A couple of weeks back, I took a trip to Prague to meet with local software and service firm, Unicorn Systems. You may not have heard of Unicorn but if you are involved in European power and gas then you most certainly have had some kind of interaction with their software as Unicorn are the developers of Damas. Damas MMS provides complete coverage of business processes for power electricity markets and ancillary services, their evaluation and settlement, as well as administration of international energy transmissions, congestion management, and international collaboration. It is used extensively across Europe by many of the TSO’s here. Actually, however, Unicorn has a 15-year track record of delivering software into the energy & utilizes segment here in Europe and offers software covering trading and market management, network operation and asset management. My primary purpose behind the visit was to learn more about its ETRM solution – Lancelot – for our current CEE Vendor research project.
For a company that maybe isn’t as familiar a brand to many in the industry as other ETRM vendors, it certainly has presence, with over 2000 staff, numerous offices across Europe and customers around the region. It is actively involved deep within the industry via various industry organizations and has clearly developed a great deal of expertise over the 15-years it has been active. With its roots in IT services, it is technology agnostic, and has a comprehensive and differentiated approach to project delivery.
As it turns out, Lancelot is a comprehensive platform of modules that includes ETRM, energy data management, and customer information systems – amongst other functionality. The ETRM part of the platform has some innovative features too that speak to a different geographic and functional focus here in the Czech Republic. Essentially, it acts as a repository of data that is automatically or manually brought into the system (market data, prices, etc). It has comprehensive workflow and notification capabilities combined with strong predictive capabilities designed to add value, I was told. Four years ago, the platform went through a technology refresh and is now available in the cloud and on premises and according to my hosts, it is extremely fast with an ability to process lots of data very rapidly. They paid particular attention to performance with an eye on smart grid and the IOT.
One of the interesting and fairly unique features of the solution is that having set up the system for whatever activities and locations the user is involved in, it then self-populates a huge amount of meta data. This means in practice that it is relatively easy to evolve in lockstep with the markets but it also eliminates user error. For example, want to do a trade? Define the basic trade and the system will show you what choices there are in terms of things like grid points, counterparties and so on. Another interesting feature is its emphasis on time series data. My hosts described it in an interesting way – image a spreadsheet but each cell contains a time series – they told me.
The current version does lack solid integration to Trayport and the screen designs are unlike almost any solution I have seen in my 15-year career as an analyst (this could be both a strength and a weakness depending on your point of view) and the solution is definitely built with a strong physical energy bias that has more operator-oriented functionality than is commonly found in ETRM solutions. One thing that struck me was that it has a lot more natural gas functionality than many European ETRM’s I have seen.
Given the nature of Unicorn’s business and its origins in energy & utilities, Lancelot seems entirely in line with my initial expectations. It is a flexible, focused solution that currently targets smaller players or companies that need a custom-made solution on top of the product. In North American terminology – it can be seen as leveraged software in that Unicorn expect to enhance and add to the solution for specific customers. This contrasts quite clearly with the traditional vendor’s approach of selling standard product which turns out during implementation to be no better than a 70% fit to requirements.
The solution is installed mainly in Czech Republic and Slovakia at the moment with users such as PRE, Innogy, RWE and others using it. However, Unicorn are set to expand and have the whole of Europe, and beyond, in their sights.