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Ventyx-Utilities’ One-Stop-Shop Provider?

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: February 2 2012

Back in 2008, Mihai Badescu discussed the dearth of software vendors and solutions that cover the needs of energy generation and transmission and distribution (T&D) companies. In 2012, there is still no such thing as a true “total solution provider” for energy and utility companies. These companies just have too many needs across the board that require robust industry-specific functionality and deep domain expertise for a single vendor to satisfy them all.

Ventyx, an ABB company, comes close to the mark. No other vendor offers the breadth of capability along with the depth of functionality that Ventyx delivers to this demanding market. Not only is the Ventyx Asset Suite an enterprise work and asset management (EWAM) solution designed to support an entire fleet of diverse assets—unlike, say, IBM MAXIMO—Ventyx’s comprehensive suite of software and services also supports the needs of T&D operations; water and wastewater utilities; financial, consulting, and government organizations; and oil and gas companies. Ventyx’s solution capabilities covers the gamut of asset management, supply chain, work management, maintenance, equipment reliability, plant operations, management, and compliance key performance indicators (KPIs).

Ventyx’s Genesis

Ventyx was formed from the combination of Indus International, Inc. (formed in 1997 by the merger of Indus Group and TSW International) and Mobile Data Solutions Inc. (MDSI) in 2007. Once publicly traded, Indus had been acquired by Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm in San Francisco, at the end of 2006, while MDSI was already a Vista property. The merger united the leading provider of best-of-breed customer, asset, and field service management (FSM) solutions with the dominant player in enterprise workforce management. Indus and MDSI were two companies with a long background of delivering EAM and mobile workforce management (MWFM) software, respectively, to energy and utility, telecommunications, and other asset-intensive industries.

In 2007, demonstrating a stronger focus on the energy and utilities market, Ventyx purchased Global Energy Decisions, a provider of integrated software, data, and advisory services to the worldwide electric utility industry and its supply chain, and NewEnergy Associates, a global provider of software and consulting solutions for energy planning, decision support, and operations. These transactions added software, data, and advisory services for generation asset and portfolio optimization, energy trading and risk management (ETRM), price and load forecasting, planning and risk, and many other industry-specific capabilities to Ventyx’s portfolio. In 2008 and 2009, Ventyx acquired Tech-Assist, for its plant operations management software systems for power generation and other asset-intensive continuous process industries, and the nMarket energy market management software assets of The Structure Group.

By combining all of these companies and their associated software solutions and services, Ventyx was able to deliver EAM, MWFM, customer care, ETRM, energy operations, and energy analytics solutions to more than 900 energy, utility, and communications (telecom as well as cable and broadband) customers, as well as to asset-intensive customers in select commercial markets. With approximately 1,200 employees in more than 20 locations worldwide, Ventyx was delivering best-of-breed business solutions that maximize operational and financial performance, backed by the industry’s deepest available industry-specific domain expertise.

Most Ventyx clients at the time were in North America and Europe, but the vendor also had clients in Japan, China, and Australia, as well as the Caribbean region. The average number of users still depends on the solution and the industry. For instance, Ventyx’ ETRM solutions can have as few as 5–10 users at a company, while its EAM solutions can have more than 30,000 users.

ABB Ownership

By adding Global Energy Decisions and NewEnergy Associates to its already impressive solution suite, Ventyx created a nearly complete product offering for the electric utility industry, and it became the largest privately held software company serving the energy and utility industry. The company provided a comprehensive solution suite that bridged utility forecasting, trading, operations, and service delivery to customers, helping utility clients deliver cleaner power, meet increasing load demand by better operating existing assets, make big investment bets on new capacity, secure fuel supplies in uncertain markets, and achieve core business objectives.

