Peace breaks out in billing industry

Despite the IT downturn and the events of September 11, New Zealand software entrepreneur Brian Peace says it is "business as usual".

Come war or recession, people still need power and energy deregulation continues in many countries.

Despite the IT downturn and the events of September 11, New Zealand software entrepreneur Brian Peace says it is “business as usual”.

Peace remains bullish about prospects for his eponymous company, Peace Software. He recently signed another multimillion-dollar deal in Australia for the company's Energy billing software and plans to open a European office next year.

The Auckland-based firm employs 355 staff, with another 35 signed on to join the firm by year-end -- either in Auckland or at the company's Sydney support centre. It remains on course to employ 500 next year.

“The local IT industry is suffering a bit, but it’s giving us an opportunity to attract and recruit great people,” he says. The company receives 200 CVs a week.

“I think we can build a much larger development group here than we have to date. I know the talent is available to us."

Peace believes many New Zealanders may return home as overseas firms downsizing lay off the foreigners first.

Peace says the impact of September 11 and the economic downturn is not affecting the company. "Utilities are continuing to move towards deregulation … We are growing our resource base rapidly." The company employs 150 in the US and has seen the number of people served by its billing software there increase six- or seven-fold this year to 10 million.

The latest deal the company has signed for its Energy software is with Country Energy, to supply customer management of its 750,000 customers across rural New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and ACT. Peace says this deal will lead to others over the Tasman and his company is working on other projects with Country. Energy was also receiving “significant interest” in Asia.

While Peace says his company is concentrating on serving its existing US and Canadian market, it believes Europe offers opportunities. The UK market is most similar to New Zealand, but Peace would prefer his European office sited “in a warm climate”.

He doubts the failure of Genie Systems, OneZone and others will harm the reputation of New Zealand firms in the US, as they are small players. New Zealand still offers “phenomenal” products, he says, but firms have to differentiate them further to be competitive. They also have to be profitable, as Peace Software is, and not rely on capital for survival, which is increasingly scarce.

Peace says a deal with IBM Global Services to deliver software to large utilities has also had an impact on his firm's credibility. Peace products are being tested in IBM’s Sydney “innovation centre” and the “IBM stamp of approval” helps Peace Software achieve deals with larger, regulated US utilities. It also lets IBM sell hardware to Peace customers. “We are the key to open the door for IBM,” he says.

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