Hernando Parrott (US President, Open) sat down with Utility Market Connections to discuss the company’s 30 years of providing world-class solutions while continuously innovating and expanding into new markets.
Parrott touches on Open’s “boot-camp” style intern program, the path to convergence, and why being a product-driven company leads to shorter implementation time.
UMC: Open recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. How has the face of the company changed over the past 30 years and what has been the driving force?
Hernando Parrott: It’s amazing that over the 30 years, considering how much we have grown, the face of the company (and most importantly, how we face our customers) has not changed dramatically. Over the years, we have maintained an open, creative, collaborative, and fun culture. This has fueled what we now see as our key driving force: innovation. We believe this is what sets us apart and will allow us to be disruptive in the market, utilizing the best technology for delivering leading-edge, cost-effective solutions to our customers.
UMC: Open employees report an 8.64 rate of job satisfaction out of 10. How does Open achieve this level of professional fulfillment?
Hernando Parrott: There are many aspects to this. First, Open has been considered a market innovator for quite some time. Employees want to be part of an innovative team, as it is challenging, rewarding, and fun to be recognized by their peers for their contributions to the ecosystem of innovation that we have built. The teamwork environment at Open is quite unique – we have maintained a workplace dynamic that encourages engagement and interaction, keeping our employees amply energized to perform their jobs with satisfaction levels and fulfillment. Our employee’s motivation is driven by the feeling that they are directly impacting our customers’ business success.
Open’s team has a laser-like focus on solving our customers’ business issues with creative solutions. Firstly, Open promotes direct and close contact with our customers at the executive, management, and operational levels. Secondly, we ask for feedback via multi-dimensional surveys, which in turn drive personalized plans for each customer, with continuous follow-up. Finally, our executive team reviews the interactions and progress with every customer, every Monday morning.
UMC: Tell me about your intern programs? How does fostering college age potential employees equate to the retention of proficient employees?
Hernando Parrott: The overall goal is to bring the best talent to our company, and as such, have designed a very rigorous selection process to bring in the people that best match our culture and values. Essentially, our Human Resources department has initiated and constantly nurtures close ties with most of the top universities in Colombia, hiring the top Technical students, with high proficiency in English.
Once they are in the program, they undergo a rigorous “boot-camp” where they will be immersed in our core technology, product, industry knowledge, and implementation methodology. We find it exceedingly valuable to ingrain the participants in our unique culture and observe their problem-solving and collaboration skills, from which we can select the best and brightest for full-time employment at Open.
We plan to extend this program to each new geography we enter, including, of course, North America.
UMC: “Typically implemented in less than 50% of the time of comparable solutions.” What methods does Open utilize to cut it’s implementation time in half?
Hernando Parrott: Our solution is based on a flexible architecture, coupled with our own pre-built industry models for each of the major segments of the utility industry—electric, water, gas, solid waste, and telecommunications –which, hand-in-hand with our implementation methodology, streamlines the entire implementation process tremendously.
We are a customer-centric, product-driven company and are not interested in lengthy projects; we strive for them to be as efficient and cost-effective for our clients as possible. In this way, our interests are in complete alignment with the customers’, as they are able to achieve lower TCO by having a quicker time frame, and we can redeploy our implementation resources on other projects. The key components of this are 1) focusing on empowering our customers through a programmatic knowledge transfer process early in the implementation so that they can be most effective during the project and 2) having dedicated, specialized services areas that develop tools to reduce the implementation effort such as migration tools, integration engines, and the like.
UMC: Your catalog of services is pretty diverse. What element(s) of Open Smartflex has been most in demand in 2017?
Hernando Parrott: We see the most demand coming from those customers who wish to leverage our architecture to support multiple products as services. We are quite unique in the fact that we have a single product architecture to support all industry services types. For example, several of our most recent customers have combined traditional utility services such as electricity, gas, water and solid waste, with non-traditional services such as CATV and Broadband. To do this under a single umbrella gives our customers a tremendous market advantage.
Right alongside this, we see a strong demand to improve field service performance. Hence we have developed a module focused on mobile workforce management, which can either be deployed with our Customer Information System or integrated with the customer’s existing platform. We also see that companies are increasingly looking for true cloud-based solutions, so we have become ready to support our solution in several cloud providers.
UMC: Which utility solution in your roaster do you believe is the most innovative and why?
Hernando Parrott: That is a difficult question to answer, but we believe that the Field Service solution stands out from an innovation standpoint. This belief first comes from a technology point of view, leveraging HTML5, supporting a deep set of functionalities that go well beyond the simple management of orders, allowing for the capability to capture updates in parts and inventory, and routing based on worker skill sets, selecting vehicles with the right equipment, and so on. It is amazing how many utilities still use highly tedious and manual processes in this area of the business – for this reason, the innovation REALLY stands out.
