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Setting EDI Standards: Business Beats Technology

Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 1999

information systems until Jan. 1, 2000, at the earliest. New York has yet to formally adopt competitive metering. And even in Pennsylvania, the PUC appeared to retreat after legislative committees rebuffed initial rules to open metering to competition. The new rules, issued last October, no longer mandate unbundling, but instead make it permissive. By postponing the metering question, the East Coast grabbed the momentum on EDI.

"We now have a multi-state EDI working group, for the entire eastern region," notes Peter Byrne, EDI consultant for GPU Energy, and chairman of the UIG. "The more states that adopt our standards, the more difficult it becomes to change them.

"Back when Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island got into this, we [UIG] had not yet perfected all the standards. But now the California working groups are moving toward the UIG conventions, as is Massachusetts. Pennsylvania has mandated the UIG conventions. New York is leaning that way, and perhaps Maryland.

"And there's a group that's been meeting in New Jersey," adds Byrne, "preparing for when things get moving. They've approved the UIG guidelines. If and when New Jersey passes its restructuring, we'll be ready."

Too Collusive?

Buried in the UIG guidelines for EDI implementation lies this frank warning: "Avoid loose, careless or flippant remarks, especially in correspondence, that can pose an antitrust problem for UIG if examined out of context at a later date." The guidelines then go further, acknowledging that business standards "may necessarily result in a disadvantage to competitors of UIG members."

When asked whether UIG members imagine themselves representing their employers, the electric industry, or the group itself, UIG vice chair Johnny Robertson, from Texas Utilities, put it this way: "We're working under the ASC X12 umbrella. We have to get [prior] approval from the ANSI on whatever we do. We are a working committee under ASC X12."

Robertson continued, "As a member of a working group, in some committees, I'd be representing the UIG. But it's difficult to say who you'd be representing. So far, everything that the UIG has presented has been acceptable. A meter read and an activation date is the same, no matter what state you're in. It's a common format."

"The PUCs support EDI," adds Bill Hunsicker, senior technical consultant for SCT, which provides client-server and supply-chain software systems for energy service companies, such as PG&E Energy Services and Edison Source. Hunsicker, a member of New York's EDI working group, adds, "A supplier who works within one state then can go into another state without doing extra work."

Hunsicker notes that if a working group member was torn between the group recommendation or what's best for his employer, the case might well involve a transfer of data not easily retrievable using the employer's current software.

In the Pennsylvania EDI proceeding, the PUC appeared to confirm Hunsicker's thinking. It noted that with progress in EDI implementation, "There have been some computer system difficulties. ¼ It must be remembered that the [utilities] will have to continue to work with legacy systems. ¼ [We have] experienced unanticipated problems with respect