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

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 2000

to 30 percent in investments, when expressed as a percentage of total revenues, on information technology infrastructure and application.

When you look at what average natural gas or electric-combination utilities spend, it is somewhere in the neighborhood between 2.5 and 3.5 percent. So there is a huge gap there.

We do have the Enrons out there, we do have the Utility.coms,, but we don't appear to have the right product mix and strategies that have really fundamentally shifted or changed the way we do business.

What e-commerce strategies will you implement at NiSource?

We are moving forward in a couple different sectors. We were one of the first to move trading in gas nomination processes out to the Web through our Energy Access System online product.

We have a focus at NiSource on full life-cycle customer relationship management. We are a development partner with Seibel Systems to take advantage of all of the sales channels that we have and all of the customer contacts that we have, and link those together.

For example, it allows us to surround many of our other stand-alone applications and provide Web-based interfaces to self-service information as well as proactive management of our customer acquisition, sales, marketing, cross-sale, up-sale, and service strategy. We will be rolling that out this year. Again, [we have set] aggressive timeframes around that and getting things out there in 30 to 60 to 90 days as opposed to multi-year engagements for major systems.

Is the natural gas industry's interest in e-commerce strategies greater than it has ever been?

Absolutely; I think we are in a transition period. I don't know whether it will be weeks, months or years, but all of our customers, whether they be on the business-to-business side or whether on the retail side, all of them experience participation in the e-economy now. So the expectations that they have for customer service, for supply-chain and vendor management is all being set in that e-environment.

Since we also participate in that, their expectations are that we would be able to do the same things and they would enjoy the same types of customer care as they enjoy in financial services or in some aggressive supply chain strategy.

[For example], as we have moved from a small regional to a super-regional operation, from Texas to Maine, we have to take full advantage of our skill. Part of that is to go out and implement an aggressive vendor management supply chain initiative, heavily dependent on the Internet and Intranet for connectivity linking us to some e-malls and buying opportunities. We are using Oracle as the backbone for that.

How much of this e-commerce strategy is designed for the regulated side vs. the unregulated side?

We have approached it as a whole at the holding company or enterprise level.

What e-commerce solutions could maximize the potential of fuel cells and microturbines?

We are 60 days away from moving out some energy portals where we become the aggregator of solutions and services and market access for fuel cells and distributed generation. We have gone