Alex Keisser is the dynamic CEO of Engie Australia, with extensive global experience and achievements in the international energy sector. He has deep Executive and Board level experience across multi-cultural activities and corporate governance structures. Thinxtra is proud to have Alex joining the Thinxtra Board of Directors. Loic Barancourt, CEO of Thinxtra, took this opportunity to ask him few questions:
1- Are you technology and IoT friendly (fitbit, smartwatch, etc…)?
I would not categorise myself as being an early adopter of new technologies and I would even dare say that I am a little bit old fashioned and need time to adapt to new technologies.
I have however always been very passionate in seeking optimisation and implementing them in business, whether through technology adoption, process optimisation or organisational changes, which all relies on the ability to culturally change the way we work and interact. So in that sense, I would say that I am IoT friendly, not so much for its technology, but as a wonderful enabler to positively change how we work and live.
2- Do you think Utilities are starting to get involved with IoT?
I am absolutely convinced that for Utilities there are huge opportunities to improve productivity and to better service their customers thanks to IoT. For water Utilities, smart meters make it possible to detect potential leaks and avoid water loss and consequential damages. For LPG companies, gas tank smart measurement enables optimal logistics planning, designed to create a supply route based on real uptake rather than estimations. For energy retailers, smart battery management enable optimising the usage of distributed generation and storage to reduce energy costs based on a volatile market price. These are just a few examples for how the Utilities would be impacted.
Utilities, like a lot of industries, are facing tremendous challenges to better service their customers and reduce their cost of operation. Digital applications, including IoT, are in fact opportunities to do just that. At the same time it enables the Utilities to engage their staff in creating exciting new projects. As for all industrial transformation, it requires execution skills and cultural adoption to achieve success. It is in fact simply wrong to imagine that the Utilities’ role is to manage existing infrastructures, negotiate rates with regulators and collect bills. Utilities’ job is to optimise their operation for the benefit of their customers.
3- If I say LPWAN, you say?
I say first that it is a damn complicated abbreviation to remember, Low Power Wide Area Network, and that it does not necessarily describe all the merits of Sigfox. For the most part, the last two decades of communication technology improvement have been focused on developing the ability to enable more information to be shared faster among more people. This evolution has dramatically changed how people communicate and how knowledge is shared, but was not targeted to enable industrial objects to communicate: the existing infrastructure is too costly and requires a connection to the power grid as it consumes too much energy.
Sigfox technology can connect a large numbers of objects transmitting information over a long distance with low energy consumption at a low cost. It is basically technology developed just for IoT. Now, it is not enough to have an adapted telecommunication network such as Sigfox. To have a successful development, IoT also needs an ecosystem creating low cost objects such as meters and transmitters and a customer friendly platform to manage the huge amount of data to make such information available for people using such objects or being served by such objects.
This mean that the Sigfox network development bundled with the cost reduction of the ecosystem linked to scale and the customer centric platform development provides a fantastic opportunity to change how we interact with objects or how objects serve us, just as internet has provided a fantastic opportunity to change how people communicate.
4- Why did you decide to become a board member of Thinxtra?
I saw a potential booming market with IoT, the right technology with Sigfox and equally as important, a leadership team that I believed in.
In fact, I first contacted Thinxtra as an industrial user, then I helped the Thinxtra team by providing contacts in the industry. The more contacts I provided, the more I realised the huge applications potential, far beyond the Utilities, a sector that I know very well of course. I also realised that Sigfox was very well positioned to take a significant market share of the IoT market and finally that the Thinxtra team was energetic, with quite good business maturity for a start-up. This has lead us to having a first informal conversation on a potential board position while walking on one of the beautiful beaches of South Sydney on a Sunday morning.
As always, then came the moment of the due diligence and the decision to go ahead or not. I am the chairman of all Engie companies operating in Australia, so I wanted to make sure that I was feeling comfortable with the integrity of the Thinxtra team and other board members and they with me. And finally, I had to convince myself that I would add value to the existing team.
5- Why invest in Thinxtra?
It is always nice to receive stock options, but there is no better commitment than putting your own money at play if you really believe in a company. I believe in Thinxtra, I invested.
By the way, I did the same in my former position, when I was CEO of a listed Peruvian power company, Enersur. We ended up doubling its size and market cap to reach a 2.6 BUSD equity size.
6- As a CEO of a large established Utility company, do you really see a need for taking risks in a start-up?
I have been working for 23 years, always as part of Engie, in 6 different countries and always in competitive markets. I do not believe in the concept of the “established utility company”. The energy sector is going through a big transition through its decarbonisation and decentralisation. Society changes, the customers’ needs change and the technology evolution provides opportunities to disrupt industries. A company that is considered established may question how long it shall survive.
I have hence always tried to manage my business by creating small business units or teams around projects, where people are owning their BU and their projects. It is not always easy in large organisations, but it is healthy to have such objectives even if they can not be fully fulfilled. I would dare say that I am always managing my own responsibilities as if the company was mine.
So I have not felt at all that I was taking risks by engaging myself in a start-up. On the contrary I felt energised by the Thinxtra team and our new venture.
7- What do you feel you bring to Thinxtra?
I always like first to make a list of what I do not bring, so as not to kid myself: I am not an experienced telecom operator executive, I am not an IoT technology guru and I have not been a start-up entrepreneur.
But, I know what industries seek and what it takes to get decisions through and successfully implement them, I love contributing to new businesses and I have a lot of energy to give to make things happen. So beyond the traditional role of a board member of a company, I focus my energy in helping Thinxtra develop the right solutions to potential customers, put people in contact with the Thinxtra team to seek their own IoT benefits and finally provide a sounding board to the management as I like to do in my current role as the CEO of Engie in Australia.
Most of the people want to feel part of a team and to dedicate their energy to something that makes sense. If I see that IoT makes our life better and that the Thinxtra team will grow by doing so, it gives me more energy and I feel good about it. So in a way I feel that I can contribute, but also that such activity contributes to my own development.
Thinxtra is empowering Australia and New Zealand’s Internet of Things by deploying SIGFOX world-leading LPWAN connectivity as well as building a full eco-system of IoT solutions and services to enable the non-connected to connect, to increase productivity, accelerate decision making, improve quality of service and solve problems in an economic and connected manner.
Thinxtra was launched in 2015 and is backed by a consortium of strategic investors including cornerstone investor Rakon Limited, a NZX-listed high-tech leader in innovation of communications technology. The network roll out in Australia and New Zealand has commenced and is on track to meet its target of covering 95% of the ANZ population with SIGFOX connectivity by the end of 2017.
Follow us on Twitter @Thinxtra.
Renald Gallis – VP Marketing & Ecosystem
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Alex Keisser LinkedIN