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UMC: What is the company culture like at Red Clay consulting?
Marnell: Red Clay is definitely known for our culture. We work hard to create a high-energy and fun culture at Red Clay. You have to balance out all the technical discussions about utility back-end systems, right? We’ve found that a strong culture helps in so many ways. Whether it is attracting new employees and leaders, holding together through a tough project milestone or just the need to spend so much time with one another—a consistent, real and strong culture is a large key to success. Our clients feel this too. We have been told many times that you can tell that our project teams are more than just workmates. Our folks really do enjoy working with one another and so many of them have strong friendships and ties in- and out of work.
UMC: Working with people you trust and respect can make all the difference and in Red Clay’s case it must show. Did you know that your company has a 4.4 out of 5 rating on glassdoor.com (a site that allows employees to give reviews on the companies they work for?) Do you believe that affects the overall quality of customer satisfaction?
Marnell: Public reviews were once relegated to retail and restaurants only. But let’s face it—in today’s social media-driven world there is even a ‘Yelp!’ for your business. We are proud of the rating, and work hard to maintain it. We also learn from glassdoor. Not every employee is going to be satisfied, and while you’d hope they’d bring concerns to management, sometimes they feel more comfortable sharing it with the world. We monitor the site every week and make sure to review the feedback as well as provide responses to posts where needed.
UMC: Let’s talk about the customer side of your business. What is the most fundamental step in your methodology with clients?
Marnell: Most consulting organizations would probably point to Requirements or Testing or some other piece of the software development lifecycle. While these are all important, I would have to point to the sales process as being the most fundamental. As a small, private company Red Clay doesn’t have quarterly earnings to report to stockholders—we are only held by our need to create successful and referenceable clients. For this to happen, the expectations MUST be set correctly from our first interaction.
We were recently awarded a new MDM implementation project. During the sales effort for this project we were challenged to present a large scope in a small time frame. Our competitors chose to stack their solution into the desired timeframe while we challenged the approach. Ultimately the utility saw that we cared more about the likely success of the project than simply regurgitating their stated goals. This proved Red Clay’s experience—our focus on customer success and our desire to be a true business partner—as opposed to a vendor.
I’ve come up through the consulting world myself and appreciate that if the expectations are not set correctly in the sales cycle, there is little chance for success. That is why I think the messaging during the sales effort is the most fundamental step in our methodology.
UMC: You mentioned Red Clay’s small size compared to its competitors: what are the advantages to your company’s size?
Marnell: Focus. Agility. And speed. Larger firms ultimately find themselves in a position of saying ‘yes’ to everything and anything. Red Clay is extremely focused in a few disciplines. This results in a deeply-experienced, personal quality solutions for our utility clients.
Agility means we are easier to conduct business with. With a smaller, privately-held company, we are more likely to assess the true needs of the utility and our partners when making business decisions. Specifically, this translates into smoother contract and legal negotiations, clear escalation paths to Red Clay management, and an overall sense that we’ll do what it takes to get the job done.
Speed for us means several things including: faster implementation for the utility, quick turn-around times when decisions need to be made, and, because we are smaller, the ability to pivot our entire company to address changing needs of the industry.
UMC: In the case of Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), the project was done in two phases (similar to KCP&L). What advantage does the two-phase method give to your clients, as well as your project managers?
Marnell: Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) phased approach to implement Oracle Utilities (MDM) and (SGG) demonstrates how quickly a utility can see the benefits of an MDM. In less than a year and a half, the Oracle Utilities Metering Solution, consisting of MDM and SGG, supported the validation, storage, device communications and bill determinant calculations for all of OUC’s 385,000 electric and water meters. They were able to get what was crucial to start their (spell out) (AMI) meter roll-out quickly (in six months), and then focused on the additional water service and other advanced MDM functionality, such as device communications. Having MDM in place with Phase I, and being familiar with the system, allowed them to define better requirements and Phase 2, and expedited the implementation because of their MDM knowledge.
Multiple phases also allow our team to go in and focus on what is absolutely critical for the utility; what are their top business drivers. By meeting those requirements first, it’s a quick win for our project team and the client, and gives everyone the confidence going into the 2nd phase. By then, we know a lot about the utility, the people, their organization, and their business processes—which all allow us to build an even better solution for them in subsequent phases.
UMC: Final question: Red Clay has been implementing enterprise software solutions software since 2001. What have been the biggest changes in the last 15 years and what do you expect the future to look like?
Marnell: It’s hard to believe we’re 15 years old! While there has definitely been a tremendous amount of change, the old adage remains the same: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” There is no question that the utility demands more from its technology solutions to manage a changing consumer expectation and rapid evolution of the grid. However, since our first project in 2001 through today, there are some simple principles that remain the same: new technology results in business process and technical change. Our number one job as a consultancy is to LEAD the utility through both aspects. If we fail to set the right expectations to either the business or IT, we greatly reduce the chances for success.
UMC: Well that’s all we have for today. Thank you for speaking with us today, Paul.
Marnell: No problem Jillian, thank you for including us.
UMC: It was our pleasure. For all the UMC readers out there, if you’d like to learn more about Red Clay Consulting, please be sure to click on the soundbite at the top of the page.