E-Commerce Essentials

Mommy of the ’90s

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Melinda Sherwood were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 28,

1999. All rights reserved.

Energy Deregulation: 15 Percent Off — Then What?

When was the last time you got something for nothing?

With energy deregulation, you will get just that on August 1, when

the state imposes a 5 percent drop in electric bills as part of the

Electric Discount & Energy Competition Act. And the deal gets better

yet: Over the next three years another 5 percent will be mandated,

and a 5 percent tax will be phased out. That’s a total reduction of

15 percent for doing nothing at all.

Meanwhile, as competition in the energy industry heats up, consumers

may even be able to find better deals yet. Let’s hope so because in

August of 2003 the other shoe falls: At that time the mandatory reductions

will be lifted and utilities will be free to set whatever rates the

market will bear.

To really take advantage of this broken-up monopoly, businesses should

combine forces and use aggregators, or middlemen, to force energy

companies to offer even better rates, says Ray Disch, an energy

consultant and founder of Power Works LLC at 156 West State Street

in Trenton (609-695-8100). "Maybe you go with your church, maybe

you can go with your town, maybe you do it with everyone in your building,"

says Disch. His company currently helps the New Jersey Food Council,

comprised of many of the state’s grocery stores and food chains, to

shop around for energy suppliers.

It is in the interest of power companies to deal with blocks of consumers,

even if it means offering much lower rates, Disch says. "It reduces

the acquisition cost of individual customers, which is very attractive

to energy companies," he says. "It also increases your buying

power.

To find out more about New Jersey Energy Choice, you can attend the

PSEG Energy Technologies free seminar on energy deregulation on Thursday,

July 29, at the Princeton Marriott at 8 a.m. Call 800-336-7734. You

can also call the Board of Public Utilities consumer hotline (877-655-5678)

or visit the new consumer education website at http://www.njenergychoice.com.

This is what you need to know about New Jersey Energy Choice. Your

current electric and gas provider remains in charge of energy distribution

— the pipes and wires, etc. — but later this fall you get

a choice of which company generates the actual electrons. The four

power utilities in the state will offer its customers a "price

to compare" or "shopping credit," a per kWh rate that becomes

the benchmark competitive rate for all the other companies. You don’t

have to worry about "slamming," because the law requires a "wet

signature" from consumers who wish to change energy providers.

It’s too early to start shopping around for a new energy provider,

however. "Nobody’s pricing yet" says Disch. "I think everyone

is waiting to see what the big companies do." Disch expects to

see some jockeying between subsidiaries. "PSEG Energy Technologies

(a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group, parent company of

PSE&G, the largest and oldest publicly-held energy utility) could

conceivably bid and underbid their parent company," he says. "Are

you going to see much of that? Only time will tell. What’s more likely

is GPU’s subsidiary would offer a price below PSEG."

Disch, the founder and former owner of the Triumph Brewing Company

on Nassau Street, earned a BS in industrial relations from Cornell

University, Class of 1984. He worked as a staff assistant to the assistant

secretary for labor management relations at the U.S. Department of

Labor, and later taught as an adjunct at Rutgers while working in

a labor relations consulting firm in Princeton. In 1993, he left Merck,

where he was an employee trainer, to start Triumph, but not before

some considerable political maneuvering to allow microbreweries in

the state.

Disch tapped into the same political power sources — Dale Florio,

chairman of the Somerset County Republican Committee, and Bradley

Brewster, former executive director of the General Assembly —

to form Power Works. Disch’s third partner is Thomas Byrne Jr., son

of the former governor.

As an aggregator, or energy agent, Power Works will compete with subsidiaries

of large utility companies beginning August 1 to reach the newly created

market of energy "customers." "There’s a big difference

between a rate payer and a customer," says Disch. "A customer

asks questions, a customer has choice." His firm, he maintains,

will pool together customers, handle their questions, and shop around

for the best deals.

Meanwhile, to avoid getting bogged down in all the complexities surrounding

deregulation, Disch suggests that consumers do the following:

Keep your eye on the different suppliers. At the time

of interview, Disch knew of 18 companies applying for licenses, and

four were companies he’d never heard of before. "This is going

to be a very volatile market," he says.

Negotiate rates in groups such as trade associations.

"Associations are a really natural way of taking advantage of

deregulation," says Disch, because they can lobby on the behalf

of several businesses. "It’s attractive to the suppliers, because

even though they have to pay a fee to the energy agent, it’s still

less than it would take to market to all of those consumers."

Hire an energy agent or aggregator (such as Disch himself)

who is familiar with the energy providers and can negotiate better

rate on the behalf of your business.

Energy Choice, says Disch, is going to mean a lot of new opportunities

for the entrepreneur and consumers. "Deregulation spurs a lot

of creativity and innovation and brings a lot of technology to bear

because now there’s new markets being created," he says. "So

it’s going to be a great boom to lots of start-up companies to create

new technologies and solve problems in new ways because it’s no longer

a monopoly. The holy grail is how to get that residential customer."

It’s also going to get very confusing quickly. "In another year,

you’re going to have an option to who reads your meter, and who provides

your billing service," says Disch. "The credit cards will

be selling you power, Triple A will be selling you power, maybe your

church will be selling you power." The telemarketers aren’t on

the loose yet, but keep your Caller ID turned on.

Top Of Page
E-Commerce Essentials

Uncle Sam wants you . . . online. The federal government

is now offering free E-Commerce training for businesses. The program

is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The idea is that at some

point or another, businesses may end up somewhere in the defense department’s

supply chain, says Mark Butler, manager of education and training

at the University of Scranton Electronic Commerce Resource Center

(http://www.ecrc.uofs.edu).

