Brush up your Web sphere

Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

The CES International, Convergent Group teleconference of July 20th worked to get one major point across to utilities: make friends with the Web.

The Web-and e-business in general-seems to be the major horizon in the electricity industry’s future, and not just for customer service. While interactions with customers will remain the backbone of e-usage for utilities within the next few years, business strategies and alliances via the information superhighway really aren’t far off.

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According to a 1999 Chartwell survey referenced by Jennifer Krabbenhoeft, vice president of strategic marketing for Convergent Group and presenter at the teleconference, 55 percent of utilities are, at the very least, getting their feet wet in the e-business pool-up from 13 percent just two years ago. While 30 percent of those have only informative Web sites, 23 percent are beginning to stroke out into the deep end by performing some electronic transactions (although these transactions are often reserved for large customers).

Krabbenhoeft pointed out that the shift from the old school “rule of monopoly: monopoly rules” system to a utility enterprise centered on “islands” of processes and technologies is the evolution of what she terms the “digital utility.” This type of environment will be filled to the brim with “partner participation” and interactions between clients, the utility enterprise and vendors.

But, this Darwinian process is contingent on eliminating the utility “middleman,” offering new service options and cross-selling to customers, and the establishment of business/e-business partners and ventures. In short, it’s dependent on a process restructuring.

A model office with a common enterprise portal (a communication “hub”) is at the core of this new digital utility. Like the UN, it’s where the divergent meet and greet (minus coffee).[See figure]

“The digital utility is a configurable business solutions framework, supported by a flexible architecture, that provides for the convergence of business processes, intellectual capital and technologies to maximize competitiveness in energy service and energy delivery business,” stated Krabbenhoeft.

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