Transforming SPA Management for UNIRAC
UNIRAC is a manufacturer of solar PV mounting systems in North America. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, UNIRAC boasts over 25 years of industry expertise and has successfully completed more than 1.5 million installations to date. Beyond simply selling products, UNIRAC offers comprehensive services and leverages its extensive knowledge to cater to customer needs.
We recently spoke to Mehreen Ahmed who currently holds the position of Senior Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) Analyst at UNIRAC. In this role, Ahmed is responsible for providing senior management with vital information and thorough analyses to facilitate crucial business decisions. One of her key areas of focus involves gaining a deeper understanding of customer performance in the market. To achieve this, Ahmed and her team collaborate with Enable, working on Special Pricing Agreement (SPA) initiatives.
At UNIRAC, the sales team maintains direct communication with distributors and installers, serving as the primary point of contact for all their trading partners. Ahmed says, “Through collaborative efforts, we work together to establish optimal pricing strategies that meet the expectations and requirements of our trading partners. However, it is equally important for us to ensure that these pricing decisions are profitable for UNIRAC.”
Objectives for Utilizing SPAs
UNIRAC utilizes SPAs as a means to maintain competitiveness within the solar market. The purpose is to provide customers with discounted pricing under the condition that they commit to purchasing complete racking systems exclusively from UNIRAC. This trade-off entails offering discounted prices or issuing rebates in exchange for the agreement that customers will consolidate their business with UNIRAC, ensuring that all their purchases are comprehensive systems rather than piecing together components from multiple companies.
Ahmed comments, “By implementing this approach, UNIRAC aims to foster a mutually beneficial relationship with customers while promoting the use of its complete product offerings.”
Benefits As a Manufacturer
Ahmed says, “SPAs play a crucial role in nurturing the relationships we have with our trading partners at UNIRAC. The detailed claim information we collect from our distributors, which is necessary for processing SPA rebates, holds significant value for us internally. This information provides insights into the performance of installers, allowing us to assess their effectiveness and make informed decisions. SPAs also strengthen our relationships with trading partners.”
By leveraging this information, UNIRAC can conduct a comprehensive analysis to determine whether installers are consistently purchasing full systems. Additionally, they can identify and track market trends, such as whether an installer's business is expanding or contracting. If they observe positive growth trends among installers, they are more inclined to offer higher incentives in future transactions.
This strategic approach to SPAs enables UNIRAC to align their incentives with the performance and potential of installers, fostering mutually beneficial partnerships and driving overall growth in the market.
Evolution of UNIRAC’s SPAs Strategy
UNIRAC started using SPAs back in 2018, and SPA usage has grown exponentially, becoming a substantial portion of UNIRAC’s business.
Ahmed explains, “When we initially introduced SPAs, they were managed on an individual basis. Each claim was reviewed and processed separately without any centralized database to consolidate the information. Consequently, we lacked the ability to derive analytical insights from the data since it was handled in isolation. If there was ever a need to assess the performance of a specific installer, we had no means to retrieve that information from our customer records.”
She continues, “Since then, we have made significant progress. Over the past two years, we have developed a dedicated SPA database where all our claims can be consolidated. In the previous year, our main focus was on data cleansing, ensuring that our agreements were well-organized and that we received claims with accurate information. We diligently worked on refining these details. Now, with the integration of Enable, we anticipate a tremendous boost in efficiency, allowing us to shift our attention to leveraging the wealth of data we have accumulated. We are eager to explore how we can harness this data to drive informed decision-making and derive actionable insights.”
The Challenges of SPAs
A Manual Process
Previously, at UNIRAC, SPAs were managed using separate spreadsheets. This process was conducted externally to their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, resulting in a highly manual and disconnected workflow from their overall business processes.
Individual SPA agreements, customer claims and a consolidated database of all claims were stored within spreadsheets on the cloud. Subsequently, the final credits issued to their distributors were determined based on these claims, but the actual payment process was carried out through the ERP system. Essentially, the credited amounts were manually inputted for each trading partner.
Ahmed comments, “We often encountered frequent occurrences of overrides and manual input errors as spreadsheets are difficult to protect. These errors were often unintentional, as it's quite easy to accidentally delete or alter a formula by a simple miss-click. When individuals accessed the file and made changes, it became nearly impossible to track when and by whom those alterations were made."
Time Consuming and Labor-Intensive
At UNIRAC, the process of handling SPA claims occurs on a monthly basis, typically towards the end of the month, bridging into the following month. Ahmed estimates that this entire process, which involves receiving claims, verifying pricing, processing the claims and issuing credits to distributors, takes approximately 35+ hours every month.
