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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Mario Bauer, Expert in the Digital Utility Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group

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In many ways, this new decade for utilities really represent the opportunity to enter a brave new world when it comes to digital technologies. While the groundwork has been laid for years in deployment of smart grid technology, data collection and analysis, and the digital customer experience, the coming years are going to be the ones that are truly transformative for all the new opportunities in the digital space. The shifting utility industry has started to really unlock the potential of what a digital utility can really mean, and we are seeing the emergence of the thought leaders and experts who will guide this transition.

One such expert in the world of utility digital transformation is Mario Bauer, the CEO of TMG Consulting. Mario brings a deep understanding of the digital possibilities to this role, as well as a passion to transform the power industry to line up with the imaginative future that’s often discussed but can be challenging to implement. Lucky for members of Energy Central, another role that Mario has recently agreed to take on is member of the Energy Central Network of Experts, specifically as an expert in the Digital Utility Community.

Mario will bring the type of industry voice that can provide immeasurable value to the Digital Utility conversations taking place in the Energy Central community, so we couldn’t be happier to welcome him into this Network of Experts. And as a first act as an expert, Mario has been so kind as to participate in the following interview as a part of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’ Read through our Q&A to learn more about Mario’s background and understand what insights he’ll be able to bring you, his fellow Energy Central member:

Matt Chester: To start off, Mario, can you please share a bit of background about what got you involved with the utility industry early in your career? What attracted you to energy and how did that lead to you being TMG Consulting’s CEO down the road today?

Mario Bauer: I graduated from Colorado State University in 1992 and at the time the economy wasn’t doing well for new guys like myself, so I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to go. I got a few job offers and one of the more intriguing ones was with Colorado Springs Utilities, the largest four-service municipal utility west of the Mississippi at the time. I was there for about four years, where I ended up as a work management analyst. I was on the customer side of the business, and my main goal was to work for a few years to get into grad school and graduate. I did do that while I was at Colorado Springs Utility. One thing led to another and my time at Colorado Springs Utilities, I began to really understand the utility business. And upon graduation with my MBA, I was approached by several large consulting firms.

I ended up going to a mid-sized firm based out of New York and I was there about four years working on the operational size of the customer business, a meter-to-cash business, and from there, I was recruited to TMG in 2000. It was really a great landing spot for me. TMG was really focused on the IT/application side of the meter to cash utility sector.

Later, I left TMG for a while and I went to PWC/Bearing Point and I was there for about a year and a half working as a Solutions Integrator. And then I came back to TMG as President and Partner and was there for a couple of years. We sold to a firm called Five Point Partners who eventually sold to Ernst and Young, and I reestablished TMG again in 2014. At that time, I looked at the business and I saw a need to transition it from a pure advisory firm to advisory and professional services company. As part of that transition, I made a lot of investments on the professional services side. One of them was to bring in Pam Glanvill and that was really big for TMG. Pam’s our President at TMG and she is in charge of leading the professional services division and helping us transform our company to the point that we’ve doubled in size two years in a row.

Over 80% of our revenue comes from professional services but we still maintain the title of the leading advisory services firm in the meter-to-cash industry. That’s both on the IOU side and the municipal side of the industry. We also have a research arm of the business and that continues to grow as well. We have the largest database in the industry with actual project data and that differentiates us. We actually work these projects where other research organizations get their data via interviews and surveys; we have over 450 projects on our history at TMG and over 30 going on today. We also run and own some of the largest conferences in the industry, such as the Oracle User’s Conference and the annual TMG Forum.

 

MC: You’ve worked with over 100 different utilities in North America alone, which gives you a very unique and important view into the state of the industry today. How much do you find changes from utility to utility when you start working with a new one and what aspects are more consistent across the industry? Any insights into what that tells us?

MB: Yes, I have a broad background and it’s a nice even split, too, between large investor-owned utilities and municipalities and co-operatives. So, we work with the whole spectrum. I look at it in two different ways: investor owned utilities versus municipalities. They approach the business differently. They look at different types of solutions based upon the nature of their business, their size, scale, technology and requirements.

But, like you said, utilities are all different but they have a lot of commonalities across the board. Meter-to-cash is meter-to-cash, and how they deliver that is different in many cases, but the business is generally the same. Utilities are very risk-adverse and they continue to want to know what similar utilities are doing, and change remains slow but the pace of change is picking up.

Business processes are very similar from utility to utility, but how they manage those processes can be different. Some processes are more manual based in some utilities. Older legacy systems, sometimes spreadsheets and paper are involved and so on, but the general processes are generally the same; it’s how they deal with those processes.

