‘SOMETIMES, THE GAP BETWEEN THE OUTDATED IT LANDSCAPE OF PUBLIC UTILITIES AND MODERN CLOUD-BASED ARCHITECTURE IS HUGE.’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.
With this, vertical solution provider MECOMS wants to surprise its customers and prospects from the energy and utility sector. Five hundred trees, in cuttings of forty centimeters high, will be shipped shortly. “Good for twenty kilos of compensated CO² per adult tree”, educates senior marketing consultant Michel Delvaux us enthusiastically. “The thought behind it? The lasting relationship that we want to develop with each of our partners.”
“We started out with a seed and ended up with a tree,” Delvaux says with a smile. “It sounds a bit Bible-like, but that is how it really went. Because our first idea was to send our customers a seed of a sunflower. We wanted something different than the obligatory annual gift, which would just end up in the trash can. There, we thought of something interactive. A living gift that could symbolize the lasting relationship that we want to develop with our customers and prospects.”
A sunflower seed was our initial plan. However, a sunflower unfortunately grows and blooms only once. Not so terribly sustainable, the MECOMS idea makers thought. “Thus we started looking for something that would be more long-lasting and that naturally already contained more aspects of sustainability. This is how we logically ended up at a tree. Not just another tree, but one that also produces fruit. Customers who plant their cuttings can later literally reap the benefits of the relationship they have entered into with us. Yes, we have thought deeply about this”, Delvaux winks.
WATCH ME GROW
It will be a gift the way you like to open them on your birthday: a fancily wrapped box with the treasure inside as well as a lot of nice attributes: a nutrition tablet, a small shovel and a few accessories to professionally get the sprout into the ground, a manual which tells you how to plant and care for the tree, and last but not least a message: “Let’s work on the future together. We deliver the tree, you provide the H2O.” And then to finish it with a rhyme: “Like our cooperation, watch me grow.”
It is precisely that last sentence that says what it is all about. Nowadays too many relationships, certainly in a commercial context, act as disposable items, according to MECOMS. “When we enter into a relationship, we hope that it will last for a long time. We will also do everything we can to nurture, maintain, water, weed, provide light and air to that relationship. With this gift, we want to make clear to our customers and prospects: we want to work with you as a partner, as a relationship that we respect and cherish. Not from a superficial customer-supplier relationship.”
WATER CARRIERS FOR THE CAMPAIGN
It is not illogical that the MECOMS campaign in a first phase focuses on the water companies that belong to their customers or prospects. “For us, they are the standard bearers for our initiative,” says Delvaux. “They bring the ideal raw material of all life to families at home or to companies. Water is their specialty. And what do our trees need more than anything? Indeed. The core of our message: we give you the tree, you provide water, hopefully we can make something grow together. So we give it a kickstart, but we also ask for something in return. Namely that our customers get involved in the idea of sustainability. The tree that we send them is a symbol of mutual commitment. In our opinion, there is no better way to imagine a close partnership.”
Sustainability is about human values, acting with respect and creating products that are resistant to the future.
ROOTS IN THE ENERGY INDUSTRY
MECOMS has companies in its customer portfolio that belong to the energy and utilities sectors worldwide. Today MECOMS – as a partner of Microsoft – builds customized software solutions for the utility sector. The company also offers services such as consultancy and training. “In fact, we provide solutions for the entire meter-to-cash chain,” explains Delvaux. “We work for both the producer and the transporter who brings the energy to the homes and the supplier who sends the invoice. In other words: we deliver our services both to the wind farm and the nuclear power plant and to the Fluviuses and Electrabels of this world. Our software platform MECOMS 365 is precisely tailored to that sector.”
FIGHTING FOR A CLEAN IMAGE
Delvaux does not want to deny that precisely this sector is often under attack when it comes to sustainability and environmental awareness. “Energy and utility companies do indeed have a double-sided image. On the one hand, our customers want to be the showcase for sustainable living and future-oriented thinking. Many save no effort or expense for this. On the other hand, many energy companies are still fighting their difficult reputation in terms of ecology and sustainability.”
“Nevertheless, we see that many of our customers are seriously concerned with the subject,” Delvaux continues. “Everyone in the sector realizes that something has to be done, so companies are constantly looking for initiatives to score good points around that topic. They make genuine efforts to work sustainably. We also want to signal that to the outside world with our actions.”
MORE THAN “PLASTIC WITH PLASTIC” AND “CARDBOARD WITH CARDBOARD”
“Sustainability is something we want to promote strongly from our own company,” says Delvaux. “Like many companies, we pay attention to our paper consumption and actively raise awareness among employees to sort their waste. We also make loan bicycles available to our employees, so that they can occasionally leave their car at home. Are we going to save the world with such initiatives? No, but it’s the little things that add up.”
Moreover, sustainability is a much broader concept, Delvaux notes. “It’s about human values, acting respectfully and creating products that can withstand time. As an IT provider, we can do quite a few things in that regard. First and foremost in the relationship with our customers. But also by making our own applications as sustainable as possible. Among other things by ensuring that our systems work as accurately as possible. This saves time, money and unnecessary printing. Or take, for example, the mobile workforce that we manage with our application: our system calculates the optimal route for our customers to get their technical intervention teams to their destination. Better for the customer, better for the planet.”
“We also build our solutions completely modular. Customers can select the components they need or add certain extras. If their needs change, it won’t be necessary for them to have their entire landscape converted. This, too, is sustainable collaboration.”
A SEED WITH THE AMBITION OF A FOREST
So it started as a seed. That seed became a tree. A tree that should ultimately become a big forest, at least that’s what the marketing manager hopes for. “With this campaign we are focusing on Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. We now have around 500 trees ready to ship to our contacts. Whoever receives a tree can read a registration code on the packaging, a kind of unique ID for that particular plant. Via the URL www.treely.eu people can register the location where they put their tree in the ground. This helps get a nice overview of where all the trees are planted. There is also a calculation of how much CO² the trees process together.”
