Utility executives know implicitly that consumers judge their company by the amount and meaningfulness of the Utilities' community outreach and conservation programs. What’s been difficult to measure is just how much value is created by such efforts and thus how much companies should invest in them given all the competing interests for scarce investment funds.

Earlier in the year a J.D. Powers and Associates study found that “approximately 37 percent of business customers report being aware of their utility’s energy conservation and efficiency programs [and that] customer awareness of a utility’s community outreach or conservation activities raised overall satisfaction by as much as 108 index points in the 2008 study.”

Energy conservation, efficiency programs and other community outreach programs do pay off.

Around the corner, utilities will need to go beyond conservation and efficiency and begin informing their publics about what they’re doing in their day-to-day operations to manage carbon emissions. That is increasingly the topic of the day. Further, since companies are going to be making significant investments in their carbon emission management technologies they should make the most of them.

American Electric Power is an example of a utility taking a leadership role in sustainability and the use of information technology to manage carbon emissions. The company implemented a compliance system that provides consistency of reporting, automates the reporting process, documents the compliance process, is accessible to all personnel needing access to information, and keeps the multiple and detailed reporting requirements for compliance across all the jurisdictions where AEP operates up to date. Companies can’t manage what they can’t measure and having the right systems in place is achieving that goal for AEP.

According to one executive, "It is important that all employees of AEP see the overall picture, and that the picture is consistent and allows them to make progress against the goals that the company is committed to." AEP will probably reap additional benefit from their effort, in the form of increased employee retention, as today’s workers are very concerned about their employers’ sense of corporate social responsibility. (BTW, there’s your next study topic, JD Powers!)

The AEP story is an interesting one as it combines SaaS with internal software to form what we call Software-plus-Services which is the Microsoft approach for the next generation of computing. It is a confluence of multiple industry phenomena including SaaS, SOA, and Web 2.0. We think this approach reflects real world business processes as it is more compelling than just software OR service only approaches. It  brings together the best of cloud-based services and the software that resides on a world of devices…We think this makes the most sense for your business.

We sponsored an IDC Energy Insights white paper on the  AEP S+S story.  Take a look at. - Larry Cochrane.