Risk is always at the top of the list in terms of when we go to different clients. New approaches were frowned upon until recently. I think in the past few years, how utilities look at things is a little different and there are reasons for that. On the IOU side, they’re really focused on the regulatory piece of things and on the municipal side it’s more based on costs.

 

MC: Utilities were long considered to be inertia-filled and resistant to changing the way they always did things, but recent years have shown that is changing in a very real way. As you look forward to the direction that utilities are going, what has you most excited about how the industry will look in the future? And is there anything that is coming to be that has you less than excited?

MB: I agree with everything you said. Utilities were slow moving for a while, but we’re starting to see an influx of what I’d say is out-of-industry executives and leadership roles at utilities. And what I’m seeing is that they’re looking at things differently and they’re asking questions like ‘why do you do it this way?’ ‘Why does it take this long?’ ‘Why are we just looking at these solutions?’ So, there’s really a challenge of the way utilities are looking at the traditional way they used to do things based on the new entrance into executive leadership or leadership positions.

One of the big ones is utilities are moving their solutions to the Cloud, and they’re doing it quickly. We’re also seeing more of an investment from the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) side of things and focusing on the customer.

Another one is self-service and giving customers more access to data and services. We’re seeing that it’s part of every large customer project now. Meter data management, another big thing we’re seeing with it used to be stand-alone projects. Now it’s part of almost every customer project we’re on right now. Also, AMI and the huge investment’s going on there and specifically how it ties into CIS and customer systems as well. Those are some of the things that I’m seeing today across the board and it’s very exciting and it’s going to change how utilities do business with vendors and how they serve their customers.

MC: Many of the readers on Energy Central are decision-makers and thought leaders within utility organizations. If you could use this interview as a platform to convey one message to those influencers, what message would you hope to impart?

MB: You’ve heard for years that industry’s changing quickly, but now it really is. A lot of that comes from thought leaders coming in from other industries like banking or other supply-chain industries and really challenging how utilities do business when it comes to large enterprise implementations. Expectations are changing, not only from the customer but from these thought leaders who are coming in from other industries. It’s really challenging the traditional approaches we’ve had over the years and I think it’s to the benefit of customers and utilities. New solutions are breaking through.

You’d better get comfortable with Cloud solution. On-premise solutions are becoming a thing of the past. IT departments will shrink and become more of a contract or service provider contract manager.  In the IT department, we’re seeing more of that. We have all the data to back it up, too. We’ve got the largest database in the industry and we can show these trends over the years.

Those are the big things I’m seeing today. It’s going to transform the industry. Some vendors will have to move out of the industry because they won’t be able to adapt. You’re going to see new entrances as well, and like anything else, the strong will survive so you’re going to see a lot of these changes.

 

MC: What final thoughts about yourself and your experience would you like to leave our Energy Central community with?

MB: I’ve been in this industry since I got out of school and outside of this and the utility industry and the Denver Broncos, I don’t know much. I’ve been doing this for 28 years, so I have a unique perspective working for a utility, working for an advisory services firm, and a professional services firm. So, I’ve seen the whole gambit in the different approaches to this market and I’ve seen it evolve over the years.

At TMG, we’ve worked with over 350 clients since 1992 and over 450 projects, specifically meter-to-cash, so that gives us a great feel for the trends that’s occurred since 1992. But also, what’s going on today. We’re working on over 30 utility projects today. Some of the largest in the industry like National Grid, Con Edison, Eversource, Dominion, Liberty, TECO, ATCO and others all the way down to some smaller municipalities, which are just as important but just smaller like Grant County PUD; Hillsboro; Lubbock, Texas; Merced; Burbank; Long Beach, El Paso Water, Philadelphia Gas Works---I can go on and on and on.

So, we have a unique perspective, and when TMG talks to the market, we’re bringing those perspectives. And we have historical perspectives and we’ve got current perspectives. We have the largest database in the industry and I feel nobody has a better feel for the industry direction when it comes to meter-to-cash based upon what we see in all that data in the database in terms of project cost; resourcing on those projects; contract terms; timelines; integration hours; just everything you would need to know. So, when we give advice and recommend things in the industry, it’s coming from real benchmarks that are really happening today.

That’s where my opinions come from, my perspective and so on. It’s 28 years of doing this with a lot of customers over the years. I’m happy to talk about these things and share them with the marketplace because that’s how we all learn, right, and we’re excited to keep doing that.

 

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Thanks to Mario Bauer for his time in this interview and for making himself available to the Energy Central community as an expert. As you have questions or insights you think Mario’s perspective would be valuable on, connect with him on the Energy Central platform and watch out for his perspective shared on the community via articles and comments!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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