Ahmed says, "We have a team of approximately five individuals who are engaged in managing SPAs, alongside their other responsibilities. This task is just one among many that we handle. Moreover, the workload is distributed between our US office in Albuquerque and our offices in India. The team in India handles a significant portion of back-end price checking. Overall, I would describe the process as labor-intensive and time-consuming for everyone involved."
Ahmed continues, "We needed a way to streamline the mass update of our SPAs. Presently, these agreements are stored in individual spreadsheets, which means that whenever we need to implement a price increase or make any changes, we have to manually update each and every file. With over 200 agreements, this process can be time-consuming, requiring several days of dedicated effort."
The SPAs Solution
Trusting The Data to Make Better Decisions
Ahmed says, "Implementing a SPAs solution will significantly reduce the time dedicated to data cleaning and management. This, in turn, will enable us to allocate more time towards data analysis. With the assurance that Enable can automatically ensure data integrity, we no longer need to concern ourselves with manually identifying errors and validating accuracy. Consequently, we can confidently rely on the information at hand, allowing us to shift our focus towards making informed decisions and leveraging the data to its fullest potential."
One of UNIRAC’s primary challenges at present revolves around pricing verification. It is crucial for them to ensure that the SPA claims submitted by their trading partners align with the SPA agreements they have on file. They need to verify that there is no under-claiming or over-claiming occurring. On more than once occasion, they have encountered both situations, resulting in instances where they either owe more or less money than expected.
Ahmed says, "I'm particularly thrilled about Enable's pricing verification feature, as it directly addresses our most significant pain point. Currently, a substantial amount of time is devoted to manual verification, which can be arduous. With Enable's solution, we can save valuable hours by automating the process and efficiently identify instances of overpayments or underpayments. Additionally, it will seamlessly compare the results to our existing agreements, ensuring accuracy and streamlining the overall verification process."
Advanced Reporting for SPAs
Ahmed tells us, "I've been collaborating with Enable to develop advanced reports tailored to our specific needs. For instance, one of the branch reports they created for me was designed as a file that seamlessly integrates with Power BI. Since Power BI is our go-to tool for visualizing customer performance, this integration has proven invaluable. Enable was able to construct the report exactly as per my requirements, allowing for seamless automatic uploads. This support has greatly facilitated our data analysis and visualization efforts, providing us with a significant advantage."
Why Enable for SPA Management
Initially, Enable did not possess the exact functionality that UNIRAC sought. However, Enable showcased a commitment to customer satisfaction by demonstrating a willingness to collaborate and develop a tailored solution. They recognized that every customer has unique requirements, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not be sufficient.
Enable's flexibility and understanding allowed them to work closely with UNIRAC, ensuring that the final solution met UNIRAC’s specific needs. This adaptability and customer-centric mindset further solidified Enable's dedication to delivering personalized and effective solutions.
Ahmed comments, "In the final analysis, our decision to choose Enable was primarily driven by the exceptional team behind it. Their remarkable level of involvement and consistent follow-up demonstrated their genuine interest in working collaboratively with us. Instead of merely selling a product, they took the initiative to truly comprehend our unique processes and requirements. This approach resonated with us, as they focused on tailoring a solution to our needs rather than expecting us to overhaul our processes to align with their platform. Their dedication to understanding and accommodating our specific needs played a pivotal role in our choice to partner with Enable."
The Enable Team and Onboarding
The Enable team played a pivotal role in UNIRAC's decision-making process, and their support has surpassed expectations. Ahmed describes their support as nothing short of "incredible." In addition to their regular weekly calls with the Customer Success team, Ahmed appreciates that the Enable team is always available for additional calls to address any concerns or ensure smooth progress. Their willingness to go the extra mile demonstrates their dedication and commitment to providing exceptional assistance to UNIRAC.
Ahmed says, “Enable adopts a strategic approach by dividing tasks, ensuring that we don't become overwhelmed with everything at once. They gradually transition responsibilities to us while guiding us on the platform, preventing us from feeling lost or confused about where to find different features or information. It has been a positive experience having them alongside us throughout this journey.
She continues, “Their approach allows us ample time to familiarize ourselves with the platform and its functionalities. Instead of treating us as mere customers, Enable treats us as partners. They actively engage with us in brainstorming solutions, recognizing that we are in this together. There is a strong sense of collaboration, emphasizing that our success is a shared goal, and we are working as a cohesive team.”
"We needed a way to streamline the mass update of our SPAs. Presently, these agreements are stored in individual spreadsheets, which means that whenever we need to implement a price increase or make any changes, we have to manually update each and every file. With over 200 agreements, this process can be time-consuming, requiring several days of dedicated effort."