Interview with Nate Kessman and Paul Hodnett - August 2017

ERCG continues its ABC leadership interview series with Nate Kessman, Principal at Integrated Energy and Paul Hodnett, Sales Director and Founder at UD Group. At the NYC Energy Marketing Conference, Nate’s presentation of Integrated Energy Console won the Best New Product award, beating out 12 other entrants in the series of 4-minute “fastball” pitches. We sat down with Nate and Paul and discussed several topics, including --

  • Taking a popular supplier solution in the UK market (60% share) and adapting it to the US market
  • How technology can help to strengthen the bonds between suppliers and ABCs, and their shared customers
  • The need for standardization of customer enrollments and business processes


ERCG: Before we get into Integrated Energy, we need to learn a little about UD Group based in the UK. Paul, can you give us a little background on yourself and your company?


Paul Hodnett: UD Group has a flair for innovative thinking, coupled with intrinsic knowledge of the industry at all levels. I set out in 2009 to create a software business that transforms the way the energy sector operates by using sector-specific software written by practitioners. I lead our commercial activities and continue to be at the heart of our business. As Energy, Utilities and Technology rapidly moves with technology, our experience and knowledge is vital and this is what keeps UD Group growing and evolving at a fast pace – this is key to the success of our solutions advancing into global markets.


I wanted to provide a solution to standardize the way the market transacted in order to streamline the whole process of onboarding customers. As a result, a platform design was created and delivered to turn a process that could typically take days into minutes. UD Group is a platform that has been built for utility professionals by utility professionals and is currently the market leader in this sector.


ERCG: In the UK market alone, you estimate that 60% of supply deals flow through your system. In such a fragmented market with hundreds of brokers and dozens of suppliers, how did you achieve this level of buy-in?


PH: UD Group has had a challenging but exciting period and through hard work, knowledge, and experience has been extremely successful in capturing the UK market, taking out traditional paper based pricing and contract processing and providing a solution to simplify the process through our digital platform that transforms lengthy manual contract creation and submission processes into a ‘deal in a day’ digital platform. Our solutions have been adopted very quickly by the market because we can demonstrate an immediate opportunity to scale the channel massively and in most cases without the need to increase FTE.


The utilities industry can be “viral” so when one or two suppliers adopted our solutions it became a necessity for others to follow suit or get left behind in terms of sales volumes as the connected platform functionality we provide is hard to replicate; plus, with ever increasing workload placed on internal IT teams and various legacy software platforms our solution sits comfortably on top without the need for huge integration costs.


We make it easier for suppliers to work with brokers. UD Group provided the first solution for customers in this sector and has the only connected platform to enable end users, brokers, and suppliers to transact and report in a real-time environment. UD Group provides solutions to a high percentage of UK energy suppliers including many of the “Big 6” enabling them to transact with the whole market and likewise with the majority of the UK TPI market. The functionality we deliver is unrivalled due to the first hand practical knowledge we have of the market and this will continue to develop to keep us at the front of the market.


ERCG: Turning to the US – Nate, and Paul, how did you meet? How did Integrated Energy get started?


Nate Kessman: Paul and I first met in late 2013 when I was working for a regional supplier, and Paul was researching opportunities in the US market.  We had spoken a few times, but nothing ever materialized.  We did keep in touch and tried to work together again in 2014, but again the stars didn't align. It wasn’t until 2016 when I realized that I wanted to provide value outside of commodity pricing alone to retail energy professionals that Paul and I really solidified our relationship.


Right around the time we partnered up to create Integrated Energy Console (IEC), I started Integrated.Energy as a website focused on creating a community around retail energy by sharing as many experiences and resources that I could. The website became a great outlet for me, and I still share as much content as I can on that site.


The IEC platform itself is built around the framework of UD Group’s solution in the UK but was designed specifically with the needs of the US retail energy market in mind.  Our development team in Manchester has done an astounding job at creating a tool for the US market.


ERCG: At the recent Energy Marketing Conferences in NY, you were awarded the best “fastball pitch” – why do you think your solution resonated with the attendees at the conference?


NK: Forward thinkers in our industry will always be seeking more efficient ways to provide a higher level of service to their clients; Integrated Energy Console is relatable because the product was designed specifically for the retail energy industry.  We have lived these issues firsthand and wanted our product to focus on simple solutions to common challenges. This means professionals at all levels can see this product and say to themselves, “I can see how this would help me improve X,” which is exactly what we want to happen.


In the case of supplier enrollments we set automated alerts that ensure accounts are being enrolled by suppliers, which improves accountability from the supplier and at the same time strengthens the relationship between the client and their consultant.


ERCG: How is the approach to the US market for Integrated Energy different from UD Group’s approach to the UK market? In what ways are they similar?


NK: One of the main differences we see is in the evolution of the product itself. We are fortunate that this platform has evolved substantially since its inception in 2009. The solution we are presenting today is much more robust than when it was first conceived. Both UD Group and Integrated Energy share a vision of streamlining our industry by listening to and addressing the needs of ABCs, suppliers, and their shared customers. 


ERCG: Is the goal for Integrated Energy similar to UD Group – to become the standardized platform for energy transactions in the US? Is this an achievable goal in the US market?


NK: Our goal at present is to make sure people know about this amazing platform and to get as many people using it as possible.  We will always be adapting to the changing needs of this industry by listening to our clients and improving our technology.  If that helps grow the business in the short term then we have done our job. Long term, yes, we expect to be at the forefront of much needed standardization across our industry and are excited for the opportunity.


PH: The benefits for both suppliers and brokers are very easily demonstrated; our customers in the USA will certainly see the significant benefits of our platform both strategically and financially, especially considering early adopters of our platforms will benefit from some unrivalled value. We understand that brokers want to keep their own revenue and at UD we encourage this. Using the UD Platform will enable suppliers and brokers to all work direct without any significant FTE increase, resulting in one standardized platform and a consistent way of the industry working. This has been demonstrated in one of the most diverse energy markets in the world and our aim is to deliver this in the USA now.


ERCG: What other countries are possible entry targets for the technology your companies have developed?


NK: Paul and his team in the UK will continue to focus on expansion in the fast-growing EMEA market while I focus exclusively on North America; we are fairly nimble which means we have the ability to target any emerging deregulated market.

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