Viterra  – From submetering to a full service metering company

Viterra Energy Services (VES) is an independent service group providing metering services in 29 countries. Currently VES has over 3,100 permanent employees and more than 6,200 subcontractors. In 2000, VES achieved sales of DM731 million US$336 million. Each year the company carries out over 40 million meter readings. 

VES has its roots in the establishment in 1902 in Denmark of CLORIUS, which obtained a first patent on its heat allocation meters. Through the years, VES has become a specialist in the consumption-based billing of heat, water and other ancillary costs. 

Today, VES offers a comprehensive suite of services to energy suppliers, energy traders, network operators and multi-site energy customers as well as housing/property management companies. This involves a comprehensive service package covering all aspects of the ‘meter to bill’ process, starting with the installation and maintenance of measuring devices, through the measurement and evaluation of usage data and communication via third-party networks, and the production of invoices. This represents a full service package ‘under one roof’. Standardised processes ensure high service levels, quality and customer satisfaction.

Due to the modular structure of VES service offerings, our customers are able to choose between individual partial services and full support. Our services include a broad range of standard solutions as well as customer-adapted, made-to-measure solutions.

In June 1996, the business of the utility industry started to come more into the focus of VES, when the Trade and Energy Ministers of the European Union agreed on the liberalisation of European electricity markets. Since then, the opening of the individual European member markets has progressed at various speeds, with the result that each country has now reached a different stage of deregulation. Similar developments can be observed in North America, Japan, and Australia among others.

As a consequence, energy supply companies and grid operators find themselves in competition with each other and need to identify ways in which to differentiate themselves. At the same time, existing customer relationships must be maintained and new customers canvassed. This presents a challenge to all utilities, particularly those that operate regionally and are owned by local councils and municipalities. 

Another major challenge resulting from this liberalisation is the vast complexity of managing the high volumes of data required to support competitive processes. As a consequence, the requirements placed upon organisations are high: all data must be delivered timeously, accurately, securely, and confidentially. In some cases, data readouts are required in thirty, fifteen, or even in five-minute intervals. This collected data must be aggregated and transmitted to the right parties to meet critical timescales. In order to meet the high standards imposed by market participants and regulators, considerable capital expenditure in IT infrastructure is required.

In the light of the increasing competitiveness of the industry, a substantial number of market players who are not in a position to proceed with large scale IT projects to upgrade their systems choose instead to focus on their primary core business, e.g. the management of the customer relationship, or the management of their network assets. In these cases, where utilities decide to focus on core business, adjacent activities such as meter operations, data processing, and even billing, are often outsourced to dedicated service providers who are able to perform these services more efficiently with greater economies of scale.

The involvement of specialised metering companies, independent of energy supply operations, is often considered essential when a formerly regional utility is faced with the need to conduct meter installations and meter readings outside its ‘home area’. As this data is commercially sensitive, there is an obvious reluctance to outsource such services to a neighbouring utility, which, in a deregulated environment, is likely to be a direct competitor.

Transferring tasks to external service providers holds many advantages for utilities that wish to progress and expand in competitive markets. There is substantial evidence that over a relatively short period this specialisation becomes the only viable survival strategy, since with competition comes the prospect of a ‘survival of the fittest market environment’. With the participation of new independent service providers, it is now possible not only to introduce new efficiencies but also to create an environment that facilitates the development of new innovative solutions to meet the needs of these evolving markets, while guaranteeing the integrity of vital operational data and ensuring that the highest quality standards are met. 

VES, with its international coverage and experience in handling high volumes of data, is prepared to be an independent full service provider for national and international utilities.

In Great Britain, VES entered the metering market by acquiring the independent national meter reading company Lowri Beck. In Spain, VES has been able to position itself successfully with its services covering the entire process chain from delivery and installation of devices, to maintenance, reading, the preparation of invoices, and customer management across the water, gas and electricity industry. In its home market Germany, VES discusses several outsourcing projects. Due to the recent acquisitions of Etrem AB, the largest independent AMR meter reading service company in the Nordic countries, and UtiliRead, the only billing company with a level II Certification in the State of Virginia, VES has significantly strengthened its position as a full service provider covering all aspects of the ‘meter to bill’ process.