Archive for the 'Water Utilities' Category

Integrations key to business software success.

July 25, 2019

These days it seems like most, if not all technology products are getting smaller and more powerful, smaller and faster, smaller and less expensive, smaller and smarter, smaller and better connected.

In business software we’re seeing the same trend, away from the large monolithic systems of old, towards smaller, more targeted “apps” with a specific purpose. These apps connect to other apps and work together to form a larger overall “integrated solution”.

I first noticed this “smaller and connected” trend a few years ago when I worked in the ERP industry. We started seeing smaller accounting systems being used by larger and larger businesses. How could this happen? The answer was and is that the smaller accounting system is plugged into add-on solutions that enable the combined solution to cater to the specific requirements of the industry or user.

In the case of my company’s Datagate Billing Solution, we’ve decided on a product strategy where we focus on the rating and billing piece of the solution for telecom and other utility resellers, and leave the accounting, CRM, and business management functions to other popular solutions dedicated to those purposes. This means each software company focuses on what it’s good at and the integrations between the software packages enable them all to work as a single “integrated” solution.

Being integrated with other popular software products also increases our appeal to prospective customers who already use those products. This in turn leads to partnerships with those software vendors, as per the topic of my previous blog article.

Strategic partnerships as a high-growth strategy

June 26, 2019

One of the most common mistakes made by early-stage businesses, is going it alone and trying to do everything themselves.

Strategic partnerships can be a cost-effective and efficient way for a business to add channels to market, brand value, access & relevance to customers, localization and other strengths to their business proposition.

Partnerships will only work when both partners win from the partnership.

To identify potential partners, businesses should identify and understand what value the partner will add for them and in-turn, what value they will add for their partner. Sometimes it’s simply an exchange of margin and additional sales reach, other times it might be adding functionality to their product offering and opening new market opportunities together that the partners may not be able to address on their own.

Ideally, there should be a signed partnership agreement, to define the details of the agreement and hopefully prevent any misunderstandings later on.

To illustrate how strategic partnerships work, consider the example of my company Datagate.

Datagate is a SaaS billing solution for businesses who sell usage-based and subscription-based services, such as as telecom services, water, electricity, cloud services etc.

Datagate’s primary market is Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who sell telecom services. We recognized that a larger, more established software business called ConnectWise also targeted MSPs, has a compatible offering to Datagate that does many awesome things, but not what Datagate does (bill telecom services) and has regular conferences that we can sponsor and a partner program we can join.

We partnered with ConnectWise in 2017, signed up to their partner program, and built extensive integration functionality into the Datagate product to enable Datagate to share data and inter-operate with ConnectWise. Then we sponsored a booth at ConnectWise’s IT Nation conferences in 2017 and 2018 (we will be back in 2019) and this put us in front of thousands of potential MSP customers who use ConnectWise. There is no way we could have reached that size of specialized audience (who were genuinely interested in our product), without our ConnectWise partnership.

Datagate America’ s banner for ConnectWise IT Nation

The value to Datagate in this partnership is access to large volumes of relevant and interested sales prospects. The value to ConnectWise is that Datagate adds telecom billing functionality to their product offering, enabling sales for them that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Datagate is also a regular sponsor and participant for their conferences.

Among Datagate’s many valuable partnerships, another is with Wolters Kluwer and their CCH SureTax offering. CCH SureTax is a powerful cloud-based tax calculation solution that calculates and adds all the various telecom taxes to telecom invoices generated by Datagate. This is challenging in the United States, because of all the tax jurisdictions (federal, states, counties and cities) that have taxes that must be applied to telecom invoices and remitted to the appropriate authorities.

The value to Datagate of the CCH SureTax partnership is that it enables us to service the US telecom billing market, safe in the knowledge that the complex telecom tax calculations are handled correctly. Through that partnership, we also gained partnerships with their tax & compliance partners who help us offer an easy and tax-compliant package to our respective customers. CCH SureTax and their partners gain access to more clients from Datagate’s sales and our ConnectWise partnership.

These are just some of the strategic partnerships that Datagate has formed to build its international sales. I believe that a strategic partnership strategy can be one of the best ways to scale a business and can it be applied to most industries.

Vancouver as an ANZ beachhead to North America

May 10, 2019
Vancouver’s other airport

When high-growth businesses from Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) look to expand their presence into North America, they have a range of cities to choose from. Sometimes they don’t even need to choose a single location, when staff can work remotely from different locations. When they do need to choose a beachhead location, most will choose a west coast city within easy reach of ANZ. This will ideally have a major airport close by that has good access to the rest of North America and of course New Zealand or Australia.

