08/13/2020 – With impressive business achievements at major utility companies and with the entry of a major financial investor, the software provider powercloud from the small town of Achern in Baden, Germany has attracted considerable attention in the industry since the middle of last year. We spoke with founder and managing director Marco Beicht.
Mr. Beicht, when and how did powercloud actually come about?
powercloud was founded in 2012, but the original idea and first developments were already in the making in 2009. My start was in e-commerce, where I had T-Mobile and tele.ring as customers since 2003. The path from the Telco segment to the energy segment was, at the time, not uncommon. In the beginning, powercloud focused primarily on sales processes and product management.
What gave you the idea of focusing on the energy industry in particular? The industry is considered a complicated market…
With our first customers, all of whom were initially electricity and gas discounters, it quickly became clear that not only were new solutions needed for product management and sales, but that processing, in particular, had become a cost driver and an obstacle to innovation. The initial focus on the new providers was an important decision for us. Here, we were able to make perfect use of our knowledge from e-commerce and, at the same time, met with approval for more lightweight approaches. Together with the new providers, we then began to bring our market communication, billing, and accounting solutions, for example, into operation—all of which are critical processes at the heart of any energy supplier. After we had a mid-six-figure number of customers on the platform, the first energy group became aware of powercloud in 2015.
How does the powercloud approach differ? Or to put it another way: what do you think convinced your customers?
Our customers decide to switch to powercloud for four main reasons. Firstly, we take care of the necessary regulatory updates without the customer having to spend time and effort on implementation in powercloud. These include format changes and legal adjustments such as the recent economic stimulus package. This not only cuts costs for the customer, but scarce resources can also be used more effectively.
Secondly, the automation, the significantly lower complexity, and the digital channels reduce the cost-to-serve far beyond the basic IT costs.
The third reason is that our customers want to test new products, smart bundles, and individual offers quickly and cost-effectively on the market and to process them without much effort. Product innovation is becoming more and more important for securing one’s competitive position.
Finally, investment security is a major issue. Market players are currently facing the challenge that the maintenance of many legacy systems is coming to an end or that the maintenance of these systems is becoming more difficult and costly. We have the right answer – a Standard Cloud Offer.
And how exactly do you implement this?
We are building a standard for the industry that is suitable not only for both small and large utility companies at the same time, but also for new suppliers and utility companies with a basic service area. This was long considered impossible—at least, before powercloud. We think through all processes strictly from the perspective of the end customer and focus on a high level of automation. In fact, what sets a utility company apart from the competition is less and less often back-end processes, but rather front-end processes—i.e., individual customer approach and new offers.
What topics or work processes does powercloud currently cover?
powercloud grows day by day. Not only do we constantly bring new functionalities, but also other providers via our App Store. Powercloud focuses on the core processes of the energy industry, such as product management, customer acquisition, CRM, billing, market communication, and accounting—and all that for electricity, gas, water, sewage, and heat.
Do you plan to expand the solution? As in, grid processes?
After we were able to establish the supplier market role very successfully, we started to develop a solution for meter and grid operators. In addition, other media, such as telecommunications offerings, will also be available from powercloud in the future. We will, however, remain loyal to the utility and waste management industry in the future and can differentiate ourselves from providers who are more agnostic with their expert knowledge and focus.
An interesting special feature of powercloud are the apps offered by partner or associated companies such as chargecloud. Can you explain this concept to our readers?
This works similarly to your mobile phone. In the powerApp store, you can activate new features in your powercloud client. There are three categories of apps. Fully integrated powerApps bring additional features and business models to powercloud. Chargecloud, for example, provides special billing models for electromobility or the management of charging points, while the Conuti tenant power module takes care of the marketing of locally generated energy. Another category is interface apps that integrate other software solutions, such as a connection to Salesforce. Finally, access to data can be granted via data apps, making it easy to implement data-driven business models in addition to analytics offerings.
Now powercloud is already in operation at EnBW, for example. What has changed for the company? (Processes, costs, etc.)
EnBW is extremely good at implementing digital channels and using smart automation with our event system. New products can be brought to market much faster and can then be handled reliably. Just as important as the new technical possibilities, however, is the cultural change within the company itself, which goes hand-in-hand with the introduction of a Cloud solution. In addition to reducing complexity, this includes the digitalization of daily business and new ways of working. That is why we first explain to our customers at the beginning of a project that, in addition to the purely technical migration, which can be carried out with low risk today, the specific challenges lie in change management.
Apart from the “Big Four”, we also have quite a few regional suppliers and municipal utility companies. How does powercloud operate in this segment?
Together with partners, we have created pre-packaged offers for municipal utility companies. This is important because many municipal utility companies do not want to deal with the individual selection of additional components, such as a web portal. The new IT landscape must be functional from day one. Success-proven combinations are a strong argument. Standards were also created in terms of implementation scenarios. This is also a very important point, which not only brings advantages in terms of time, but also reliably removes risk from the migration project.
Finally, a look into the future: what are the next steps and the medium-term goals?
Of course, we also want to be the first choice for municipal utility companies and to repeat the success of powercloud in the MSB and grid sector. The course for this has been set and we are actively working on implementing it. We are also growing outside of Germany. The end customer doesn’t see the various markets as all that different in the end. This is why the first suppliers are also following the successful model “Made in Germany”. (pq)