Tuning in to Technology for the Next Millenium
By Maura L. O`Neill, ConnexT
Click … click … click. The year is 2000 and a third of the states have ordered some form of direct access. Another third are developing timetables and making final decisions about when to start, but are committed to getting there soon. And the final third, often states with low-average rates, are watching it all evolve and in some cases putting in measures to protect their local utilities from the impending competition. The race is on and things are just starting to get wild. So what role will utility automation play and where will it be in the year 2000? Let`s look at other industries for a clue.
Two of the largest and most successful U.S. airlines after deregulation are American and United. Why not Eastern or TWA or some other airline that was very prominent at the time? While there are a lot of reasons why companies fail, there are fewer key attributes needed to succeed. History has shown us that innovations in information technology and automation have played a huge role in American`s and United`s success. Some forward-thinking person at these airlines realized that once fare wars began, there would be so many options for airline flyers to choose from that the winner would be one that made its offerings easy and convenient for the people making the reservations. So they developed state-of-art reservation systems that they licensed to thousands of travel agents. And to gain this competitive advantage they even charged the travel agents to use the system. Does it surprise anyone that today American and United are still leaders and Eastern and TWA are either gone or a faint reflection of their former selves.
The same can be seen in the deregulation of banking. The first and best users of ATM machines are the strongest banks in America today. That was true for Citibank in New York, Bank of America in California and Seafirst in Washington state. Now one of the competitors most feared in the banking industry is Wells Fargo. And how come? Because it is currently the leader in deploying more automation and customer technology than any other bank. This emphasis on automation is already being widely touted as the reason it is most feared.
So what lessons does this portent for the utility industry in the year 2000? I believe the leaders in the utility industry in the year 2000 and beyond will be the ones that are early and large adopters of information and automation technology. Network meter reading will be key much like the airline reservation system was. It will allow the utility to give the customers many more pricing options and stay ahead of the competitors. I estimate that by the year 2000, 40 million to 50 million of the 150 million meters in America will be automated. Customer-automated interfaces through the personal computer, telephone, television or stand-alone devices will finally start coming onto the market with attractive features at much more affordable prices. Mass deployment of this technology will just be beginning to happen in 2000. But again the leaders will be the ones that are experimenting and deploying a couple of different technologies in 1997. So they can make the best choices for a major roll out and drive the development in the direction they need.
And lastly, technology will be used to provide more access for customers to their bills. The utilities that put these interfaces in will also rise to the top. Unfortunately, many of the new CIS systems being put in place today will not meet the needs of the new marketplace. If you have one of them, I`d look long and hard at what you are going to need post 2000 to not just thrive but to survive. What customers have always wanted, whether it is in laundry detergent or clothes or soon power, are choices. The only way this can happen is through the rapid and innovative deployment of technology. As Andy Grove, Intel`s CEO, says in his new book, Only the Paranoid Survive, “… we are at a strategic inflection point in our industry and only bold moves will work.” I believe technology will be at the centerpiece of any successful move. Stay tune and we will compare notes in 2000.
Maura O`Neill is the President and CEO of ConnexT. O`Neill has served as the co-chair of the governor`s Transition Team on Energy, Telecommunications and Technology, and the National Panel on Energy and Employment. In 1987, she was chosen to participate in the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Energy Efficiency and the Utility Industry. O`Neill received a bachelor`s of arts degree in environmental studies at the University of Washington.