Chief Strategy Officer at Ontec Systems, South Africa, previously known as Itron South Africa, and long-running platinum sponsor at African Utility Week in Cape Town in May.
THE ONTEC INTERVIEW: “Utilities and municipalities need to operate more as a business. As the sector transforms, they can either be a hurdle or a catalyst for the private sector and the country as a whole”
Let’s start with some background on Ontec and its products and services, rebranded from Itron, which of course has been a well-known brand and institution in the metering industry for years.
• The company recently underwent an ownership change, which culminated in May 2016, whereby Itron South Africa was able to secure a 100% South African equity ownership transition including a 51% (majority) black shareholding. As a result, Itron South Africa became Ontec, focused on locally relevant solutions and ideally positioned to address legislated equity requirements. The global industry knows the firm as a metering company, but in South Africa, about 90% of its market is in software and services, and the remainder being the sale of meters. This dynamic has afforded Itron South Africa (now Ontec) to withstand some of the winds of change in the metering commodity sector.
2) Any particular projects in the energy sector that you are very excited about currently?
Contracts in motion:
Ontec currently has its prepayment, transaction switching, AMR and more recently smart metering software technology and products deployed in several of the metros and municipalities in SA. Coupled to this, Ontec has specific long term services contracts with over 45 such utilities. Our service offerings are quite diverse and spans from grass roots software deployment and support to more complex revenue management, revenue assurance, smart metering and more recently smart grid applications.
What we are most proud of are the following projects and the experience that follows such implementations:
- Eskom National Prepayment vending system managing over 4.5Million customers, build to process over 250 transactions per second.
- Eskom’s National Meter Data Collector (Automatic Meter Reading System) managing billing determinants for over 30K of their largest power users.
- City Power’s Smart Metering Systems, which is the largest smart meter install base implement in SA with over 100K in operation.
- City of Cape Town’s Prepayment vending system managing over R1.5 billion revenue for the City per year.
- 100% deployments and support of all Itron’s systems and products for their customers in Africa.
3) Where in Africa is Ontec focusing for growth?
In the next few years, Ontec aims to grow exponentially within SA, while working with Itron to capitalise on growth in Africa. Itron and Ontec have partnered strategically to work hand in glove in Africa, hence ensuring sustainable and growth within existing and new African customers for both companies.
4) What are the main challenges in the industry at the moment in your view?
The challenges that clients face tend to be reactive; with the hot topics being around load management, load limiting, load shedding, revenue assurance and renewables—a mixed bag of concerns. We must remember that it can be overwhelming for clients given the pace of change, combined by the vast array of products on offer. What Ontec does differently, is we remove and reduce the complexity by first establishing a core understanding of the problems and pains client’s experience, hence enabling Ontec to craft a fit for purpose solution and technology stack that focuses on the pains of the client. This approach has been a winning formula for Ontec, enabling closer relationship with their customers and building trust through services and systems.
Another critical challenge we currently sit with as a collective, is the skills gap that Utilities find themselves in today. This makes it extremely difficult for them to decipher, implement and support new products and technology critically required for their business sustainability and long term survival.
5) What surprises you about the energy industry?
The intrinsic understanding that this sector holds a golden key to spring-boarding South Africa’s economic development at so many levels, yet the speed at which focus and change is taking place is a concern.
6) What is your vision for this sector?
Utilities and municipalities need to operate more as a business. As the sector transforms, they can either be a hurdle or a catalyst for the private sector and the country as a whole. Utilities need to bridge the increasing gap between themselves and their end consumers to ensure sustainability in the future.
7) You are a platinum sponsor at African Utility Week this year, tell us more about your contribution to the event (speakers at conference, workshops etc.) and what your message will be?
Ontec will enlist the services of two international guest speakers from Itron to present under two Sessions, namely 2.2 “Open and Standard communication protocols in Smart Metering systems”, and Session 3.2 “Platforms enabling the quick recovery of payment”.
With the rebranding to Ontec, our partnerships are crucial to providing products and services that are orientated to serve our markets best. The partnerships that we have formed will ensure our success in going forward. An example of this is Itron’s game changing technology like OpenWay Riva, which Ontec though its partnership with Itron, will facilitate that the message is brought to the market in one the Sessions listed above.
8) Itron has been a longstanding supporter of the event, how important is African Utility Week on the utility calendar?
African Utility Week has always been a premier event on the marketing calendar for Ontec (previously Itron), mainly because of the additional awareness brought around our products and services to Africa.