‘SOMETIMES, THE GAP BETWEEN THE OUTDATED IT LANDSCAPE OF PUBLIC UTILITIES AND MODERN CLOUD-BASED ARCHITECTURE IS HUGE.’
To what extent is the energy and utility sector nowadays willing to make a digital transformation? Market analyst IDC is able to show some numbers: 41% of public utilities worldwide today make far-reaching strategic, technological and financial decisions to ensure that their organization is able to make a digital transformation in the coming years. What remains: six out of ten companies that, for whatever the reason may be, are not preparing for digital change.
Whether a company is ‘digitally lost’ or ‘digitally determined’, IDC states that every company faces a profound transformation journey. Consumers demand more and faster information and service with a rapid respond time. The interaction takes place online and on social media. Organizations that are not able to respond to the new expectations of customers in a flexible manner, will find it difficult to maintain themselves. The future belongs to the ‘digitally determined utilities’: this is also the theme for the lunch meeting that was recently organized by vertical solutions provider MECOMS in the lofty Park Hyatt hotel in Milan.
DIGITALLY DETERMINED UTILITIES
The setting of the event was pleasant: side by side at a round table, the managers of some twenty Italian public utilities shared their latest market and development trends in the area of IT in the sector. No product or sales pitch but instead an open conversation about business transformation, the importance of partnerships, digital globalization and local anchoring. The goal? To exchange fresh ideas and innovative solutions in order to gain market share in a digital society.
In the past, the utility market was barely competitive, remarks Johan Vandekerckhove, Chief Commercial Officer of MECOMS. “You will always find,” explains the CCO, “that the process of liberalizations happens in phases. It started in the early 2000s in Belgium and the Netherlands. Italy is currently undergoing an entirely new wave of liberalization and competitive growth. The companies that we had the pleasure to welcome at our event are exactly those companies that want to make use of this wave. Our target segment is therefore the challengers of the status quo: those companies that want to challenge the intransigence of the monopolies with a modern strategy, an innovative application architecture and an alternative way of working.”
A breath of fresh air through the utility landscape
MECOMS has specialized in supplying customer information systems – invoicing and customer care – for the utility sector for more than twenty years. How did the software provider manage to continue to offer a competitive solution throughout two decades? “The way in which you approach the customer is crucial,” says Vandekerckhove. “You can only make a difference with the larger players in the market if you make contact in a different way than they do. As a challenger utility you can bet everything on the “price” factor to attract new customers, but that is a difficult model. On the other hand, you can focus on contact quality. In that case you will focus all of your attention on the interaction with the customer, on the experience that the customer has with your systems, on the online channels that you offer, on the degree of flexibility and innovative products that you offer. It is precisely in that area that we add value.”
Focusing on the market from a competitive perspective is a condition for staying competitive and being able to work in flexible manner
“Many utility companies are struggling with this transformation and are often more concerned about retaining their customers than about the need to convince new customers of their value proposition and to have the courage to innovate,” Vandekerckhove continues. “Many of the energy and utility companies often have very outdated systems that have not been structurally modified for more than ten years. The gap between the possibilities of their current landscape and that of our modern cloud-based architecture is indeed very large.”
MECOMS has always focused on the market from a competitive perspective, says Vandekerckhove. “That is also a condition for staying competitive and being able to work in a flexible manner. Microsoft is naturally a driven partner to us that invests heavily in user-friendliness and standardization of processes: Dynamics 365 is a cloud-based platform that can respond to the most modern applications such as smartphone applications, web portals, chat bots and AI-linked applications. Our application works in the same way as an Office 365 or the user interface of Outlook. Customers are familiar with this, so the acceptance of the system is also faster.”
Think global, act local
At the opening of the Belgian and Dutch market, the Antwerp-based IT provider assisted companies such as Indexis and Delta to take the first steps in the liberalized market. “With both that package and the service we are very successful in neighboring countries,” says Vandekerckhove. “It has inspired us to think on a larger scale. In the early years we also took care of the implementation at the customer side, but it was never our ambition to do that worldwide. This has led to the idea of “think global, act local.”
The IT provider sees a mature and locally anchored partner channel as the first condition for being global. “We are a global software vendor and we deliver our cloud-based software package to our partners internationally. It is their role to configure and set up that package locally. We are convinced that you need that local perspective to be able to offer a service that really makes a direct impact,” says Vandekerckhove. “Customers trust us to radically change the way they work and how they operate their business. Subsequently, they will have to become convinced both objectively and emotionally that you are acting out of the right knowledge and expertise. And that the steps they take are effectively the right steps to help their business move forward. Of course it helps to share the same language and culture, but you also need to be familiar with local laws and regulations down to the smallest details. Consider, for example, the regulations for green energy certificates on the Belgian market, or the regional premiums and taxes or the legislation on protected customers.”
Partners as a channel for success
Today MECOMS is active in 18 countries, from Great Britain to Iceland, Japan and Singapore. In Italy, Accenture and X DataNet are the local implementation partners for the market. Sorgenia, one of the largest suppliers of gas and electricity in Italy, spoke at the event in Milan. “Four years ago, Sorgenia had virtually stopped growing as a business. In twelve months we have – in collaboration with our local partner Accenture – installed MECOMS as a combined ERP and meter-to-cash platform. All functionalities and business processes are now located in one integrated system, with one trusted user interface, one database and one business logic. In short, one interpretation of the truth. This digital revolution has ensured that the company portfolio tripled in a relatively short term.”
What’s so great, Johan Vandekerckhove concludes, is that Sorgenia is very satisfied with the result and that the company is therefore happy to announce its success story to the market. “That is what makes Sorgenia’s story so relevant to me: it not only demonstrates how digital transformation, local anchoring and collaboration can help meet new needs, but also that willingness to transform can be a proof point for success and profit.”
Do you have any questions about the solutions offered by MECOMS for the energy and utility sector? Please take a look at our platform.
Article by Bloovi Studio. The full, original, article in Dutch can be found HERE.