Guy Tennant (Hansen Technologies CTO) sits down with TMG Consulting to talk about why diversity leads to more choices, the components that make up a bridge to the smart-grid and Hansen’s acquisition based growth over the last twenty plus years.
UMC: Hansen has offices all over the world. Where did the company start? How has it expanded since then?
Guy Tennant: The company started in Australia in the 70’s and grew the business by providing customer care and billing solutions to the telecom operator Telstra, and later to the local energy industry. Andrew Hansen has run the business from 1995 – we listed on the Australian stock exchange in 2000. Australia was one of the first countries to deregulate its energy markets and that gave Hansen a springboard to expand into several markets internationally in the 90’s and many more in the 2000’s.
Our footprint is now global: we have offices in the USA, Australia, China, India, LatAm, Africa, mainland Europe and the UK. The US is our single largest market and we’re well distributed to serve our diverse customer base from offices in New York, Columbia, Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, and, most recently, Bethlehem PA.
Our focus is tight: CIS systems for Energy and Utilities, and Customer Care & Billing systems for Broadcasters and Digital Service Providers. And the adjacencies in the technical ecosystem. That helps us acquire and integrate successfully.
UMC: You’ve been growing like gangbusters lately – what is driving it? How are you managing to scale your business?
Tennant: Hansen has absorbed at least one acquisition each year for the last 4 years. We’re also growing organically thanks to our great customers and the attainment of critical mass in a number of regions. That’s meant hiring and training over 120 staff in the last year alone, before you factor headcount growth from the acquisitions. Gearing for growth is a challenging but nice problem to have and it’s probably the thing that our CEO spends most of his time thinking about.
As an example, we’ve just opened a training and learning center called “Hansen University” in Auckland, New Zealand – we’re using that city because Auckland University is such a magnet for travel friendly, multi-cultural people from all over the world. That makes it a perfect recruiting ground for us and we have a great team in our offices there to nurture and grow the talent we find then post them to wherever they’re needed. Its assets like this that will enable us to sustain our current rate of growth for years.
UMC: How do you assimilate new product lines, and what do you do to drive synergies?
Tennant: We look after the people who join us and we focus on building good relationships with our customers. Also we look for solid products with good IP, good staff and a stable customer base. We don’t force substitutions – all our customers continue to be supported whatever product they are on. But our diversity affords them a choice, and it gives us synergies from sharing best practices and people (and sometimes code) between product lines. And we have critical mass in our key markets: offices; infrastructure; local knowledge, etc. and that enables further expansion.
UMC: Describe how you believe Hansen’s culture factors into the company’s success.
Tennant: The Australian culture is forthright, pragmatic, competitive, open – that seems to play well in a lot of places. We’re optimistic and straightforward to deal with and we want our customers to feel part of a community. Good people tend to stay with us a long time so there are many guardians of the company culture.
UMC: You recently acquired PPL Solutions – what was the thinking behind that and how does it contribute to the Hansen’s portfolio?
Tennant: We saw potential in PPL Solutions because they’ve transformed their business and their product over the last few years. But also because it’s wrapped up and sold as a Business Process Service. That means we’ve acquired people with the skills and the know-how to run key functions within our customer’s businesses. The BPS model is perfectly suited to competitive energy retailers, but it will also work for a number of other market segments that we serve. In 2017 and 2018 we will be expanding that offering more broadly.
We recently migrated the whole multi-tenancy platform out of data centers at PPL and into the public cloud in January. That was a useful exercise to help hone our thinking on cloud based versions of our product lines in general.
UMC: What are the key issues for your marketplace and how do you plan to address them?
Tennant: Customer engagement is clearly key – it’s not just millennials who spend their lives online. People turn to apps and websites before they pick up the phone and they want a clear path to resolve their queries or problems. So a well-designed website or app can translate directly into reduced traffic at the call-center. Great API’s and web-services are critical enablers of success for those customers who choose to build it themselves, and for those who want it outsourced we need well-integrated solutions from partners or our own R&D labs.
Good UX design is also key to enabling a CSR to be more efficient. In every market where we sell our solutions we see a strong interest in simplifying and streamlining workflows in the call-center. It’s not unusual for a CSR to be sitting with information about a caller fragmented across 4 or 5 apps that have been added over time – it’s hard to provide good service when you’re cutting and pasting information between windows. So there is plenty of scope for ROI from good Enterprise UX.
And then there is the Smart Grid. Whatever the reasons for investing, the result is that the utility finds itself in a data tsunami. Devising effective ways to maximize the value of that data is vital for a utility, and that means efficient storage, great analytics, and an innovative and flexible platform that run alongside (or within) their existing systems. We’re working on packaging some of our complex billing solutions to run alongside a CIS just as an MDMS might – a kind of bridge to the Smart Grid if you will.
UMC: How do you allocate R&D spend between your different product lines – what’s your favorite?
Tennant: Not all products get equal investment in a given year because it’s a question of need and opportunity. In some product lines our development spend in a given year exceeds 25% of our annual revenue from that product, and in cases like that we borrow from the greater pool of Hansen resources for a while.
Every year we review each product in terms of the happiness of its existing customer base; their cost of ownership; technical debt; market drivers; new business opportunities etc. Those considerations lead to a budget and a roadmap that we fine tune with our customers.