"The government doesn’t know what it needs," he says. "They

buy just about everything, from guns tanks and airplanes, to paper

flowers for the cafeteria." The more businesses use E-Commerce,

the more effective E-Mall, a government-sponsored electronic catalog,

becomes.

The Scranton-based ECRC, which oversees the greater portion of the

region between New York and Maine, is sending a trainer to teach Advanced

Home Page Development on Wednesday, August 11, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

at the Trenton Business and Technology Center at 36 South Broad Street.

The three-hour class covers links, frames, and image maps, and you

don’t need more than a basic knowledge of Windows plus keyboarding

and mousing skills to join in. The session is free with registration.

Call 800-575-3272 to reserve a computer.

Butler holds a BS in physics from Penn State, Class of 1982, and worked

in Philadelphia five years before returning to hometown Scranton,

where the state university now holds a $1.7 million contract with

the Department of Defense. "As the largest purchaser in the world,"

says Butler, "they want to do paperless business because it’s

better, faster, and cheaper. In order for them to become better at

it, they need to convince businesses to be electronic."

The ECRC’s four trainers provide over-the-phone technical advice and

teach courses throughout the area on the essentials of E-Commerce.

Even today Butler sees some elementary mistakes on professional home

pages:

Missing address/telephone information. "One of the

most common mistakes that people make is that they lose sight of what

they want to accomplish, and put up home pages without any way for

people to contact them," Butler says. "It’s painful, especially

when you look and say this is a great product."

Missing company mission. "When people are surfing,

generally they’re pretty busy, so very early on you need to give a

very succinct explanation of what your company does."

Too many pictures. Skip the slick graphics that make people

wait minutes for a page to download.

Too many frames. "There are folks out there who think

that everyone has those 18 or 21 inch screens," says Butler. "When

you split the page up into frames, we don’t have enough real estate

left to see the message."

Scranton ECRC courses emphasize both the mechanics and design

aspects of building a website, and some basic marketing skills. But,

says Butler, when it’s done, web developers still have to do their

homework.

Top Of Page
Mommy of the ’90s

Mom is a corporate executive in a high-tech company.

Dad is an engineer. Who takes care of baby?

Diana Bendz, a senior location executive with IBM, is concerned

that the demanding pace of technical careers may keep women from entering

the field. "It seems one of their biggest fears and excuses in

not accepting a technical career is fear of not being able to have

a family," she says, "but many times you can overcome those

difficulties." She did.

In typical supermom fashion, Bendz stayed up late to sterilize bottles,

brought the kids on business trips in the family motor home, and packed

Friday’s lunch on Sunday. "The entire thing is a balancing act

and you have to make use of opportunities at work to make it happen,"

she says.

If you are still skeptical, listen to what her 18-year-old daughter,

Kathrina Bendz, has to say when she joins her mother for a "she

says, she says" session at the International Symposium on Technology

and Society, "Women and Technology: Historical, Societal, and

Professional Perspectives," on Friday, July 30, at 10:30 a.m.

at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Sponsored by the Institute

for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the symposium brings in dozens

of scholars and professionals in industry and women’s studies for

three days of lecturing and presentations that begins on Thursday,

July 29. Cost: $375. Call 732-932-1066. http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/users/j/jherkert/program99.htm.

Bendz, who has a BS in polymer chemistry, works out of IBM’s Endicott,

New York, office, and is also director of environmentally conscious

products for corporate operations and environmental affairs. She and

her husband, also an IBM engineer, adopted their first child early

on in their marriage. "Career became more work, work, work, and

a little less enjoyable," she says, "but of course you find

more enjoyment with family so it’s a substitution. The key is we had

no choice, and it forced us to find solutions."

There were plenty of mistakes along the way, to be sure. In one fit

of parental ambition, Bendz made 15 lunches on Sunday night to feed

her three kids for the entire week. "I thought I was doing a great

job," she says, "but finally one came to me and said `do you

have any idea what that Thursday lunch was like?’ It’s humorous in

some cases, but in some cases it was the opposite."

Bendz manages to find a silver lining in the occasional domestic glitch,

though. Example: watching her kids achieve maturity and independence

at an early age. "They have to learn to think for themselves,"

she says. "Not only do they become more responsible younger, I

found out I was able to talk to them at a younger age than most."

Kathrina Bendz is a beneficiary of the independence her mother fostered.

She is entering her freshman year at the University of Buffalo, where

she plans to study biology. "I’ve always been scientifically guided,

but other girls would just give up from the beginning," she says.

"Kids can be independent and make the right decisions," she

adds, "as long as there are a lot of hugs and `I love yous’."

With the invaluable input from her kids, Bendz offers some creative

ways to close the gap between family and career:

Take kids on business trips, a practice that is more widely-accepted

today than ever before.

Don’t think too far ahead. "One mistake that mothers

and fathers make is they look at the whole picture and they see a

huge task in front of you and get discouraged," she says. "We

were kind of impulsive about thing, and solved problems along the

way."

Maximize the quality of time spent with your children.

"Sometimes the guilt makes you do something that makes them feel

more appreciated than normal behavior," she says. Bendz would

send flowers at events she missed, and even developed a partnership

with her daughter designing dresses. "It came out of a desire

to do something extra special in her life to make up for some of the

things that I couldn’t do," says Benz, who’s certain that the

good legacies will outlast the memory of a few soggy lunches.

— Melinda Sherwood


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