Gathering Competitive Intelligence

Article excerpt

As the electric utility industry continues to re-regulate, and become increasingly competitive and market-driven, it is impairative that consumer-owned electric systems gather, interpret and effectively use competitive intelligence.

Competitive intelligence may be defined as information and knowledge to be obtained and used to formulate strategies for effectively dealing with three entities: competitors, customers and regulators.

For competitive intelligence to be used effectively, it must feed into a system's strategic planning. Competitor intelligence is needed to acquire foreknowledge of existing competitors and to predict future competitors. In a recent Public Utilities Fortnightly article, electric utility managers "project, on average, a 50 percent increase in the actual number of competitors in their service territories by 2000." (PUF, 3/1/95, pg 22).

Customer intelligence is necessary to be able to negotiate rates and meaningful value-added services, particularly with commercial and industrial customers who are having to compete in their own global markets, and who are impacting the restructuring of the electric utility industry. One must always remember, policy follows the market.

Regulator intelligence, both on a state and federal level, is critical because the role of the regulator is changing and perhaps expanding, not being reduced. This is why we used the term re-regulating in the opening paragraph to describe the industry transition. As Congress and state legislatures enact new public policy in response to market demands, it will be the FERC and the state commissions who will be responsible for implementing the new policy.

The responsibility for competitive intelligence rests with the general manager of the system, and the general manager must recognize that all employees must be given some responsibility for gathering and/or interpreting competitive intelligence data.

This article will provide the reader with:

1. An analysis of how to accumulate and organize competitive intelligence, and why it is important to gather this information.

2. Sources for gathering competitive intelligence.

3. Types of competitive intelligence information.

4. A case example of cooperative strategies implemented as a result of gathering and analyzing competitive intelligence.

COMPETITOR INTELLIGENCE

There has always been some form of competition in the electric utility industry. It is greater today than it has ever been, and it will be greater tomorrow. Who are today's competitors? We cannot just focus on traditional rivals like the investor-owned utility or the municipal utility. Electric competition is currently coming from investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities and consumer-owned utilities; energy competition is coming from propane, natural gas and other non-electric energy suppliers. Competition is also coming from non-utility entities, including co-generators, independent power producers (IPP's) and power brokers or marketers.

As an industry, we have accumulated a certain degree of knowledge about our traditional electric and non-electric utility competitors. However, most systems do not have a formal method for continually gathering competitive intelligence. In his book Thriving On Chaos, Tom Peters asserts that companies lack an effective intelligence infrastructure. Much of the intelligence gathered by employees goes nowhere because of conventional barriers to communication or, worse yet, because of an attitude of nonurgency, which means no alarm bell is tripped in the employee's head (page 283). We pick up bits and pieces of information via our daily contact with our competitors but we do not have a formal list of information to gather, methods to channel it, or ways to interpret and use it.

Systems have a different problem with non-traditional competitors such as the IPP and the power broker. We have very little knowledge about them because they are new entrants into the electric utility industry. …