Ventyx was acquired by ABB in June 2010, and became part of ABB’s Network Management business unit within the ABB Power Systems Division. The merger of Ventyx and ABB Network Management offerings added supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), generation management, T&D management, outage management, and market management systems and services to the Ventyx solution suite. The merger has enabled Ventyx to provide operational management, control, and enterprise information technology (IT) solutions from one provider. ABB subsequently acquired Insert Key Solutions (IKS) in December 2010 and Obvient Strategies in January 2011, giving Ventyx additional solutions for equipment reliability and advanced business intelligence (BI). As a result, Ventyx now delivers solutions for the control and management of the total utility value chain.

ABB is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies is based in Switzerland and operates in around 100 countries, employing more than 117,000 people. ABB offers an extensive array of products and services, including the following:

  • Power Products, which generate, transmit, and distribute electricity 
  • Power Systems and Services, for power generation, transmission, and distribution 
  • Discrete Automation and Motion products, which increase industrial productivity and energy efficiency 
  • Low Voltage Products and Process Automation

The company offers network management and utility communications solutions that monitor, control, operate, and protect the world’s power systems. The solutions enable electric utilities and independent system operators to manage their transmission grids, distribution networks, power plants, and energy trading markets, in real time.

The Mincom Complement

In May 2011, ABB announced a definitive agreement to acquire private software company Mincom from Francisco Partners. While Ventyx is part of the aforementioned Network Management business unit within ABB’s Power Systems Division, but it is commonly regarded to be an enterprise software division unto itself. Ventyx and Mincom have merged and, for the time being, that company is named Ventyx, an ABB company, while the legacy Mincom products will retain their current product names.

Ellipse 8 is Mincom’s latest EAM solution, and it is the most popular EAM for the mining industry, especially in the Asia-Pacific region (no doubt owing to its Australian origins) and Latin America, and with many new opportunities in Russia and Canada. The Ventyx Asset Suite, on the other hand, is the EAM solution most heavily used in the power generation market worldwide, according to ARC Advisory Group. Ventyx Asset Suite is based on the legacy Indus PassPort solution.

Ventyx and Mincom have competed on very few deals in recent years, due to their divergent geographic and market strengths. Both Asset Suite and Ellipse continue to offer industry-leading EAM features and capabilities, but they are tailored to different industries. For instance, whereas Ventyx is well positioned to support power generation, Mincom is much stronger in areas such as mining and utility T&D. Mincom also brings strong mobility solutions for EAM and specialty mining applications (e.g., exploration to outbound logistics, accounting, and sales) and stands as a decent enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. ABB management intends to maintain both solutions as best-of-breed offerings within the overall Ventyx solution set, enhancing their respective capabilities for their diverse target industries, and integrating around the common work flows and practices.

What Ventyx Offers Today

As one can imagine given the company’s history, Ventyx offers numerous product lines. The main divisions are as follows:

  • Work and Asset Management— EWAM, equipment reliability, and plant operations management
  • Mobile Workforce Management—mobilizing the workforces of asset intensive companies, and providing application support in the field 
  • Energy Portfolio Management—trading and risk management, energy operations, energy planning and analytics, demand response (DR) management, market coordination, and settlements 
  • Customer Care—customer information systems (CIS) and billing  
  • Networks Control—transmission network management and control, reliability and security operations; distribution management system with advanced applications for Volt/VAr optimization and auto restoration; market management systems that support the independent system operators for market bidding; clearing; security review; generation control; and market settlements

While ABB does not report revenues per individual product lines, there are indications that Ventyx had some significant wins in 2010/11 for its Asset Suite, Equipment Reliability, Electronic Shift Operations Management System (eSOMS), Market Analytics, Service Suite, and Velocity Suite (energy market data) solutions. Business is going well at Ventyx: the company is reportedly achieving its annual operational and financial goals, and is well positioned to support the energy and utilities industry in the future. ABB’s acquisition of Ventyx has resulted in the industry’s sole supplier of enterprise-wide IT platforms and power automation systems, effectively bridging the gap between operations technology (OT) and IT, and enabling “source-to-socket” market capabilities for utilities. According to Gartner, “bridging the IT/OT gap further enables the use of advanced analytics to deliver improved business processes—such as lower costs, reduced risks, better decisions, and faster response to new opportunities.”

