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Learning from Waterloo: Computer Information Systems Will Carry the Day

Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 1995

& Electric (PG&E) launched a similar initiative in 1992. Using Lotus Notes(r) as a foundation, it has attached an online information filter known as HooverO (produced by SandPoint Corp., Cambridge, MA) to sort and sift through information from 25 databases and newswires. Over 300 of PG&E's 2,200 Notes(r) users subscribe to the HooverO system.

The PG&E system has become a true intelligence ringmaster, freely shuttling information around without any gatekeepers to block its flow. For the first time, any one of these subscribers can circumvent the library for simple searches, which frees the librarians for more complex research. More important, it allows others in the company to focus on issues that concern only their group. Public relations can use the system as a mirror for the market's perception of PG&E. Legal staff and company lobbyists can track changes in local and national legislation through Hoover's Legislation Tracking System.

No groupware can substitute for face-to-face contact as far as motivating people and having them participate in such a system. Without human ringmasters to oversee the system architecture and push others to contribute, no system will ever mature to the point where it becomes a truly universal tool. As the members of Corning's program will tell you, it takes three to five years of populating a database and training the organization before the system becomes part of a company's strategic way of life.

In the case of Mission Energy, a major independent power producer (IPP), the company's president became the system's self-appointed evangelist. Mission has built its system into a universal information carrier, conveying everything from international country reports for the nearly 100 employees working overseas, to business news updates, to a mail system that allows traveling executives to keep in touch.

Mission Energy has taken the ringmaster approach global. "We have a database called Meeting Tracker," says Bryan Sorensen, manager of Mission's information technology department. "It contains summaries of important meetings that people around the organization have had with outside companies. If someone in our London office, for instance, has a key meeting, other officials around the world will see the posting and can look at the document to see what was covered."

Establish Strategic "Catchbasins"

Nearly every successful competitor, irrespective of the industry, succeeds because it knows where to look (em and where not to look. As utilities enter deregulated markets where they will not be able to cover costs through rate increases, they will have to choose their investments carefully. Choice is the name of the game in the energy world of the future. Making the right choices will separate the winners from the losers.

Successful companies understand the forces that dominate their industries, and pursue an understanding of those forces with a zeal. For example, most traditional electric utilities will find their need for customer intelligence more pressing than their need for regulatory and competitor intelligence. If that is management's strategic directive, everyone in the company must concentrate on understanding powerful customers.

Translating this sense of focus to groupware means that the databases a company establishes must prompt its users