uniquely qualified to at least start scratching the surface of this question. However, the answer to this question can be found in a separate article you can find here: "CSMS Choices Explained: Building vs Buying Your Next CSMS"

Key Takeaways

Below are the pivotal takeaways from this comprehensive guide:

Step 1: Assess Your Existing IT Landscape

  • Understand the Scope: Consider the responsibilities of your CSMS, including Charge Point Management, User Management, Pricing and Transaction Management, and Reporting and Analytics.
  • Integration Support: Identify your integration needs by examining existing systems and functions, and effectively narrow down your features list.

Step 2: Catalog Your Existing Hardware

  • Evaluate Current EVSE: Scrutinize the compatibility, functionality, and condition of existing Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE).
  • Consider Future Needs: Think about necessary upgrades, replacements, or scaling to align with industry standards and technological advancements.

Step 3: Survey Your Organization

  • Involve Various Teams: Solicit input from operations, billing, customer service, and technical support.
  • Craft User Personas: Understand the specific needs, roles, responsibilities, and interactions of each user group.

Step 4: Create a List of Requirements

  • Prioritize Features: Categorize them as "Must Have", "Want to Have", "Don't Need".
  • Consider IT and Hardware Needs: Include requirements discovered during the analysis of existing systems and hardware.

Step 5: Evaluate CSMS Vendors

  • Compare Vendors: Analyze and compare how each vendor meets your prioritized requirements.
  • Utilize Evaluation Template: Consider using the free CSMS Evaluation Template for efficient comparison.

Additional Considerations

  • Vendor Reputation: Consider the vendor's training and customization support.
  • Value of Third-Hand Accounts: Gather unfiltered perspectives from industry peers.
  • Cost of Implementation: Consider not only operational costs but also the initial implementation expenses.
  • Metergram's Services: Leverage Metergram’s expertise in CSMS implementation and systems integration.
  • Custom CMSM Projects: Examine the intricate question of building or buying a CSMS solution, as detailed in a separate article.

By adhering to this structured approach and taking into account the above key takeaways, your organization is positioned to make an informed, strategic selection of a CSMS that will integrate seamlessly with your current system and support long-term goals. Additionally, partnering with an experienced provider like Metergram can provide further guidance and support in this critical decision-making process.

Ready to start?

Get in touch or schedule a call.

Get in touch

CSMS Advisory and Implementation Services

With years of experience in CSMS Implementation and Systems Integration, Metergram provides clarity on the complexities and true costs involved. Ensure a tailored and efficient transition for your system. Book a FREE consultation today.
Schedule a consultation

How Metergram Can Help

Are you considering a move to a new CSMS, or planning a migration in the near-term? Metergram can help with both planning and execution. Schedule a free consultation with our experts today.
Schedule a consultation
Latest articles
Wintergram 2024: An Epic Celebration of Teamwork and Joy
From making our very own pasta masterpieces to stirring up some signature cocktails, Wintergram was an experience of flavors and fun. The games ignited competitive spirits, causing even more laughter and creating amazing memories. 🎲🥂
min read
Klas Eliasson At The London EV Show: Are You Ready To Roam?
Watch as our co-founder, Klas Eliasson, hits the stage at the latest edition of London EV Show. His speech, titled "Ready to Roam? Your Guide to a Successful OCPI Implementation," delves into the exciting world of EV roaming implementations and OCPI protocol.
min read
Smart Energy, Smarter Charging: OpenADR's Role in EV Infrastructure Management
At its core, Smart Energy Management is the use of technology to monitor, control, and conserve energy usage. It involves the integration of modern technology into our energy systems, making them more responsive, efficient, and reliable. This integration allows for a dynamic interaction between energy providers and consumers, ushering in an era where energy use can be as intelligent as it is necessary.
min read
Download whitepaper
Download Whitepaper