Ventyx also offers a unique breadth of capabilities for the nuclear industry. With the acquisition of IKS and integration of Equipment Reliability and Asset Suite, Ventyx became the only vendor that brings together products supporting the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) stringent standards for nuclear power generators in the areas of maintenance work management (INPO AP-928) and equipment reliability processes (INPO AP-913) as well as the the core INPO workflows for nuclear asset management. Ventyx’s unparalleled expertise and solution capabilities in this market are reflected in the fact that 70 percent of North American nuclear power generation relies on Ventyx asset management solutions. Moreover, the current release of the eSOMS software includes enhancements to the software’s personnel qualifications and scheduling functionality that helps utilities comply with the recently enacted Nuclear Fatigue Rule (NFR) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Ventyx is also the unquestioned leader in energy operations solutions—providing functionality for scheduling, bidding, and settlement of more generation and load plants than all competing software solutions combined.

Currently, Ventyx clients include more than 1,250 energy, utility, communications, and other asset-intensive organizations worldwide. Due to the breadth and diversity of its offerings, there really is no generic customer profile. Ventyx solutions can be found in nuclear plants improving operational excellence, in field workforce organizations automating and optimizing productivity, in corporate offices supporting long-term planning and forecasting, in network operations centers helping monitor and protect power networks, on trading floors processing the purchase and sale of electricity and fuels, and in call centers responding to critical customer needs. Where Ventyx supports a diverse set of customers with a diverse set of products, it has focused on building the common data and work flows between the end users. As an example, the system of record for plant data is the EAM solution; however, Shift Operations Management (eSOMs) and Equipment Reliability use this data for their functional areas.

Ventyx channel partners still include market leaders such Amdocs, as well as an international stable of leading value added resellers (VARs) around the world—including The DS Group (Italy), InfoQuest and IST (South Africa), Mansolutions (The Netherlands), Materna (pan-European), SIVECO (Romania), Sogeti (pan-European), Systematics (Israel), and TUSC (Australia). A list of channel partners for Mincom can be found on the Mincom Web site.

Prior to ABB’s ownership, Ventyx had several offices across the North America, with a presence in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Today, Ventyx has clients in more than 40 countries, served by approximately 1,900 employees in offices across the globe (US, Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Japan, China, Australia, etc.). Ventyx products are delivered in multiple languages—including English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian. The company’s software solutions also support multiple currencies for the countries it serves.

In Summary

Ventyx is offering its EAM and other solutions (e.g., ETRM, planning and analytics, etc.) to renewable energy providers. Ventyx Consultants and Clients have used the EPM products to finance several thousand MWs of wind plants; Ventyx also supports Demand Response and Conservation Voltage Reduction to help energy companies and their customers manage demand. Supporting the growing renewable energy industry will be a key strategic initiative for Ventyx going forward.

Whether the Obama administration’s energy policies result in increased nuclear plant construction or a demand for energy providers to squeeze more performance out of their current nuclear assets (in light of last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake and the unfortunate consequences and negative market sentiments that followed) and look to alternative energy resources, Ventyx has solutions to help them. To top it off, Ventyx has been serving this industry for decades and has a deep understanding of how utilities work. As a result, the vendor’s product lines are able to help these enterprises solve their most difficult and complex business problems—including how to operate generation as a fleet, how and when to invest in new assets, and how and when to invest in existing assets within the context of real market conditions.

Ventyx Further Clarifies Its Strategy

What follows is our in-depth discussion with Ventyx’s product marketing team.

TEC: When did you decide to go for your go-forward platform, and what technology is it based on? Which original products or technologies have these tools replaced?
Ventyx: We have not prescribed any one specific platform or technology for our product suites. The product suites comprise a great diversity of applications, from large, high-reliability systems used to monitor and control generation facilities and network grids, down to small, essentially shrink-wrapped data analysis tools. One size simply does not fit all, and one technology simply does not fit all. Ventyx realized as it acquired a number of companies that a service-oriented integration (SOI) technology was key to quickly integrating both Ventyx and third-party platforms to bring customers the benefit of the integrated data and work flows.

