Xcel Energy, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., is working on new and innovative ways to deliver service to electricity customers through a unique partnership with technology firms. The goal is a future of fewer power outages of shorter duration and quicker repairs when problems do develop.

The initiative, called Utility Innovations, has brought five technology companies together to leverage the creativity, knowledge and skills of each firm to develop innovations that improve customer service and better manage the assets of local electric grids.

Joining Xcel Energy in the Utility Innovations partnership:

-- IBM, the provider of deep industry expertise, broad-based technology and software solutions, as well as project management and systems integration.

-- Indus, the provider of Indus Asset Suite, the company's work management and supply-chain system, and also Indus Service Suite, which provides resource optimization, scheduling and mobility solutions.

-- Itron, the provider of meters and meter reading automation in Xcel Energy South, as well as the provider of software applications in meter data management, billing and asset management areas.

-- SPL WorldGroup, the provider of Outage Management (OMS) and Distribution Management (DMS) systems that leverage existing technology for improved outage response and restoration time, operational efficiency and safety precautions for utility workers and the public.

-- Mercury, the provider of IT Governance Center software, which monitors IT demand and optimizes related spending to improve business performance and drive competitive advantage.

"Utility Innovations is leveraging this unique technology partnership to transform our business processes into an industry leadership position, increasing customer satisfaction while providing reliable power at a low cost," said Xcel Energy Chief Information Officer Ray Gogel. "Our company is providing the canvas where our technology partners can work with us to create a picture for the future, which will set the standard for this industry."

Rather than just discussing theoretical possibilities, the Utility Innovations team spent three months in 2004 testing innovative processes in an actual Xcel Energy service area in Arvada, Colorado.

"We studied real-world improvements, operating in real time, to serve real customers," Gogel said.

The so-called "microcosm" focused on using technology to:

-- Automatically monitor the condition of grid components.

-- Improve outage detection and verification.

-- Improve mobile communication with field crews.

-- Improve deployment of crews to smooth workflow and expedite service restoration.

-- Improve communications with customers.

-- Reduce the possibility of energy theft, minimizing a cost borne by customers.

"In the microcosm we were able to verify that tangible and intangible benefits could be achieved with our approach," said Utility Innovations Executive Director Corey Hessen, P.E. "We amassed a large amount of data that we are still evaluating. We expect to apply some of what we've learned to our day-to-day operations in the near term."

"Many information technology investments made by U.S. utility companies in the past have failed to provide the expected business benefits because they did not enable business process improvement," said Rick Nicholson, vice president of research for Energy Insights, an IDC company. "Xcel Energy's Utility Innovation initiative is a best practice in the industry for aligning information technology investments with targeted business improvement objectives. We expect to see other utility companies emulate Xcel Energy's approach as they face increasing pressure to improve grid reliability, reduce costs, cope with an aging workforce, and comply with increasingly complex regulations."

To better explain the initiative and the role of the partners, the UI team developed an Internet page. The page can be accessed by going to www.xcelenergy.com and clicking on the Utility Innovations link, located in Newsroom.

In addition, the Utility Innovations Visitors Center offers an opportunity to view illustrations of the different dimensions being explored by Utility Innovations. The visitors center is located in Denver, Colorado.

"Utility Innovations is about the art of the possible," said Xcel Energy Chairman and CEO Wayne Brunetti. "We want to thank each of our technology partners for accepting the challenge of advancing our business into a new vision for the 21st century."