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Business Focus Energizes CIO

At Xcel Energy, VP and CIO Gogel and his team use process-driven technology projects to help shape the utility's business models

Gogel's efforts impressed Xcel Energy's top brass. When the utility's CIO, Paul Anders, retired in 2002, Brunetti and Kelly approached Gogel about taking the helm. "We have plenty of great technology people, but Ray brought in a dimension I didn't have," Kelly says. "We put him on the executive management team, and he's part of every decision we make."

Gogel says he was equally impressed with the team of Brunetti and Kelly, which he credits as having great IT and business-process understanding. "That first meeting, they left a mark on me," he says.

Under his leadership, Xcel Energy has created an IT-development program called Utility Innovations with multiple vendors, including IBM, Indus, Itron, Mercury, and SPL WorldGroup. Along with Xcel Energy, the partners have already invested $12 million in the Utility Innovations project, which is designed to improve customer service through the development of new applications that serve specific business needs. In addition to systems development and rapid application development, the Utility Innovations group has to identify the structure and resources required to make any new application happen.

Gogel first pitched the Utility Innovations program to Brunetti and Kelly in January 2004. "Brunetti got very excited about the way business performed with IT," Gogel says. Kelly was impressed by the way the operations people would receive results from Utility Innovations and liked the idea of a new group that could make their jobs easier, serve the customer, and make money, he says. "Utility Innovations has the potential to make Xcel Energy stand out from the rest of the group" of utility companies, he says, "including Duke, Exelon, and Southern."

Xcel Energy: By The Numbers

Founded: 1875

Revenue: $8.2 billion in 2004

Employees: 10,650

States served: 10 in the West and Midwest

Customers: 3.3 million electricity; 1.8 million gas

Generating capability: 15,295 megawatts of electric power

Major facilities: 2 nuclear plants, 3 refuse-derived plants, 7 oil plants, 15 coal plants, 17 natural-gas plants, 27 hydroelectric-generating stations

With expertise and funding provided by the different Utility Innovations members, Gogel says he's more confident that major IT investments will end in success. "Before I went in with the members, I felt like I was out on the edge of the limb," he says, "and I can hear the sawing."

Early on, Gogel and the group determined that Utility Innovations wouldn't focus on a bunch of little projects. "We compiled a binder of 40 or 50 [big] projects," he says. Xcel Energy is testing technology developed by the Utility Innovations program at its Arvada Service Center in Colorado. It has opened a visitors' center in Denver so interested parties--including other utilities--can learn more about the program.

After many months of work, the first results just started rolling out, including a Work Manager scheduling application that helps Xcel Energy assign field engineers to repair downed lines or put in equipment, including the recent installation of 40 new meter readers that automatically send outage and performance data back to Xcel Energy's headquarters. The meters help the utility inform customers of service problems more quickly and accurately.

The Work Manager is one piece of a larger management system Utility Innovations is developing that will give Xcel Energy a central view of outage, asset, and workforce management. The system will include a dashboard user interface that will give executives a bird's-eye view of critical business and performance information.

The system also will include technology that will help field operators work with builders on construction projects, allowing them to draw up plans on PDAs and speeding the approval process.

Utility Innovations also has developed an application to help locate the best places to install solar panels for energy. The app analyzes customer data, wind, sun, and penetration statistics, and geospatial information systems data. The federal government is interested in the application, Gogel says.

For Gogel, Utility Innovations is the quintessential innovation program, one that marries IT and business processes to transform companies. He says he took on the CIO job not because he wanted to run an IT department, but because he wanted to help shape new business models for Xcel Energy. "This is the longest I've been in the same position," Gogel says. "I wouldn't have hung around any other way."

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