Your Business: Metering firm thrives from deregulation

By Gill South

Mike Thorne is eyeing up potential markets in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mike Thorne is eyeing up potential markets in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Photo / Sarah Ivey

For some in New Zealand, the Government-proposed state-owned asset sales are highly controversial, but for Agility CIS, the software company which serves retail energy companies, it is potential new business.

"The asset sales are an opportunity from our perspective," says Agility CIS chief executive Mike Thorne.

Agility CIS is the creator of Orion, a system for utility billing and customer management - for "anything that is metered: electricity, gas, water, internet services providers (ISPs) and telcos", he says.

The company's services include remote advance metering, smart billing, customer information systems, credit management and performance monitoring.

Thorne says companies need a driver to change, and those drivers are deregulation and advanced metering or smart metering, where consumers can have more up-to-date information on their consumption patterns.

Smart metering requires a lot of system alterations, he says. "Our figure is that there will be a 432,000 per cent increase in the volume of data that a utility retailer will receive as a result of smart meters. That's often when systems creak and groan, but we can handle it," says Thorne.

More than a million residential and commercial customers are billed by Agility CIS's Orion Systems. New Zealand deregulated in 1999, and Agility CIS's first local customer was Energy Online. Victoria, in Australia, followed a few years later and then Texas. Agility CIS has offices in Melbourne and in Houston.

The Ellerslie-based company was established in 1998 by four co-founders including Dean Williamson and Iain Stafford, the company's chief technology officer. The four founders now form the board, and 80 per cent of Agility CIS' business is overseas, with product development done at head office in Auckland.

The company has just signed a deal to provide utility billing services for the Sultanate of Oman - the beginning of an important Middle East expansion for Agility CIS. An office in Dubai is likely to follow.

The Oman contract was an 18-month tendering process.

"Oman sent a delegation to the US, Australia and Europe - we had to fight off SAP and Oracle, the two big boys. We fought off a lot of international competition," says Thorne.

The new CEO has seen Agility CIS grow substantially since arriving at the company as a business development manager.

"When I started in 2009, I was the 15th employee. Now we have 62. Our turnover is $8 million to $10 million for this financial year and we have grown by 20 to 30 per cent a year since 2009. Our goal is to double in size in the next three years," says the CEO.

"There is more growth because there is more deregulation happening," adds Thorne, who comes from an analyst/consulting background, working with SOE energy companies such as Genesis Energy and PowerLink in Queensland.

"Now I'm on this side of the fence, I understand what customers want. They want something that can meet their business processes," he says.

Because New Zealand deregulated more than 12 years ago, it has got quite a mature market and mature products, which are of interest to newly deregulating markets.

"We get a lot of [international] leads because New Zealand was an early adopter." Various states in the US are now deregulating. Turkey and Jordan are in the process as is Saudi Arabia.

Thorne is watching Italy and Greece closely, too. When governments need money, they need to sell something, and power is often a valuable asset, he says.

- NZ Herald

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