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Order Now Inc? A Smokestack Industry Faces the E-Future

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 2000

taking care of my home, my needs and my wants for the last 60 years," he says.

As for their interactions with regulators, natural gas utilities are looking for ways to cut costs through investments in businesses that interface electronically with government regulators.

For example, Exelon Infrastructure Services, a subsidiary of PECO Energy, has invested in, developed by SoftComp. The portal provides the aggregated permits and licenses businesses, contractors, developers, and private citizens need to apply for approval for government-regulated activities and to request publicly available information.

John W. Webster III, chief executive officer at SoftComp, explains that as utilities undertake complex infrastructure construction projects such as laying pipeline or fiber-optic cable, wiring a sub-division, or building a power substation, they need various permits to secure rights of way, zoning, land use, construction, and other rights. fills the need for rapid turnaround in the permit application process, he says. Most permitting currently occurs at the local government level, says Webster, but some projects need review by state and federal agencies. The site now has no affiliation with any state or federal commission, but it was designed to facilitate interface with those bodies, according to Webster.

But even while gas executives seem long on enthusiasm for e-commerce, which is advancing as never before, few examples exist for adapting e-commerce strategies beyond well-known options for wholesale trading, customer relationship management, and retail EBP&P, such as GISBAgent, newly certified by the Gas Industry Standards Board.

Michael Rutkowski, senior manager of Arthur Andersen's energy industry business consulting practice, says most energy clients want his company to help them do what others do now, while at the same time devising an e-commerce strategy that will distinguish them from the competition.

But he warns that a heavy Web presence or flashy Internet site may not be necessary for all companies in supporting their overall strategies. For example, no-frills e-commerce sites for procurement or to share reliability standards on equipment monitoring can be an advantage because fewer graphics and less information to download means increased speed of use, says Rutkowski.

E-commerce isn't the only thing on the minds of gas executives.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's rulings on short-term capacity auctions and the price competitiveness of liquefied natural gas imports are other hot issues gas executives are pondering. In this gas industry forum, top executives at local distribution companies, pipelines, and marketers, as well as consultants, share their insights on the issues.

The Utility Perspective - Interview With
Thomas J. Aruffo

What is the state of the natural gas industry as it relates to e-commerce?

When I look at information technology and look at spending on e-anything, whether it is infrastructure or ventures, our industry appears to be taking a lag strategy. We are not spending at the same levels as other information-intensive, e-centric businesses. We are a bit slower to get to this click-and-mortar world....

I can't give you the exact numbers, but for those leading-edge financial services heavily leveraged through the use of Internet or the e-domain, they are spending upwards of 20