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How Open International is tapping the digitization of LatAm utilities

How Open International is tapping the digitization of LatAm utilities

Founded in 1987, Miami-based and Latin America-focused software firm Open International claims to be one of the top providers of software for utilities in the region. 

The company reports having a presence in 19 countries and says it has around 42mn homes and businesses supported by its solutions, with customers including Veolia, América Móvil and Petroperú.

Its core Open Smartflex platform bundles features of Meter Data Management (MDM), Digital Customer Experience (DCX), and Mobile Workforce Management(MWM), among other things.

The company also states that it has about 500 professionals in the region, offices in Miami and Quito and a software development center in Cali, Colombia.

In this interview, Open International's VP of marketing and operations, Jesús Sánchez, talks about the boom in the digitization of utilities and explains the company's strategy for the region.

BNamericas: Open International reports hundreds of projects deployed across the region. What are these projects, what do utilities need in terms of digital services and how do you see market trends in the post-pandemic scenario?

Sánchez: One of the things the pandemic taught us is that all companies have become software companies. Now it’s impossible to think of a retailer that doesn’t have e-commerce to manage its clients, or a bank that doesn’t have a software solution to be able to offer more attractive packages for its customers. That’s for all sectors in general.

But public service companies also began to move up many of their processes, especially those related to the digitization of the network and their operations with customers, specifically to have those digital channels that kept people in their homes during the health crisis.

Electric power began to move much faster than other utilities because this sector, in addition to this digitization of customers, was already moving forward with the digitization of the network through smart meters, distributed generation, etc.

Now, power companies coming out of the pandemic are seeing that they need to deepen this relationship with their customers and offer them new products and services.

With water utilities, something different is the case.

BNamericas: Why is that?

Sánchez: These companies, by their nature throughout Latin America, tend to be more regulated than energy, gas or telecom companies. 

During the pandemic, water companies were dedicated to protecting business continuity. In fact, the whole ‘motto’ of the pandemic was that we had to wash our hands.

Now they’re looking for technologies and software that allow them to be closer to their communities and become more sustainable. To reinforce their portfolio, manage their payments better, offer financing plans to clients who, in this post-pandemic scenario with complicated economies, require that so much.

Something very similar happens with gas utilities. They’re finding that new businesses, for example the non-banking financing of domestic gas or elements to improve the thermal insulation of homes, etc., allow them to achieve a better customer engagement and also generate new revenue streams.

We have a client for whom 17% of sales now don’t come from billing the cubic meters of gas consumed, but rather from community relations programs in which they finance heaters, subscriptions to educational plans, materials to renovate houses, etc.

Today its customers, like 600,000 households and businesses across the region, can use their bill like a credit card for example.

BNamericas: How about telecoms?

Sánchez: Telecoms is a very dynamic sector. Since before the pandemic, telecoms have had a very competitive context.

So everything that has to do with being able to anticipate churn – making better offers to customers, exploiting OTT services – is on the table. Telcos are looking for more software and technology to expand the portfolio they can offer to their customers.

BNamericas: How do you see the volume of business now, compared to the height of the pandemic?

Sánchez: We’re seeing more or less the same volume as in 2020 and 2021.

For us in particular, from a sales growth point of view, last year was a very, very good year. This year we’re seeing the ‘harvest’ of that process, through the start-up of our systems in several countries.

Our systems are now operating in two utilities in the United States. We also entered into operations with a very large electric power company in Colombia, which serves more than 1.5mn homes and businesses.

We also entered into what could be the largest SaaS [software-as-a-service], full architecture cloud operation in the world, in a water company also here in Latin America with 1.2mn clients.

And why do I say that it may be the largest in the world? Because SaaS solutions are generally aimed at smaller utilities, at some cooperatives, small companies in the United States with 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 customers. Here we are talking about a company that offers various water services to more than 1mn households.

In general, they have to handle around 1.2mn bills. And all this is managed via our platform.

BNamericas: When were these new projects closed?

Sánchez: They were closed between the end of 2020 and 2021, and went into operation this year.

BNamericas: How many clients do you have in the region in total?

Sánchez: We’ve carried out more than 150 implementations in leading companies in the energy, water, gas and telecom sectors, from Oregon, in the US, to Patagonia. With our solutions we serve around 42mn homes and businesses.

For example, we have clients in Chile that serve 800,000 homes and companies, in Argentina 4mn homes and companies in telecoms.

Here in Colombia, we’re with a group of several gas companies that serve more or less 3mn households and corporates in Colombia and Peru.

BNamericas: So we're talking about 150 contracts.

Sánchez: Correct. We’re talking about maybe 50 Latin American clients, because what has happened in public services in Latin America is that companies have tended to consolidate.

In Chile, for example, in the 2000s there were more or less 20 electricity distribution companies and today they’re consolidated into three economic groups, practically already two, with the arrival of Chinese investment.

BNamericas: The potential client base therefore shrinks with consolidation.

Sánchez: On the one hand, these companies become financially stronger. And it's good when we win these new combined corporates, of course. But it does have this effect, the potential base of possible clients is diminished.

BNamericas: How is the division of revenues per sector?

Sánchez: I would say almost half and half between telecommunications and utilities. 

Probably this year it will be turned around, with some 60-70% in utilities. This is happening because utilities were generally more ‘static’, during the pandemic than telcos, which have been adopting technology since long before COVID-19.

Due to certain issues in the context of their concession areas, because they weren’t in a very competitive environment, they had this possibility of going a little further back. But the pandemic changed that.

Within utilities, it’s more or less even [in revenue terms] between energy, water and gas.

BNamericas: And how do you see the competitive scenario? Many multinational big players offer similar types of solutions.

Sánchez: This sector is a niche of very specific and specialized software.

Our competitors vary, but in general, yes, they’re very large companies like SAP and Oracle, and we also have other niche companies as competitors.

We have a very high degree of specialization in Latin America. We’re ranked third in the sector in the region. We serve several of the largest companies in various countries in Latin America and we’ve managed to win good, large contracts in recent years.

BNamericas: Which telcos are you working with?

Sánchez: We’re working with telcos like Tigo in Colombia. We handle all their local fixed telephony services, internet, broadband and cable TV.

We are also with CNT in Ecuador, Cablevisión (Telecom) in Argentina. In fact, with Cablevisión we manage some 6mn homes and businesses. We also have América Móvil in several Central American countries.

At the utility level, we won a contract with a water company in Oregon, United States. We’re with the Veolia group, which is practically the largest potable water group in the world. With them we have operations in Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, with some 3mn clients.

We’re with public and multi-service companies in Medellín, in Cali, such as Emcali. We’re also with several distribution companies in Chile, many of which now belong to China State Grid. We’re with Petroperú.

In the gas sector, Efigas, Surtigas ... also with Compañía Eléctrica del Occidente. Also with Triple A, in Colombia, with Aire, which is a new electricity concession in Colombia. And so on.

BNamericas: What are your plans?

Sánchez: We’re focused on the North American and Latin American market. In Latin America, in another stage – one of consolidation. In the US, we’re at the stage of entering the market. We already have two clients there.

In terms of revenue, our main markets are Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia in Latin America.

BNamericas: Are you targeting Brazil?

Sánchez: Brazil is a market that we’re beginning to take a look at. After we get stronger, with more clients in the United States, we’ll look more closely at Brazil.

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