However, in addition to SOI, Ventyx is actively taking advantage of opportunities to standardize platforms and technologies where doing so helps us to provide greater value to our customers. Applications are being moved toward Java and Microsoft .NET Framework, implemented through a common Agile/Scrum development methodology, and common frameworks are being used to support similar products and user interfaces. Our Mobile Workforce Management product provides a good example—we have recently moved from Visual Basic to .NET for client applications, and from CORBA/C++ to Java for the middle tier. The mobile platform is now being factorized (as described below), and we are designing a “universal” mobile client that will serve a number of our enterprise applications for EAM and MWFM.

TEC: How far along the track are you on unifying your products on the same platform?
Ventyx: We are well down the path to unification in those areas where we consider unification strategic. MWFM is certainly the furthest along. In addition to moving to .NET/Java and leading the universal mobile client initiative, the most recent software release for MWFM now integrates with other Ventyx applications and those of our competitors using our SOI integration platform.

TEC: What is your assessment of your competitive landscape, and why do you win over or lose to these competitors?
Ventyx: Just as we have diverse clients, we also have diverse competitors, and the competitive landscape varies by product line and industry. We most commonly come up against major ERP and EAM vendors like SAP, Oracle, Infor, IFS, Astea, and IBM. Many of our solutions actually are integrated into the financials and human resources (HR) aspects of these ERP solutions, but we also compete in specific areas such as EAM, MWFM, and CIS and billing, for instance. We have a pretty good record against the ERP vendors with clients who require deep, industry-specific capabilities in segments such as power generation and long-cycle field work, and clients who interface with major power markets.

We generally beat the ERP vendors because of the specialization of our software and the associated depth of its capabilities, which are tuned to specific industries such as energy and utilities. In other words, we win when the client values the business functionality, not just the financial integration aspects. This is increasingly the case as the industry is subject to more complex operating constraints and more stringent compliance reviews. Coupled with closing the financial integration gap with SOI and related financial adapters, Ventyx is in an enviable position with respect to the other major players. The depth of industry expertise available from our Professional Services Organization and our Energy Advisors also provides a distinct competitive advantage for Ventyx. The challenge is where companies have mandated enterprise-wide standardization on an ERP platform. On more than one occasion we have lost a contract for this reason, only to have the prospect come back to us for a new bid when the ERP implementation took longer and cost more than expected—and still didn’t deliver the promised capabilities!

In some areas, we compete with more specialized stand-alone solution providers, such as ClickSoftware and ViryaNet in FSM. We generally win there because we offer the same depth of capability, but combined with the breadth of our comprehensive solution suite. For instance, we can offer an FSM solution with a robust scheduling and dispatch optimization engine. Moreover, we integrate the solution with our industry-leading EAM solution or outage management solution, or CIS and billing solution. In all areas, however, our industry domain expertise remains a unique advantage.

TEC: What are your views on multitenant software as a service (SaaS) and cloud, and are you making any concrete moves in that direction?
Ventyx: We believe that the future of the software marketplace is rooted in delivery. Ventyx has a delivery model (Ventyx Hosting) in place for all of its non-SCADA products and has been delivering production operations in the US and Europe for more than 10 years. The mainstream awareness of salesforce.com and other high-profile SaaS or on-demand products has helped condition the mindset of Ventyx’ traditionally conservative customers to the point where all requests for proposal (RFPs) we address today contain a section concerning delivery. Ventyx offers many of our products on a SaaS basis through Ventyx Hosting, and Ventyx is slowly evolving many of its core products with a view toward multitenancy.

The Ventyx Hosting service enables clients to deliver Ventyx solutions to their users with only a standard Web browser, streamlining implementation and reducing total cost of ownership (TCO). Ventyx Hosting quick-start and implementation products assist customers with accelerated schedule needs, carving weeks and sometimes months out of implementation times. Ventyx Hosting is available as a rapid implementation option or as a long-term service. In either case, at the end of the subscription term, clients have the option to have their data and software licenses turned over to them, or they can extend the hosting contract.

