At Trellis, we believe human capital is the ultimate currency of business interactions. In this series, we’re pulling back the curtain and revealing the amazing humans that power our technology and empower our decisions. Today, we’re joined by Trellis’ Vice President of Sales and Services, Douglas Allen.
Not only is Douglas a veteran of the industry with troves of experience, but he is a driving force behind Trellis’s customer interactions and sales positioning. We sat down with Douglas to discuss his role at Trellis, the current challenges he sees in the industry, and his advice for companies looking to modernize their natural gas system.
Background in Oil & Gas Industry
First company I worked for: Tejas Power Corporation (TPC)
Types of assets I have managed while in the industry: Gathering & liquid separation, cogen, interstate pipelines, offshore gathering systems, salt dome storage
Companies I have worked for: Shell, Enron, my own consulting firm, Quorum, FIS and Trellis
Type of companies I have consulted for: Interstate pipelines, utilities, gas processors
Douglas: I’ve been in oil and gas for nearly 30 years now. While at TPC, I learned about the gas industry and was fortunate to actually visit the gas gathering facilities. Joining Shell’s offshore pipeline division was my ﬁrst foray into implementing natural gas transaction systems, specifically TransEnergy. Eventually, I moved on to a software company in 1998, where I (ironically) helped a Trellis competitor build out a transaction system.
Once I was done building software, I started a boutique consulting firm specializing in system selections, tariff writing, rate designs, etc., for energy companies—mostly utilities and pipelines. I’m proud of the work and experience running my own business provided. Often, salespeople for tech companies only understand the tech side of what they’re selling. I’m an industry guy. I certainly understand the tech (it’s consumed a huge part of my work life), but my background is very much boots-on-the-ground, functional knowledge — and I’m quick to recognize pain points and frictions from an industry perspective.
I joined Trellis in January 2018. Since then, I’ve held multiple roles, most notably VP of Services, but ultimately, I transitioned to head (VP) of sales in late 2019.
What are the current challenges in natural gas?
Douglas: It’s always the concept of change itself and our ability (or lack of) to manage that change. Honestly, I’m a bit of an old-school pipeline and utility guy. I remember when Order 636 ﬁrst hit the scene. This was just the first of many industry-changing events I have seen. Every year, the industry has something new thrown at it, and trying to juxtapose change with proﬁtability and growth is always a big challenge. To be more current, there are three big macro changes impacting the industry right now in no particular order (and they’re all connected):
- Renewables / Decarbonization
- Digital transformation
Current market predictions expect renewable energy to make up over 50 percent of power generation by 2035. Whether the transition will happen at that pace or not isn’t really the point. It is happening. Combine market pressures with decarbonization initiatives, regulatory compliance and cyber security, and the natural gas industry is in a challenging position. My personal thought is that natural gas will be the thing that smooths the transition to renewables, and we need to educate the public on why that is the best course. Look at the events of February 2021 in Texas to provide a perfect case study.
In the current climate, there’s immense scrutiny on infrastructure—new and old. Pipelines and utilities get pushback from both public and private entities. The natural gas industry is being forced to do more with less, again. To leverage existing infrastructure requires change and innovation. However, when there is high investment and long lead times, you will find a natural conservativeness in the industry. How do we become more efﬁcient? One way forward is through technology.
That brings me to digital transformation. I spoke with someone recently that said, “We are moving out of the information age and into the information sharing age.” I couldn’t agree more. Digital transformation and moving to the cloud immediately increase the velocity and efficiency of the information that can be leveraged and shared within your company and with your business partners. Removing isolated and fragmented information trapped in legacy systems will change the way you do business.
What are the most common issues in the struggle to digitize?
Douglas: As a theme, I find most companies we talk with struggle with understanding these three fundamental items.
- What do they need to prepare in order to be ready for the digital transformation project and how to make the transition?
- How do they get the most out of their digital transformation?
- How do they know what constitutes a good cloud solution to digitize their business?
Since I have introduced challenges, I like to also provide potential solutions.
For #1 (what do you need to prepare to begin your digital journey?), here is a quick list to get you started in the right direction.
- Compile a complete set of existing business process and requirements.
- Identify key leaders and empower them to own and drive the transformation.
- Set up a clear governance structure for managing the project and any potential changes.
- Engage your entire organization from top to bottom in supporting the transformation process.
For #2 (how to get the most out of your transformation), I suggest keeping these things in focus through the process.
- Don’t try to recreate what you do today in the new solution. Blend your business processes and capabilities with the strengths of the solution you selected.
- Challenge the status quo and be open to change. Digital transformation is just that, transforming your business to evolve for the future challenges you will face.
- A surprisingly concrete item is to not overbuild canned reports. My experience is customers are able to access and share data better than ever before in a digital environment. Wait until later in the transformation process to make a call on the need for canned reports.
For understanding #3, what makes a good cloud solution, our CEO Rakesh Agrawal is hosting an upcoming webinar that looks at the broad points you want to consider, including but not limited to:
- Automation, optimization, analytics, and real-time data access
- Use of major cloud providers with high availability and uptime
- Well-defined SLA with RPO/RTO objectives
- SOC1/SOC2 compliance
How would you recommend a natural gas company transition to a cloud-based natural gas system?
Douglas: Great question! In my previous adventures, I helped companies with system selections and get them organized for this very process. So, this question is near and dear to my heart. As I noted above, my best advice is to get a clear understanding of your internal process and requirements before you connect with a vendor.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of getting organizational buy-in. Typically, energy companies are looking to integrate a natural gas system from either their own self-maintained systems or a series of complex spreadsheets. While working with Trellis can improve your processes, save you money, and give you velocity and agility, you also need to make sure your employees understand why the change is important. They are the ultimate users, and you’ll want them onboard from day one. Once you have your house in order, you can often meet with vendors, gather information, see software, discover ﬁt requirements, and choose a solution in less than 90 days. The hardest parts are getting the buy-in and working to identify a complete set of requirements.
How can Trellis help?
Douglas: If I could sum up how Trellis can help in one word, it would be “velocity.”
- Quick implementations of Trellis can have companies up and running in as little as 1-2 months and recognizing the value of your investment in digitalization.
- Increasing the speed and automation of your business transactions to drive efficiency and capture value of events in the market.
- Partnering and guiding customers through the transformation process of their natural gas transaction management system to meet business objectives and IT security and audit needs.
Trellis is a modern web-based platform, not your bulky legacy system from a decade ago. Trellis will feel similar to the tools you use in your personal life. We’re completely web-based and extremely easy to use. We help companies overcome adoption issues by providing a solution that feels familiar to those apps you use at home or on your mobile phone. We also intentionally built our solution to present information in a format that’s the most helpful, easy, and familiar to business users.
To further create “velocity,” understanding both the tech and business sides of this industry is critical. When I’m on a sales call with a prospect, I don’t just understand their frictions and needs. I’ve lived them. Our team is laser focused on ﬁguring out how our platform is going to align with the real goals and tangible outcomes our customers need.
Real people. Real solutions.
At Trellis, our decisions are fueled by human ingenuity. Every amazing update, awesome upgrade, and business-changing solution we develop is built by equally phenomenal humans, like Douglas. Knowing the people with whom you partner is vital to your success but, more importantly, to your peace of mind. To learn more about Trellis and our people, contact us.