Commercial energy-efficiency companies consistently identify inertia as one of their biggest barriers to market growth. Even many large, sophisticated organizations are not necessarily willing to take a full dive into energy management, and many remain leery of expensive, invasive deep retrofits.

But for the handful of IT-focused corporations looking to go to the next level, there is a new player on the block that wants to help them get there. Riptide IO counts Walgreens, AT&T and Verizon among its customers. These are corporations that already use sophisticated data analytics in other parts of their business operations, making it potentially easier to pitch analytics for energy.

“I think [from] what we’ve seen, the large enterprises have been frustrated. They want the iPhone experience,” said Marti Ogram, VP of sales at Riptide IO. “This new wave is how to have open architecture at the enterprise level.”

Riptide IO uses an enterprise-grade NoSQL object-oriented database from DataStax to help companies gain access to a real-time view of their energy use across nationwide portfolios. It’s not an easy task, as many buildings have various legacy protocols for everything from HVAC to lighting to sensors.

“Heterogeneity is the norm,” David Leimbrock, CTO and co-founder of Riptide IO, said of systems in buildings. Object-oriented databases are faster and more flexible than relational databases, especially when it comes to handling unstructured, real-time data.

Various energy services companies have tried to bring all building systems onto one platform, but no one has yet found a way to do it that has captured the market. The Riptide IO founders hail from Richards-Zeta, a building intelligence firm that was acquired by Cisco in 2009. When Cisco exited its Mediator business line, which monitored commercial building systems, some of the Richards-Zeta folks decided to continue pursuing big-data solutions for the built environment. Riptide IO was founded in late 2012.

One of Riptide IO’s marquee customers is Walgreens, which has about a half-dozen different protocols operating in each of its facilities. If there are around fifteen devices per store across 8,000 stores, that’s about 58 million records per hour from fifteen-minute interval data.

“There’s a lot of pain just managing all these systems,” said Ogram. “We don’t have to educate them on that pain; they live it.” Riptide IO is working in about half of Walgreens’ stores.

Riptide IO has a common API that can access the data across the different devices, whether an air handler or a submeter. But rather than just operating at the level of the lowest common denominator, “We make devices that are less sophisticated, more sophisticated,” said Leimbrock.

First, Riptide IO installs its own hardware, which can interact with various devices (although Leimbrock noted that its customers don’t necessarily have to use the company's hardware). Then the software can discover protocols automatically, which is faster than having a trained installer manually identify each protocol in use.

The scalable application stack is then ready to manage as many devices as it needs to, something that Leimbrock said other platforms in the energy space have had trouble doing. The data warehouse and analytics engine can also interface with other gateways, such as Tridium. “Then, as [a company's] needs grow from a storage and computation [perspective, the company] can add commodity servers to give a consistent view of the data set,” said Leimbrock.

For the companies Riptide IO is working with, real-time energy data is vitally important, and they have already made the investments in submeters to gain access to that data. The Santa Barbara-based startup offers basic analytics via a dashboard that can be used to find outliers, but it is not focused on the energy analytics. Instead, it is solving the problem of bring all of the systems into database. “We do not feel that we will be providing all of the application-level needs,” said Leimbrock. The goal is to build an ecosystem around the platform.

Although Riptide IO is solving a data challenge, rather than offering specific energy analytics, one of its selling points is similar to the benefits claimed by competitors' offerings: reduced operations and maintenance costs.

Once the data is organized, energy managers can have more enterprise-wide visibility into systems to make better decisions about how often air filters are replaced, for instance. The truck-roll savings for a single store isn’t much, but across thousands of stores, it can be considerable.

Riptide IO sees more opportunities for collaboration, rather than competition, in the energy market. Whether with demand-response providers or energy-efficiency software companies, potential synergies abound in the space.

According to Leimbrock, the most direct competition comes from traditional building controls companies, such as Honeywell and Johnson Controls. Increasingly, the legacy players are offering platforms that also aim to pull the heterogeneous technologies in buildings into one cloud-based platform. For instance, startups like BuildingIQ and FirstFuel have built applications to run on Johnson Controls' Panoptix platform.

Riptide IO is not the only startup that thinks it can do a better job than the incumbents when it comes to cutting integration costs. Lucid unveiled its BuildingOS last year, which is a software-as-a-service offering that is meant to be a far cheaper alternative for customers that want an online operating system for their buildings.

Targeting the most sophisticated potential customers has kept Riptide IO busy during its first eighteen months in business. Eventually, it won’t be just be IT-savvy corporations that are looking to leverage facilities data for efficiency. “This is the smart services market,” said Ogram, “and that’s driving what more and more companies are doing.”