Sunday, March 11, 2001

New Economy


Cinergy gets new mind-set

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        Jim Rogers is head of a utility company — gas and electric. Coal-burners like his Cinergy Corp., the Cincinnati-based energy company, are viewed as the knuckle-draggers of the New Economy.

        But Cinergy's CEO is beginning to believe there's another utility he could be providing — computing.

        “We provide universal service” for energy, he said. “We ought to come up with a strategy to provide universal computing service.”

        He thinks it would make Cincinnati stronger economically, lifting Cinergy with it. “About 50 percent of people on average in a community have access to a computer and use the Internet,” he said. “What if we were able to say it was 90 percent? Think how powerful it would be for people in the inner city.”

        Cinergy is getting started with its own employees. Beginning this spring, the company will make computers and Internet service available at low cost to its 8,500 employees. The idea is to get every employee online and thinking of ways Cinergy can do business that way.

        “We want to have the most wired, connected employee base,” he said. “It's a mind-set change.”
       

Brainstorming

        Mr. Rogers isn't a geek. “I'm an Old World guy that grew up as a lawyer,” he said. But last year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he found himself at dinner with Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, who could sell ice to an Inuit.

        At the annual Davos conference, Mr. Rogers said, those at each dinner table brainstorm over a topic. At his table, led by Mr. Chambers, they kicked around how the Internet could help even a coal burner such as Cinergy.

        Mr. Rogers came back energized. He called a two-day technology conference within Cinergy to talk about ways to wire the company.
       

Deep discounts

        Power plants are now tied to the Internet, so plant managers can see what the market price is for energy. If the price is right, the plant runs longer, producing profit for Cinergy.

        Now Mr. Rogers is looking for ways for Cinergy to improve its relationships with customers, and the Internet might be a key. He figures Cinergy can buy computers at a deep discount. “I will give these deep discounts to our customer if they agree to do business with me on the Net,” he said.

        Selling computers at a discount, “every customer I have has a computer in his home the same way he has electric service, so he's doing business with me over the Net, plus other business. He'll pay his own bill, he might ever read his own meter.”

        Pie in the sky? Maybe. Lots of “free computer” plans have gone down in flames. But now the lawyers and coal burners are on the case. Stranger things have happened.

        E-mail John Byczkowski at johnb@enquirer.com or call 768-8377. Find a list of local New Economy companies at http://enquirer.com/neweconomy/.

       



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