Ventyx is researching how to best leverage the advantages of cloud computing while also meeting our customers’ expectations for security and data availability. We see some exciting trends and potential advantages to future releases of our software.

TEC: What is your strategy towards social enterprise 2.0 tools and their deployment for your target customers?
Ventyx: Perhaps due to the more industrial nature of our client base, we have not seen an earnest demand for enterprise 2.0 tools for our solutions. Should that change, we are certainly willing and capable to deploy an E2.0 strategy to meet client needs. One can imagine some social collaboration needs amongst field technicians, but the need is not crystal clear yet.

TEC: What is your mobility strategy?
Ventyx: We will leverage mobile technology from all mobilized products to create a universal Ventyx mobile application. We are relying on platform-neutral technologies, including HTML5, JavaScript, and the open source Web browser engine WebKit, to create an application that can be easily redeployed on new mobile platforms. We have engaged research engineers at MIT’s Humans and Automation Laboratory to design and prototype a new, flexible user interface tailored to address best-practice workflows in our core markets. We currently support mobile applications on Windows notebooks, Windows Mobile 6, and Android 2.2; iPad delivery is underway.

What’s on the Horizon?

TEC: What were the major highlights and messages from your user conference following ABB’s acquisition of Ventyx?
Ventyx: When Enrique Santacana, region manager for ABB North America, opened our Mindshare 2010 user conference in San Diego, California, he homed in on the good fit and synergies between ABB and Ventyx that strengthen our position of global market leadership in the energy and utility sector. The ABB/Ventyx merger and its complementary offerings, geographies, and client base have enabled us to focus sharply on smart grid, renewables, emissions reduction, and DR solutions. In addition, interrelated trends and market drivers such as the convergence of IT and OT and the challenges of aging infrastructures have created clear growth opportunities for Ventyx in key evolving industry segments: power generation, oil and gas, and smart grid.

Client feedback on the acquisition was optimistic and underscores our effective growth strategy, with customers internalizing some of the benefits to their operations: “cost savings from having everything in one integrated system,” “minimized and streamlined maintenance and support resources,” and “scalability from a foundational platform.” Further, the merger renews the focus on our customers, broadens our understanding of user needs, and deepens our knowledge of the industry and environment that often shapes innovation in product development.

TEC: Although the trends seem positive lately for Ventyx, what issues are still keeping you up at night?
Ventyx: Keeping our focus outward while tending some important inward challenges. One of our major challenges going forward is integrating our recently acquired software products to deliver comprehensive integrated solutions providing true “source-to-socket” market capabilities for our clients. The addition of Ventyx, IKS, Obvient, and Mincom solutions to the ABB product line is a unique combination that holds a wealth of potential. The combination of the team and technical integration means a level of internal focus for our leadership. But at the same time we need to have a significant amount of focus on new clients and expanding our footprint at existing clients and learning what keeps our clients up at night, to ensure we make the best investments to meet our customers emerging requirements.

Our recent contract at CenterPoint Energy—incorporating Network Manager DMS, Service Suite, and FocalPoint BI solutions—demonstrates the potential value that our various solutions working in concert can deliver. These solutions will work together to help CenterPoint improve power reliability and restoration capabilities in Houston, Texas.

