In an exclusive interview with Ronald B. Via, VP Sales and Marketing of Elster Electricity, LLC (formerly ABB Electricity Metering), Smart Energy International had the opportunity of discussing the future of the industry, and in particular the exciting future of Elster.
More than ever, the metering business is facing change. Who would have thought, only a few years ago, that utilities could go bankrupt? Or that a utility would face competition? Or that a utility would have to innovate to survive? A utility was an organisation that was as solid as a rock – reliable, predictable and stable. But this is no longer always the case, as evidenced by the uncertain state of the utility industry in many countries. As a result, the utilities serving the electricity, water and gas sectors have had to re-examine their value propositions, and one of the key industries in particular – the metering industry – has had to adjust more rapidly than most.
One group that has taken a long and hard look at its future is Elster Metering, the former ABB electricity and water metering businesses. This global leader is continuing to develop and implement its vision for the future.
With the recent purchase of the ABB metering businesses by Ruhrgas Industries Inc. of Germany, a new global leader in the metering business has emerged, encompassing electricity, water and gas.
SATISFYING CUSTOMER NEEDS
According to Ron Via, VP for Sales and Marketing, it's very clear: “For metering companies to survive, they must not only deliver products that are innovative, reliable, and have a long life, but also ensure that their overall offering provides the customer a definitive return on investment.”
In a broader sense, Elster is well positioned to take up the challenge to satisfy customer needs. “It's all about increasing revenues for our customers through innovative solutions, and reducing costs through streamlined operational strategies. This enables our customers to become more competitive in an ever-changing market. We have always appreciated the importance of the business case for every product or service offering. With the support of Ruhrgas Industries, Elster is able to deliver solutions that meet even more of the customers' needs across all of the energy metering markets.”
ONLY THE NAME HAS CHANGED
The business focus at Elster has not changed since the acquisition – only the name has changed. “Customer care has always been the foundation of our culture. The recent acquisition enables us to keep that focus and extend it to a broader marketplace,” remarked Via.
At the heart of the business lies the slogan ‘discover the value of the diamond'. Via explains, “The diamond represents value, quality, strength, and the ability to offer multi-faceted solutions in the electricity, water or gas sectors. In an industry where good companies have exited the business, we continue to measure ourselves not by our competitors but rather by the satisfaction of our customers and clients and the respective success of their businesses. Elster continues to make changes to its businesses to better serve its customers. Recent changes include adding new sales support lines, offering additional ordering options and developing web-based tools to help offer superior service.”
Via is quick to point out, “Our business is still conducted on a one-on-one basis, and although our name has changed, the people within our organisation are still the same. Our new structure continues to enhance the partnerships between our customers and our Elster team.”
Although Elster Electricity is number one worldwide for ANSI electricity meters, Via sees considerable differences between the North American and Latin American markets. “Given the current state of uncertainty in the global economy, we see utilities in the US being more cautious about investing in new technologies. To address this uncertainty, we explore innovative financing with our customers and explain how Elster products offer financial benefits that justify their business case. In the Latin American markets, however, we see private utilities investing far more rapidly in new metering technologies and in many cases they are making these investments for strategic reasons.”
Elster Metering is made up of multiple operating entities throughout the world. “We are fortunate that we can operate extremely quickly; we can leverage the expertise from all the Elster companies and can accelerate development cycles. We anticipate our customers' future needs, but more importantly we show how our new products and services add value to our customers' businesses. One area that has been the focus of our efforts is product life-cycle costs. We analyse the value proposition from the time the meter is manufactured to the time it is removed and scrapped. We are always developing ways to drive down the life-cycle costs of operating these assets.
“We also look at methods to improve the way meter data is managed and processed. The importance of turning data into knowledge that can add value to our customers is critical. We look far beyond automatic metering reading (AMR) – we develop solutions to help utilities build stronger relationships with their customers. Normally utility customers are only reminded of their service provider when their monthly bill arrives for payment or when they experience a power outage – both essentially negative situations. We want utilities to be able to use metering information to interact proactively with their customers. With metering knowledge, utilities can show their customers how to reduce the cost of their monthly utility bill, or advise them about potential or existing problems in their service area. We examine new ways our customers can acquire metering solutions and creative ways to finance those solutions.
“Ultimately, Elster's vision focuses on adding value by helping utilities serve their customers more completely. The diamond in the Elster logo is a symbol of quality, strength and trust. By discovering the value of the Elster diamond, our customers will find value that is priceless.”