Cooper dives into Harris’s unique place in the utilities market while giving us the breakdown on its numerous business units.
UMC: What word comes to mind when one mentions Harris Utilities Group? Please explain why. Click here for the answer:
UMC: You’ve got a pretty interesting business model set up at Harris. How did this strategy come about?
Bryce Cooper: Our model of managing multiple businesses focused on the same market segment developed organically. Harris Utilities began with the NorthStar solution over 35 years ago. We could see the opportunity to grow faster via acquisition, and therefore acquired Cayenta, InHance, and Advanced solutions within three years. All four businesses had then – as they do today – well-established and loyal customer bases with no single product that was going to meet every customer’s needs. The Customer Choice strategy and our independent business unit model continued to evolve with acquisition of Systems & Software and Cogsdale. Essentially, instead of trying to promote one solution to the market, we decided to let the market pick from our portfolio.
UMC: Can you give us a quick breakdown of the nine different business units under Harris Utilities?
Bryce Cooper: Harris Utilities operates seven completely independent CIS focused business units capable of servicing municipal, cooperative and investor owned utilities for all service types. Here is a quick overview of their product specialties:
Cayenta: CIS, Financial Management, and Work Management solutions
Advanced Utilities: CIS only solution suite
Systems & Software: CIS only solution suite
Cogsdale: CIS, Financial Management, and Work & Asset Management solutions
NorthStar: CIS only solution suite
InHance Utility Services: CIS and Financial Management solution suite
SIV.AG: CIS and Financial Management solution suite for the German market
In addition to our CIS focused business units, we have two unique business units – SmartWorks and Cognera.
SmartWorks is the Data Management arm of Harris Utilities, specializing in Meter Data Management, Utility Decision Management and Consumer Engagement. SmartWorks provides robust, feature-rich turnkey solutions that help utilities improve customer service, increase financial performance and operational efficiency.
Cognera provides a specialized Software as a Service (SaaS) offering from the Alberta market with a focus on assisting retailers manage commercial and industrial billing and settlement.
UMC: How do these different business units coexist - specifically the six companies that offer CIS solutions?
Bryce Cooper: Each business unit within Harris Utilities is structured similarly with dedicated R&D, Support, Sales and Professional Services. Each is afforded the same resources proportional to their business size. However, we foster and encourage a competitive environment at Harris Utilities. Harris Utilities is a parent company – all of the action happens in the business units that effectively work as siblings. Like any family living under the same roof, we may not agree on everything, but we have each other’s back.
UMC: What are the benefits of your “Customer’s Choice” model with regard to your clients?
Bryce Cooper: The benefits of the strategy are realized by clients in two distinct themes: first, and foremost, we share best practices and market knowledge through continuous communication at both the leadership level and at the functional level; secondly, for customers that outgrow their current solution, we provide alternatives that have a greatly reduced risk of transition between conversion because of owning both systems.
UMC: With all of this friendly competition, how would you describe your company culture?
Bryce Cooper: It is unique to each business. The business units of Harris Utilities, with the exception of SmartWorks, were all well-established vendors with their own personalities. Our structure preserves that identity not just in the brand name but also through the independence of operation. We have maintained the original staff, operating out of the original offices, bringing them together while allowing them compete head-to-head. It does create a new element - we are a competitive bunch and nobody likes to lose.
UMC: I noticed that you emphasize a “laid back” employee experience, can you elaborate on that?
Bryce Cooper: I believe our staff reflects the values of our customers. We are not trying to build the next Silicon Valley unicorn, racing to release the next “New, New Thing”. We build long-term relationships with our customers and attract talent that is looking for this type of experience. I’m not sure it’s always laid back – there are definitely intense cycles.
UMC: In 2011, Marc Andreessen explained how the “internet is eating the world.” Five years later and this statement is becoming increasingly accurate. How do you think utilities are adapting to a clientele that is so dependent on the Internet of Things?
Bryce Cooper: For the segment of the utility market that we focus on, I would say our clients are taking a measured response. Web portals facilitating a paperless billing experience have been widely adopted across the market. Likewise, there has been a push to duplicate that experience with mobile solutions for consumers. However, there is a need to continue to offer counter payments for the bankless segment of the population, as well as paper and telephone options for those without access to, or interest in, the internet. There’s no all-in as you see in some consumer markets.
UMC: What do you believe the next stage will be in the evolution of the utility industry?
Bryce Cooper: North American utilities – electrical and water alike – have invested heavily in smart grid technologies. It has been a tremendous investment that has the ability to generate returns well beyond the automation of meter reading and automatic shut-offs. The next stage will be to develop new decision models and business practices based on the wealth of data this infrastructure provides. From design efficiencies and loss identification, to conservation and demand management, that availability to gather and effectively use data will be the catalyst for the next stage.
UMC: I know a parent isn’t supposed to have favorites, so let’s get really specific. Out of all the technologies that Harris offers which do you think is the most innovative?
Bryce Cooper: As a father of twins, I have a bit of history with this question. On any given day, one business will put a bright smile on my face while another will have me pulling my hair out. It’s never the same one on two consecutive days.
With respect to innovation, the industry tends to look heavily at the underlying technology stack and the adoption of the latest features. For this market, I believe the more exciting innovation is coming from the newly available data and leveraging that data to improve business practices. All of our businesses are innovative when implementing their solutions, but SmartWorks would probably be doing the most.