My SaaS billing software company, Datagate (which was established in New Zealand), looked at all the following location criteria for setting up a new presence in North America, to complement our existing sales office in Jacksonville, Florida and extend our reach from our base in Auckland, New Zealand;

  • Good time-zone overlap with New Zealand (we still have a many of our customers, partners and key staff located in Auckland, New Zealand).
  • Good time-zone overlap with the North American continent (our major focus and we have customers, partners and prospects spread throughout the wider USA).
  • Some workday time overlap with Australia and the UK (where we also have important customers and prospects).
  • Easy access to a major airport, whereby we can take a single flight to most major cities in North America, UK, Europe, Australia and of course New Zealand (multi-leg flights with stopovers are far more time-consuming and energy-draining)
  • Ease of getting established (incorporating a company, setting up bank accounts, renting premises, telephone systems, utilities etc).
  • Good public transport.
  • The costs of running a business are not overly high.
  • A great place to live, where we can easily attract talented, high-grade employees.

We ended up choosing Vancouver, Canada, ahead of other west coast cities that also met our time-zone and accessibility criteria. We liked that we could set up here relatively quickly and everyone we engaged with was positive, friendly and very helpful.

For me personally, the speed of getting established in Vancouver was boosted by my dual citizenship of Canada and New Zealand, but regardless of this, Vancouver still stacked up well as a place to live and work in North America.

Canada Place

The shift to Vancouver from Auckland, New Zealand has been a positive experience for my wife Lee and I. Vancouver is a beautiful, vibrant, multi-cultural city, surrounded by water, snow-capped mountains and the great outdoors. We live near our office in the downtown city area, where everything we need is within walking distance, including a train to the airport. People here are friendly, helpful and welcoming of newcomers.

From a business perspective, we’ve found it easier to communicate with our North American customers, prospects and partners for longer periods of the day than we could from New Zealand, plus it’s been very convenient to have closer access to the conferences and trade shows that we regularly attend.

Coordination and collaboration with our US sales office in Jacksonville, Florida has also improved greatly. American customers no-longer say our time-zone is “on the dark side of the moon”.

It was fast and easy to register a British Columbia company and open an account with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), who can handle both Canadian and American banking. American business is easy from here and most Canadian establishments are experienced at supporting businesses that operate in the USA.

We’ve had great assistance in getting set up here from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE), Nick Fleming the New Zealand Trade Commissioner, Callaghan Innovation and our local Canadian immigration consultants Sas & Ing.

Lee on the Vancouver waterfront

My advice to high-growth businesses from New Zealand and Australia, who want to set up in North America is… make sure you check out Vancouver!

The compelling argument for smart water meters

June 19, 2018

Last week I attended the 2018 Annual Conference and Exposition of the American Water Works Association, otherwise known as ACE18.  This is America’s largest gathering of water industry professionals, held at the Mandalay Conference Center in Las Vegas, with over 12,000 participants and over 500 exhibitors.

Water is our most precious natural resource, so it was not surprising to find that a significant number of the exhibitors had products or services that were in some way designed to reduce water losses for water utilities.

I was amazed to learn that water utilities can typically record total losses of between 10% and 25% of their water.  That is, water that somehow goes missing in the network and doesn’t end up getting billed to an end-customer.  So water losses are very bad news for water utilities, not only for the lost water and lost revenue, but also for the regulatory and political problems associated with excess water wastage.

According to the helpful staff I spoke with at the Kamstrup booth, reported water losses are typically made up from a combination of real losses from leaks and false losses due to inaccurate water meters under-reporting the volume of water consumed.  The old mechanical water meters tend to get less accurate as they get older and under-report the amount of water consumed, much to the cost and frustration of the water utility.

This is where smart meters come in. Smart water meters, such as those manufactured by Kamstrup, are much more accurate than mechanical meters and unlike mechanical meters, they contain no moving parts and do not lose accuracy over time. These ultrasonic meters are sealed pressurized units that come with a battery lifetime of 16 years, transmitting their readings back to the utility via a number of different data collection methods, including AMR, AMI and IoT protocols.

I was quick to note (given my involvement with Datagate water billing) that more accurate water meters would lead to more water being billed and therefore more revenue getting back to the water utility.  Another obvious advantage of smart meters is the significant reduction in costs associated with the reading of water meters. What surprised me however, is that these smart water meters can also aid in the detection of water leaks, meaning the water utility gains additional value in the reduction of real water losses.

With such compelling returns on investment, it’s no wonder these smart water meters are in such high demand.