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

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 2000

as far as reserving our domain names and locking those down to be one of the premier sites of managing the market space and information around fuel cell solution services, as well as distributed generation.

NiSource has its own play in the research and development of hardware that allows fuel cells to move forward. Furthermore, we have even talked about moving fuel cell services over to online-auction capabilities.

How will LDCs fare in an e-commerce environment?

It depends [on whether they] maintain that link to the customer. NiSource is going to be a distribution company as well, and will try to preserve our links with our customers.

Self-service, bill presentment and payment, and energy management solutions, have been launched this year and will be in production in the next two months of what we have termed "an industrial gateway." Although our large commercial and industrial customers have choice today, we are able to come in and provide them with near real-time metering, demand management, and profiling, so that they can have more control across an entire enterprise, as opposed to just a local plant or a single building in operation.

It is one of those things that we can value-add to our customer in the hopes that we will retain that customer even when they are faced with choice.

The Outside View - Interview With Michael Rutkowski and Chuck Beaver

Is e-commerce a large-account solution?

It can be, depending on the strategy. Some of the things I can see utilities doing are for their very large, multi-site key accounts - steel mills or large industrial customers that may have several hundred meters. [An example of this strategy is] basically building them a customized customer interface where they can manage their entire customer billing information in one spot in addition to having a direct account rep.

I do see it as a way to enhance the customer relationship. Right now in the area of electronic bill presentment and payment, it's really not a cost-savings measure until X percent of utilities' customers adopt it and they can actually get rid of their paper process. [E-commerce] in the near term will be a customer-satisfaction tool.

What is your definition of e-commerce?

We usually call it e-business. The way we define it is improving the exchange of goods, information, or services through the use of network-enabled technologies to remove barriers of time, geography, and physical product form.

What are the biggest risks in adopting an e-commerce strategy?

  1. When companies don't have a coordinated firm-wide approach and look at [e-commerce] as a series of point solutions, they are not going to get the promised returns because they may be focusing on the wrong places.
  2. There is this e-commerce, e-business hype out there and they may risk over-applying it if they don't have a process where they can evaluate the application across the corporation.
  3. [Energy companies] cannot view e-business as a panacea for a customer-satisfaction problem. It may be one component of the solution.
  4. The risk is your competitors will not only make their businesses better, faster, and