Dynamic Web Sites Offer Opportunity for Competitive Advantage
By Robert Kirchman, Sybase, Inc.
Surfing across the Internet, stopping in at Web sites, we see a condition common to all industries–not just utilities. The picture we get is one of predominantly static pages of text, tables, images and graphics, with maybe a little audio or animation thrown in to make a site a bit more interesting.
That paradigm has made the Web fun for surfers, and has fulfilled a simple business objective of making basic published information available to customers. But it is becoming clear that people are ready for the Internet stakes to be raised considerably. Surfers (or more accurately, customers and potential customers) want from the Web only the information they need and the service they expect. Business people want the business benefits, such as lower cost, improved customer satisfaction and new customers, that their Web site investment should be generating. These requirements and objectives can be fulfilled today through Web sites that are interactive and well managed. The potential exists for utilities and other businesses to use the Internet to drive interactive commerce and business applications such as the following:
Customer communication: energy usage; energy management and monitoring on a facility or end-use basis; and economic development information and promotion.
Interactive customer applications, such as invoice and bill generation, scheduled service and meter reading.
Marketing and order entry for value added energy services and energy appliances and technologies.
If you`ve spent any time on the Web, you`ve probably noticed that there is at least one major difference among the sites you`ve visited. One type of home page consists mainly of little more than on-line brochures. The common thread among such “publishing based” sites is that their content is static and non-interactive. The other, much rarer type of site features user input and application dependent content. These “dynamic content” sites give the browser the opportunity to ask for what he or she wants and may also serve an application function, such as facilitating ordering of product or the scheduling of service. In short, they tend to extend a business interaction with the customer or stakeholder.
Research conducted at the end of last year revealed a key differentiator between organizations that had these two classes of Web sites. Those companies whose Web sites focused on dynamic content tended to treat their home pages as a strategic asset. They are also typically more successful at aligning their Web site development with marketing and other key strategic activities.
As a strategic asset, Web sites can be used to reduce costs and generate revenues. Generating revenue is best accomplished on the Internet through electronic commerce. Examples of the electronic commerce applications and functionality that can be developed and deployed for Web sites are testing new services and products, assessing energy savings potential from equipment replacement, displaying services and products based on customer requirements, and placing and monitoring customer orders.
In addition, reducing cost, while at the same time potentially improving service, can be accomplished by customer self-service. Examples of customer self-service applications and functionality that can be developed and deployed for Web sites include basic energy audits, turn-on and turn-off requests, account reviews, bill generation and investigation, and shipment receipt verification.
Those utilities that develop and exploit such interactive applications early will be creating unique competitive advantage over those companies that are slower to respond.
What kind of competitive advantage are we talking about? A major shipping company examined their customer service processes and identified key components that could be performed over the Web. As a result, the process, which previously cost about $7.00 per transaction to perform, was reduced to $0.07 through customer self-service and other technology improvements. What would your company do with savings of $6.93 per transaction?
To get the most from their Web site investments, companies of all types will move more and more in the direction of dynamic content, interactive Internet applications. Utilities pursuing such an approach and investment can look forward to lower operating costs, new customers and more retained customers–just the results one should expect from a well-managed and technologically mature Web site.
Robert Kirchman is Global Business Manager, Energy Industries. He is responsible for the development and execution of Sybase`s worldwide marketing initiative for the energy market. Kirchman earned a bachelor`s of arts degree in economics from Occidental College in Los Angeles, and a master`s degree in business administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.