Energy industry CIOs tackle real-time demands

Energy companies around the US have begun to use a common set of technologies such as enterprise application integration (EAI) systems and portals to help them respond to real-time information demands imposed by a more competitive, deregulated market

Energy companies around the US have begun to use a common set of technologies such as enterprise application integration (EAI) systems and portals to help them respond to real-time information demands imposed by a more competitive, deregulated market. But to sell business executives on the need to invest in these systems, CIOs have had to take decidedly different approaches.

For instance, Calpine, a San Jose-based energy company, has installed a portal that displays key operational information for business partners and other stakeholders. But as CIO Dennis Fishback explained, "It took a long time to get that adopted. It's a much different way of doing business than what we were accustomed to."

Fishback was one of four energy industry IT executives who discussed top IT management challenges at Meta Group 's 2003 Energy Information Strategies conference here.

For his part, Fishback was able to convince senior managers on the merits of the portal project by demonstrating how it would work and how it can be used to solve business problems. Now, he said, Calpine's IT group hopes to use that rationale to persuade the company to invest in a portal that allows business executives and other stakeholders to view key financial information quickly.

Bob Weaver said he has learned to be cautious about the IT projects he pitches to senior management. For those projects "that aren't absolutely mandated, I wouldn't go in there and use up my credibility chips" with business unit executives, said Weaver, vice president of information services at Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas

The CEO of the natural gas distributor "doesn't mince words — he doesn't see IT as strategic to the company," Weaver said. That's one reason why Weaver views the IT department's role as to "serve and protect; it isn't there to lead the business."

Before Gene Zimon arrived as CIO at Boston-based NStar two years ago, EAI was being positioned to senior executives as a technology effort, "and it didn't fly," he said. But with Zimon's help, NStar's IT group has helped reposition EAI investments as an effective way to integrate business units and various applications with one another.

Meanwhile, Bill McEvoy of Northeast Utilities has had to deal with a completely different challenge: trying to slow down IT investments to keep projects more manageable.

McEvoy is the IT manager responsible for the transmissions unit, the Berlin, Conn.-based company's biggest growth area. Instead of trying to sell IT solutions to business executives, McEvoy said he often finds himself trying to "slow down the amount of investment" that his business peers want to make in IT.

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