To follow up on our blog entry about CLP Group’s successful Unified Communications pilot, utility company CIOs considering the implications of Unified Communications should take a look at the September 15 edition of CIO, which contains the article “Your Plan for Unified Communications.”

Many utility observers believe that Unified Communications (a healing of the split between what you do on the computer and the phone) are one solution to several problems facing the industry today, including the large-scale retirement of a large portion of the workforce in the next few years. Because of workforce shortages, the remaining workers – those with less experience – are being asked to do more, sooner, and with less intellectual capital.

One solution is to break down the barriers that constrain communication access to a limited number of subject matter experts and to expand the availability of asset information.

For instance, when crews in the field or the plant need access to engineering expertise to resolve operations issues, they should have near instantaneous access to those subject matter experts (SME). When they initiate requests for help, the best available resource needs to be no further away than an Instant Message (IM) or phone call. The SME needs to be able to search all pertinent sources of data so that potential solutions can be immediately accessed can be immediately accessed and evaluated.

The SME will need a variety of communication capabilities to quickly and effectively collaborate with the field operation teams. This is the only way operations and engineering can be truly integrated and accomplish more while operations and maintenance budgets and workforce resources shrink.

Unified Communications, comprehensive search, enterprise wide business intelligence are all key ingredients to successfully rising to these challenges. The utility of the future won’t be able to afford to operate without leveraging these capabilities. - Jon Arnold