Entity Holdings added to its growing pool of talent with the addition of Horstmann Group on 13th December 2007. With Horstmann’s metering and controls expertise now part of the Entity Group, it creates a $200m metering, communications and controls business.

But what does this mean to the co–located brands in the UK – PRI and Horstmann? We catch up with Les Woolner, MD of Horstmann and Richard St Clair, Sales Director of PRI to find out.

Both companies are well established and successful brands in the UK. How will this development affect your respective customers?

RSC: This is good news for all our customers and good news for PRI and Horstmann.  Both companies will continue with their traditional areas of businesses whilst benefiting customers with strategic ties in a number of areas, particularly Smart Metering. PRI’s strengths in the three phase and prepayment markets, and Horstmann’s in the Utility Load Control and Domestic Heating Controls, are good examples of our complimentary skills.

LW: That’s right, in these traditional markets it’s the larger group benefits that will really show through in time: greater financial strength, access to significant R&D resources and logistics and operational benefits will all help to improve our customers’ experience.

RSC: The two companies will remain separate trading entities with their own P&Ls, strategies and development plans – in fact, it was the many similarities of these forward looking projections that attracted the group to Horstmann. We believe there is likely to be greater convergence of these two main markets (metering and domestic controls) under a “Smart Metering Future” and it was in these forums that Les and I kept bumping into each other and found that whilst we were often approaching issues from different directions, we were tending to arrive at a similar place!

LW: The really interesting thing is that under a smart metering future there isn’t a single “market” or approach that 100% overlaps but rather a number of parallel if not converging routes to market – together we add both breadth and depth in our group offerings.

So what will happen in the UK Smart Metering arena?

RSC: If we could answer that we would never have to work again! There is a great deal of work to be done in Smart Metering and not just in the UK but let’s stay there just for now. PRI and Horstmann have been working together on some smart metering projects prior to Horstmann joining the group. Now we will be able to both widen and accelerate some of those areas of co-operation.

LW: An important element of the PRI/Horstmann coexistence is to provide more, not less, options for our customers in the future – consolidation of our metering activities is not a driving ambition. However, strategically in the smart metering arena together we can now offer a number of immediate benefits.

RSC: PRI has been promoting its vision for an interoperable smart metering market through its SLiM concept (System Level interoperability Model), it launched in the last issue of Smart Energy International and as you might now imagine Horstmann products will be fully interoperable with PRI products under this approach to interoperability.

So will Horstmann now stop supporting the TAHI initiatives on interoperability?

LW: Absolutely not both Horstmann and PRI fully support the TAHI objectives but the two views are not mutually exclusive – in fact they are complimentary. It comes back to this realisation that there may not be a “big bang” approach to smart metering as happened in Italy- but rather a number of parallel and serial streams of activity as is the nature of competitive markets. We will continue to support the long term standards based aims of TAHI but in the mean time help enable customers to address specific markets in the short term.

RSC: This is really what SLiM is all about. With Horstmann now part of the Entity group it enables us to apply the benefits of that model more easily. For instance, anyone rolling out a large scale metering deployment will want security of supply both in terms of manufacturing but also of technology risk. The PRIHorstmann mix ticks these risk mitigation boxes really well whilst eliminating the heartache of multivendor integration at the business system end because that will be delivered via SLiM. This won’t be restricted to just PRI and Horstmann and we already have another meter manufacturer adopting the concept.

So is this all about Smart Metering then?

LW: Smart Metering is a big element of the group growth strategy but by no means the only driver. The controls business of Horstmann has been growing steadily over the last few years but will now benefit significantly from the investment the group can bring. Also the group’s strengths in Finance, R&D and from a UK perspective, its overseas marketing reach, are all great opportunities for Horstmann’s controls business going forward.

RSC: That’s absolutely right and PRI’s non-utility marketing activities in the Energy Management sector will benefit from Horstmann’s established distribution channels in the electrical wholesale and heating control sectors. In some areas, you will see some more immediate leverage of group resources. But coming back to Smart Metering – when this does take off in the UK, and I believe it is only a question of when not if, there will be few companies around with the product or systems reach that PRI and Horstmann have between them. Meanwhile, how we precisely deliver all this to the market is not yet entirely clear. However, we do anticipate solutions being delivered by a consortia of companies with IT, IS, communications and service businesses expertise and this fits perfectly with the combined strengths of PRI and Horstmann being part of the Entity group.