TEC: What can you tell us about the company’s future moves?
Ventyx: Going forward, our efforts will be focused on extending our solution capabilities to the following areas, where our customers face their greatest challenges:

  • Managing Critical Infrastructure. Ventyx’s industry-leading control, power automation, and business intelligence systems enable us to provide clients with real-time situational awareness and control of their T&D networks, telecommunications networks, distributed generation sources, and other dispersed assets. 
  • Asset Health. Ventyx customers are facing the confluence of aging infrastructure, aging workforce, and increasing compliance constraints, while keeping their capital and O&M budgets in line. This confluence is calling for help in managing asset health across all assets in the utility space—not just the generation assets. This phenomenon is also emerging in other asset-intensive industries such as mining and process automation industries.
  • Repowering the Future. Ventyx generation optimization, market management, utility operations, and related software, data, and services will help our clients capitalize on the evolving power generation market, increasingly available renewable energies, and fifth fuel strategies (i.e., DR and distributed energy resources). 
  • Source to Socket: a Smarter Grid. The Ventyx Distribution Management Solution coupled with the Demand Response Management System (DRMS) solution supports the commercial and retail utility operations required to deliver effective DR programs, distributed energy management, renewable generation, SCADA/distribution management system (DMS) with advanced applications for fault location—auto restoration and Volt-VAR Optimization, and mobile work coordination. Ventyx IT coupled with ABB’s OT make for the most advanced Smart Distribution Automation solution.

The one area that we think deserves more coverage, and which we are investing in,  is the evolving mobility of the workforce and the evolving capability that customers want to put into the field. Mobile work management or enterprise mobile workforce management is not only getting crews to the right job at the right time, but having work enabled in the field through the mobility solutions. Some clients call this solving the last 100 feet of the job—providing data to perform work, and then capturing the results of work at the site where work is performed, not just in the truck. There are many different types of work required in the field, and different workers or crews are required to perform the work. However, the growing diversity of field workforces due to consolidation in the utility and telecom industries is resulting in a challenge to standardize technologies, organizations, and processes for these various workforces to deliver economies of scale and derive the greatest efficiency.

Our recent whitepapers discuss this challenge in greater detail. Here’s an excerpt from “Field Force Transformation for the 21st Century”:

Few large utility, telecommunication or broadband cable companies have grown through organic means only. Rather, they are most often a collection of operating regions and units put together over the years through various acquisitions, mergers and new business ventures. As such, the Technologies, Organizations and Processes (TOP) employed by these companies are unavoidably complex and different from unit to unit. While there may have been good reasons over the years for specific procedures in given sections of the company, over time the weight of this variety leads to significant inefficiencies and added costs within the overall company. The situation is even worse from a customer perspective, as an end user’s experience in getting a meter re-read might be quite different from a similar customer in an adjoining region. Regulators, of course, look askance at this variety and encourage operating companies to standardize their TOP as much as possible. This trend is often referred to as companies wanting to create a “Common Customer Experience” for field services. Doing so, however, calls for attention to all three TOP components, technology, organization and processes.

The bottom line is that in order to deliver the greatest value and best customer service, the multiple field crews performing diverse types of work should be managed and optimized as a single workforce responsible for delivering value to a single company. And in order to do that, they must all be managed by a single solution. Utilities face an even more complex set of requirements in supporting field resources due to the need to manage both short-cycle work (imminent customer service, repair, etc.) and long-cycle projects (e.g., new construction and T&D asset infrastructure work orders).

Ventyx has a competitive advantage in terms of offering a solution that supports both of these work types. Managing the T&D transmission and distribution assets is another challenge in that it presents the dual proposition of maintaining increasingly aged assets with an aging workforce nearing retirement. The need to capture, standardize, and automate assets has never been greater.

Recommended Reading and References:
Gartner. The Management Implications of IT/OT Convergence. March 4, 2010.
TEC on Servigistics. A Leader in Service Management Tackles Multidimensional Growth. April 8, 2011.
TEC on ClickSoftware. One Vendor’s Mission to Make Service Businesses Click. April 4, 2011.
TEC on ClickSoftware. A Candid Conversation with a Field Service Workforce Management Leader. January 5, 2011.
TEC. How the Mining Industry Benefits from ERP Systems. August 12, 2009.
TEC. Electric Utilities in Need of Software Vendors’ Leadership!!! July 2, 2008.
TEC on Agresso. The Convergence of ERP and Field Services—One Vendor’s Leadership. February 27, 2008.

Editor's note: This article was updated on February 7, 2012, to correct some product details.

 
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