Expressing concern about price volatility in the natural gas market, New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan regulators have directed local gas distribution companies to try fixed-price contracts and...
Competitive Intelligence: An Antidote to Downsizing
may be less than healthy, unless you're ready to replace them with technology.
As competition intensifies, increasing numbers of executives are realizing that customer service may have a more important role now than just placating regulators. After all, the broad spectrum of customer service is the principal way (em other than rates (em to differentiate a utility product and the utility itself.
Executives face the added pressure of trying to maintain profitability to retain shareholder value. One popular way to do that has been through downsizing, a process that has cut thousands of jobs and selected assets from the electric, natural gas, and telecommunications industries in recent years. One of the most recent and most dramatic downsizings: AT&T and its decision to cut 40,000 jobs during 1996 for competitive purposes. Reported job cuts in the telecommunications industry are approaching 200,000 positions.
Eliminating mid-level utility managers helps strengthen the bottom line of electric, natural gas, and telecommunications companies in the short term. In the long term, however, the loss of these positions could create a decision-support vacuum (em a missing link in the communications channel between upper-level managers, field service crews, business unit managers, and customer representatives. This vacuum represents a downside of downsizing.
Many utilities have built a wide array of information technologies in recent years. The key problem is that these systems in the past counted on people linkages and have not been integrated as systems per se. The individual technologies have not been able to talk to each other, and so fall short in helping to support decisionmaking. At the same time, downsizing has eliminated many of the mid-level managers who formerly did this work. As a result, integrating and/or upgrading information systems so that they "talk" to one another is increasingly critical. Information technology tools known as spatial information systems can enhance executive decisionmaking.
Spatial information systems, and related technologies known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Automated Mapping/ Facilities Management (AM/FM) systems, have gained widespread use among utilities in recent years. The reason is straightforward: This technology is a single tool to manage the technical and spatial information about facilities; their relationship to customers, products, or services; and the land environments in which they operate. GIS serves as the critical
platform for integrating key information technologies into an effective executive decision-support system.
A utility can use integrated systems with geographic analysis to support a wide variety of business issues. BellSouth Telecommunications Inc., West Ohio Gas Co., and Kentucky Utilities Co. are three different, yet representative, utilities that use spatial information systems and GIS to support their business goals and address a variety of reliability, customer service, and emergency response issues.
BellSouth Telecommunications. BellSouth Telecommunications Inc. (em the nation's largest regional Bell operating company, with more than 21 million local access lines (em is automating its manual outside-plant engineering and design processes throughout its nine-state territory. The
company's fast-track Outside Plant Engineering and Design System (OPEDS) will integrate BellSouth's information repositories and automated facilities management systems into a single corporate-wide database. This database will identify all current