An interview with Peter Hoving, Senior Consultant at UMS Group, an international management consulting firm that specialises in energy & utilities and strategic asset management issues.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in the north of the Netherlands, and studied at the University in Groningen. I first completed a bachelor in Industrial Engineering and Management, followed by the Master’s degree in Energy and Environmental Sciences. My study choices were driven by the relevance to the social issues on which I wanted to contribute. Energy is a basic necessity, so the whole energy sector and the developments within it were inherently important. This appeals to me. I am thereby, today, able to develop solutions that are technically, financially, socially and environmentally acceptable.
After a period of working for TenneT you joined UMS Group, an international but niche consulting firm. How did you pick up on UMS Group and what was your motivation to make the transition to the consultancy?
During my first job as a trainee with TenneT I worked in the Asset Management department. One of my assignments was to write a risk-based investment plan. That was part of a larger improvement programme which was supervised by UMS Group. The cooperation with the consultants of UMS Group ran smoothly from the start. A second successful collaboration with UMS Group followed during the merger of the TenneT and German Trans Power. After my trainee period I was looking for a permanent place where I could work long-term, and, when Jan Schipper (UMS Group’s European Managing Director) approached me, I was quickly convinced that UMS Group was a logical next step. My previous experience at TenneT could then be applied to benefit other (international) operators, plus it gave me the opportunity to broaden myself in other segments of the energy sector, such as generation / production and consumption.
What type of assignments have you worked on in recent years?
The assignments I've worked on are very diverse. I have advised network operators in setting up asset management processes, including focus on risk and portfolio management and the drafting of policies. I have also provided advise to major energy consumers (such as the Dutch Railways and Akzo Nobel) to optimise their energy portfolio, for example, to achieve green targets or to make the most of the flexibility of assets. The third type of assignment on which I have spent considerable time, are our learning platform environments in which we compare our clients with peers, with the ultimate goal to reach out to them with proposals for improvement.
A project to which you have contributed, was a major asset management replacement issue with a client in the gas sector. Recent research by UMS Group shows that such 'replacement programmes’ will, in the coming years, becoming increasingly frequent as existing infrastructure reach the end of their life – especially in the infrastructure, utilities and telecom sectors. For organisations the formulation of asset management strategies remains a very complex process, since it depends on myriad of dependent and independent factors. These factors range from long-term economic prospects and the rapidly digitising market landscape, to internal considerations around capital expenditures (CAPEX) and the willingness to change the organisation. In view of your projects, how has the UMS Group team tackled these challenging issue to deliver understandable, pragmatic advice?
In consultation with the client, we have created a peer group of capital-intensive businesses in our network who have recently implemented, or will soon be implementing, a major replacement programme. For each of these companies we have studied the applied asset management approach, capturing four key components: the assessment of the underlying risk, determining policy initiatives, determining the risk reduction strategy and selecting the optimal solution. For all peers and clients in question, we have identified the strengths and weaknesses of each component, based on available documentation and interviews with key stakeholders. The peer group analysis forms the basis for recommendations to our clients; whereby we can make concrete proposals for improvement based on the ‘best practice’ process of other companies.
In addition to the traditional management consulting offerings, UMS Group also boast a large database of asset management data, which you be used to run benchmarks on various performance KPIs. How do these benchmarks help organisations? And what value has actually reached your client in the gas sector, through the use of comparison analysis?
At UMS Group we facilitate a wide range of learning consortia where we link comparative analysis with the exchange of ‘best practices’. The programmes are divided by sector (e.g. transmission versus distribution) and/or by area of interest. We thereby have two programmes (ITAMS and IDAMS*) in which operators exchange knowledge and experience on asset management processes; within these programmes, participants are assessed in relation to the international ISO55000 standard, and its respective requirements.
In addition, our IDBC and IGBC * learning consortia focus on measurable quality, safety and financial indicators. Based on our experience, we also include recommendations for improvement to the data and comparative analyses. In this way, our clients gain better insight into their strengths and weaknesses. This can help in the communication to regulators, but also serves as input for the internal business planning process (target setting) and optimises the current performance by implementing improvement proposals.
In order to operate successfully within the core area in which UMS Group operates – the asset management segment – consultants not only need have to have traditional management consulting skills, but also have deep technical knowledge. How do you and UMS Group ensure that your professional standing, in both areas, remains up to date?
In Europe we have a team meeting each month, in which we exchange knowledge and experience. This involves sharpening consulting skills (what works well and what does not work well), and exchanging substantive conclusions resulting from our projects. In addition to tracking market trends in media, we ensure, in these ways, that we are always one step ahead of our (potential) clients.
The role of technology is significantly changing the asset management landscape. New technologies may have an impact on the life cycle of infrastructure, with the emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) set to have a disruptive effect on business models and operational aspects, such as maintenance strategies. Organisations faced with such innovations, as with any significant change, need to meet new challenges. How does UMS Group help clients to understand and embrace the long-term technological trends that may – for example, in ten years – completely change the way their business works?
Our customers are capital-intensive companies, that all have a long-term focus, since most of their investments have a life span of several decades. No one knows exactly which developments will occur in twenty or thirty years, so that is why all our products and services also aimed at achieving business objectives in the long term. We aim to help companies add value to, and to assess the risk of, investments, including specific indicators that are linked to business objectives, and on those grounds, make the best selection from our offering whereby the needs of our stakeholders’ wishes are best realised.
In the case of changing (market) circumstances, the review may take place again by focusing on the underlying process in accordance with a plan-do-check-act cycle. We hereby advise our clients in accordance with the requirements of ISO 55000, on the international standards for asset management aimed at efficient, sustainable and cost-effectively managing assets.
UMS Group was originally a US firm that today operates internationally. What competitive advantage does this provide UMS Group on the delivery of projects?
Combining knowledge and experience from different parts of the world allows us to have a better picture of what are the real ‘best practices’. In addition, the international experience is important in projects where energy plays a role. Because we operate in many different countries, we have knowledge of various energy markets and regulatory regimes, so that we can best advise our clients about the do's and don'ts in their specific situation.
You have been with USM Group for almost five years. What makes working at the consultancy firm special for you? And how would you describe UMS Group’s culture?
When I am asked to describe my work at UMS Group, I always say that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Each consultant is given the freedom to carry out their work at their own discretion, so long, of course, as the objectives of the client are achieved. That responsibility I do not, however, experience as burden, because it is almost always a pleasure to work with our clients. The culture of UMS Group is that of what we do is given over to our own responsibility, but everyone is there for each other when necessary.
Finally, consulting is usually known for its long hours and hard work. How do you charge your batteries in your spare time?
I charge my battery through sports. I live in Arnhem, which is a great city for running – with various city parks and green areas within walking distance. In addition, on Saturday I am a KNVB football referee, which includes considerable running on the field. The social resistance I hereby experience, and the need to make decisive judgements, also benefit me in my work environment.
* See this page for more information about the Learning Consortia of UMS Group.