UMC: In the case of Coopelesca, what was the company’s main pain point? How did the implementation of Open Smartflex improve their business processes?
Hernando Parrott: Coopelesca is an interesting case. It is the first energy cooperative in Latin America to be certified by INTE 12-01-06:2011, and to have 100% carbon-free emissions. They are also on the leading edge in terms of AMI, where they are currently taking 15-minute reads successfully into the Open Smartflex platform.
But to specifically answer your question, in previous projects, Coopelesca had serious shortfalls in systems implementation, which was a huge Achilles heel and caused countless process issues as well as decreased productivity. As a result, we spend the first phase strongly focusing on making Coopelesca employees certified experts in Open Smartflex, allowing them to become key players and information multipliers throughout the project. Now, they have a well-oiled knowledge transfer process and a high level of autonomy, all of which is paying big dividends.
As the company wanted to grow and introduce new sources of revenue, they utilized this improved body of internal knowledge and improved processes to create a completely new line of business, offering broadband and CATV to their customers.
UMC: The word utility is used to describe anything thought essential to everyday life. I think most of us would agree that the use of technology such as cell phones and the internet are now a vital part of daily life. With your experience serving the Telecom industry, what is your opinion on these services eventually being counted alongside water, gas, and electricity as a utility?
Hernando Parrott: Well, we have a number of our customers that have already taken the journey along the path of convergence, as I mentioned previously, now supporting things like CATV, broadband, retail financial services, and third-party billing. The more customers see the power, flexibility, and ease of new rollouts, the more they find new opportunities to leverage their investment in Open Smartflex. Different markets have different speeds of adoption due to regulatory and market conditions, but I see this trend only speeding up in the North American market, and the underlying Open product offering is battle-tested and up to the task.
Further, it is abundantly apparent that customer expectations are changing, and the customer interaction bar has been set high by providers such as Amazon and Netflix. They will expect no less from their utility providers, getting personalized information in real time, 24/7, interactions with social media platforms, getting a window into other consumers’ preferences, and much more.
UMC: In regard to technology what do you believe the “next big thing” is for the utility industry?
Hernando Parrott: We see the incorporation of artificial intelligence to push innovations in the ways customers can interact with their utility provider, as well as in other operational areas as being a real game-changer. For example, using AI to drive smarter tools such as bots and intelligent dashboards will allow companies to drive much more personalized interactions with customers such as improved tools to provide suggestions for usage reduction and cost savings tips, among many other possibilities. Operationally, this will also enable enhanced capabilities for field technicians to troubleshoot problems with assistive AI and provide greater predictive capabilities for customer service representatives.
UMC: Taking a look on your existing customers, it seems you can manage a wide range of Utility companies. How do you manage to have a product to fulfill the needs of large private utilities with millions of subscribers and municipalities with only a few thousand?
Hernando Parrott: It starts and ends with the product architecture. Because we started early in telecommunications, we immediately had to figure out massive scalability. For example, our billing engine can complete the entire set of batch processes overnight for 4.6 million services in a single cycle. Every step of the way, we look for ways to make the architecture more flexible and scalable than before, leveraging the latest design techniques, and combining ongoing improvements in hardware and software technologies to accomplish that. At the lower end, we have intentionally tried to keep the user interface easy and straightforward, and the infrastructure is highly downwardly scalable. Also, the existence of our pre-defined industry models in conjunction with our implementation methodology makes it is quite easy for a utility in the tens of thousands to deploy.
UMC: How do you manage to compete with companies that are orders of magnitude larger than you are?
Hernando Parrott: We are easy to do business with, and we take full ownership for the success of each implementation; so, I guess not yet having a brand that is recognized globally makes us take special care of every single customer we have. We depend on good references to grow and thrive.
We are large enough to be as reliable as the big players, which is obviously very important in a conservative industry, yet we are small enough and have built our people, processes, and technology to maintain speed and agility to meet companies’ business needs. Some of the larger players in the industry have lost both the ease of relationships and nimbleness along their growth path.
Additionally, as we have discussed before, being different and offering new technologies through quicker development cycles will allow us to be a disruptor. We are now offering continuous product delivery models which will allow customers to easily keep up to date versus implementing huge, disruptive upgrades which, in many cases, prove to be nearly as burdensome as brand new implementations.
Finally, we have an integrated and homogeneous solution set. Typically, our competitors operate by buying different companies and piecing their solutions together which usually ends up creating a number of issues for customers.
So, at the end of the day, we believe we have a number of key differentiators that make us a fresh, attractive player in the market.