It’s a rare software product that appeals to both large multinational clients and smaller, mid-market players – but Ion Group, winner of Energy Risk’s CTRM software house of the year award, can claim that for its AspectCTRM cloud software solution.
Aspect Enterprise Solutions was acquired by Ion in January 2018. Aspect counts among its users commodity trading giant Trafigura, mining multinational Anglo American and, BP Sinopec, the joint venture between the oil major and China’s Sinopec, the world’s largest oil refining, gas and petrochemicals company.
But as well as these large customers, “we serve five-user teams”, says Brigette Gebhard, vice-president of marketing for the commodities portfolio of Ion, and long-time Aspect veteran, noting that competitors “can never scale down small enough to sell a $250,000 solution. We’ll continue to operate in that sweet spot and continue to win the business,” she says.
The secret to that ability lies in Aspect’s embrace of multi-tenancy cloud deployment, which allows clients to share the use of an application, which is remotely hosted and accessed through the web. “It’s a big reason why Aspect has been able to disrupt the energy and commodities trading software market over the last eight years,” she says. Because most clients share the same application (although some bigger clients host their own version, on their own servers), they are able to benefit simultaneously from frequent upgrades while Ion is able to keep costs low, she says.
“For the mid-market, they don’t have large IT teams, they don’t need hardware, they don’t have to get approval out of their capital expense budget, and that’s a huge part of it,” she says.
This web-based ‘software-as-a-service’ approach also allows Ion to make sales to, and carry out implementation for, hard-to-reach clients. “We can turn on a system anywhere in the world from London,” says Gebhard. “We configure it remotely, send them a password, put their trades in the system and they can start managing their trades. We can do the whole thing in two weeks for a standard implementation.”
That said, recent updates to Aspect’s functionality have focused on making the system more attractive to larger clients. Gebhard cites the introduction of “single sign on” capability to prevent the need for every user to re-authenticate, and new scripting tools that help users to enhance the standard AspectCTRM out-of-the box implementation, with deeper reporting or bespoke integration, for example. “It means our developers don’t have to create code for each company that wants something a little different from the product,” she says.
Gebhard can point to strong growth in Aspect’s business, with 90% revenue growth in the Asia-Pacific region for 2018 thus far, compared with the same period in 2017. This brings its client base in the region to 171, with thousands of users, including customers of its market data solution, AspectDSC, which sits on the same platform as AspectCTRM.
We want to keep all of our clients, but introduce them to new features and services that add value. Ion is looking for customers for life
Brigette Gebhard, Ion
Another reason behind its success, Gebhard says, is the firm’s partner programme. She singles out Singapore-based Principia Consulting as a particularly good example of how the approach is winning business. The company sold AspectCTRM to Felix Petroleum, a trading company also based in Singapore, before snagging BP Sinopec.
“It did exactly what we want the partner programme to do. It extended our sales team without us having to hire salespeople,” she says.
Aspect’s purchase by Ion – just one of a number of recent purchases by the acquisitive firm – brings challenges as well as advantages, notes Gebhard, not least in the mechanics of integrating the two firms. Another issue is that Aspect’s new parent already offers four energy and/or commodity risk management products, including TriplePoint, a particularly close competitor of Aspect, and Openlink, which it acquired in March, and which also offers CTRM solutions.
“The number one question I get from clients is, will you close down any of these products?” Gebhard says. “Ion has never done that before. It buys a lot of businesses, but it doesn’t shut them down. We want to keep all of our clients, but introduce them to new features and services that add value. Ion is looking for customers for life.”
Gebhard notes Ion has a strong presence in capital markets and treasury. “Our clients want treasury solutions; we now have access to seven different ones we can offer to our clients and to prospects.” She adds that Openlink “has a really strong risk piece in their solution”, which could be used to enhance Aspect’s risk functionality.
The acquisition marks a step-change for Aspect, and for Gebhard and her team. “Aspect is no longer a company, it’s a product. Openlink and Triple Point are now products, not companies. It’s about merging multiple solutions in one commodities portfolio, being able to share functionality across the group, and offer the ‘fit for purpose’ solution the client needs.”