Wouldn’t it be great to plant at least a thousand trees? That gives a total of 20 tons of CO² that we can offset together with our customer relationships.
To give an estimate: according to research, a mature tree would compensate for about 20 kilos of CO². “But a tree has so many other positive properties to offer to the environment and climate. Just think of combating soil erosion, the biodiversity that trees harbor, the rainwater they absorb, the cooling they offer, the vital effect on our health… We explain importance of that in the intro video on our website.”
20 tons of CO²
If the formula is successful, MECOMS would like to expand the initiative. “We would also like to send a tree to our customers in other countries if there is an interest. And we also want to write to our IT partners with the request to participate in our project. In this way they can in turn deliver trees to their customers. How beautiful would that be, to see our forest expand further and further?”, Delvaux continues to dream.
How large should that forest become? “Gosh, I haven’t really thought about that. But now that you mentioned it, it would be great to put a number on it. What would you say about a minimum of a thousand trees? That gives a total of 20 tons of CO² that we can offset together with our customer relationships. What do you think of that? ”Deal, no doubt.
You can find our original article (in Dutch) at Bloovi.be
What does it mean to become a digitally determined retailer?
Digital transformation might be the most hyped buzzword, with customer experience being a close second. However when digital is not considered as a project but as an integral part of the business model and the DNA of a company, it is a game changer.
IDC interviewed Alessandro Bertoli, CIO at Sorgenia, on the major steps of this transformation journey, which involved deploying modern ERP, customer care, and billing capabilities, as well as migrating the entire IT infrastructure to the cloud. Building on strategic partnerships with Accenture, Ferranti Computer Systems, and Microsoft, Sorgenia’s transformation program was a success. The company now boasts a set of business metrics that place it at the top end of the Italian market and is ready for a new competitive season on the Italian energy market.
The main driving force behind Sorgenia’s IT transformation was its new all-digital growth strategy, set in the wider context of the upcoming end of regulated energy prices in Italy.
With its legacy systems clearly unable to deliver on its growth plan or customer experience ambitions, Sorgenia saw the opportunity to start with a clean slate and began evaluating a change of its entire IT landscape.
- Step 1: Find the Right Strategic Partners
- Step 2: Deploy a New Engine to Power the Business
- Step 3: Fine-Tune Processes to Become the Best in Class
- Step 4: Migrate to the Cloud for Further Scale and Flexibility
As mentioned, Sorgenia managed to consistently improve its business metrics since going live on Microsoft Dynamics and MECOMS. The company now boasts a set of meter-to-cash key performance indicators (KPIs) that put it in a league of its own, in Italy and beyond.
Regarding Sorgenia’s digital ambition, supported by its new platform and digital channels, the company managed to onboard 100,000 digital clients in 2018 alone. Sorgenia’s integrated platform helped digitize the contact-to-contract process and streamline the meter-to-cash process cycle, while indirectly acting as an anti-churn mechanism through good billing, flawless payment, and better customer service.
For the past year, Sorgenia managed to consistently keep its unbilled-for energy rate under 0.2% of its points of delivery versus 2.0% when the system went live. This was done by establishing and improving pre- and mid-billing controls as well as post-billing quality checks. In addition, the company boasts a very solid 1% unpaid-for energy rate.
“With KPIs like these, it is safe to say that when it comes to billing quality and collection, there is no company as good as Sorgenia in the Italian market right now.” said Bertoli
Bots taking over the world has been a hot topic since the very first birth of robotic activity and has become even more tangible since the 1984 “I’ll be back” Terminator franchise. Just recently, Elon Musk pointed out to consider artificial intelligence (AI) the most serious threat to the survival of the human race. He said national and international regulatory oversight is needed, “just to make sure that we don’t do something foolish.” Musk also stated his investments in AI as “keeping an eye on what’s going on, rather than a viable return on capital”. In other words: automation is a hot topic and positive and negative effects have to be taken seriously.
What is a chatbot?
In order to understand the pros and cons of a chatbot, we’ll define it more precisely. What is a chatbot? How does it work? In a nutshell, a chatbot is an automated system that conducts a conversation by recognition of patterns occurring in communications. Chatbots have become more advanced and are not just capable anymore of recognising a question, but can also look for information that can be useful to the customer in a proactive way. Obvious pros of this system are: constant availability, immediate response time and the number of simultaneous chats a bot can handle.
Bots taking over jobs?
But what are the cons of this new technology? Should we be afraid of chatbots entering a room with a black leather jacket, shotgun and a slight Austrian accent? Or should we be more afraid of the more likely event of bots taking over our jobs?
Although chatbots like our Mecoms MECOMS Interactive Agent (MIA) will render some jobs obsolete, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Nowadays, repetitive tasks are often still carried out by employees. MIA takes over takes over those repetitive tasks, leaving more space for your employees to think in a creative and dynamic way about your core business so that you can come up with innovative ideas and thus be one step ahead of your competitors. Employees will be given the opportunity to leave dull tasks behind and to tackle more challenging problems that will help your company grow!
Why choose MIA?
As we allowed automation in our company, it gave our employees the possibility to develop a very special chatbot 🙂 MIA is able to recognise the mood of the user it’s interacting with. If a user is unhappy, it will recognise certain word patterns that indicate anger or frustration and change its tactic in order to get the user happy again. Choose for innovation, choose MIA and increase your customer satisfaction!
This new trend in customer engagement is predicted to further disrupt the self service – customer engagement landscape by creating new 24/7 use cases that were not possible in the past. Read all about it (in Dutch): http://bit.ly/2myxSZ6