Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1999

Information Architecture: Building the Right Foundation for Customer Choice in Energy

The crazy quilt emerging in restructured markets only impedes competition.

The enthusiasm among energy retailers has become infectious. It grows as each successive state opens its market to competition. Yet behind the promise lies a grim reality.

Retailers struggle against a tide of thin margins, high customer-acquisition costs, inconsistent rules and regulatory prescriptions for the unregulated market. With all the rulemakings and workshops, the dollars budgeted by utilities to implement retail choice rise above even the level of spending to eradicate the Y2K millennium bug.

The Internet: Tomorrow's Solution Today

Let customers choose their own billing format.

The information-management and transaction-cost problems facing deregulated markets are familiar to me. They describe precisely the same barriers I was trying to overcome when I founded Utility.com Inc., an entirely Internet-based energy service provider.

The Internet offers an especially powerful tool for customer service. With deregulation, customers face an enormous learning curve. Not only can they now choose their electric company, but they also must become familiar with new terminology and concepts.

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