Unified communications are moving to the forefront of business operations at power and utility companies because companies are increasingly discover that relying on multiple vendors for communications and collaboration services tends to be unmanageable and sometimes counterproductive. As companies look for ways to trim budgets in these uncertain economic times, they are considering unifying the mechanisms for communications.

We’ve recently posted two documents that provide perspectives on how power and energy companies should view this unification process.

First, you can see “Unified Communications: Enabling High Velocity Utilities,” image a data sheet posted on our utilities website that describes the benefits of UC for utilities as well as the technology frameworks for enabling UC at utilities. Here’s some of our vision for UC at utilities that’s described in this sheet:

Unified communications offers many benefits to utilities. For utilities with large footprints and dispersed employees, UC offers a cost-effective solution that cuts travel bills and increases productivity among dispersed teams. This helps manage the problems that are expected when widespread retirements cause shortages among the utility workforce.

UC also expands the availability of asset information. For instance, when crews in the field or the plant need access to engineering expertise to resolve operations issues, unified communications can enable them with instantaneous access to appropriate SMEs, no matter the time zone where they reside. When they initiate requests for help, the best available resource can be hailed by IM or phone call. The SME can access potential solutions immediately, evaluate them and communicate them to the field or plant crews. Or, through federation and public IM, the SME can collaborate with contractors and vendors to get the information the crews need in real time.

We realize that theory is good, but proof is better, and we recommend you also view a recently posted video and case study of Shell’s deployment of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 which gives their staff and external parties an easy-to-use interface with a unified set of powerful communications tools that include IM, VoIP, and audio, video, and Web conferencing.

image The case study says that, “Employees can work more flexibly and communicate effectively on the move and from remote sites. Shell expects to reduce operating costs plus time and cost associated with traveling with a centralized VoIP, messaging, and collaboration infrastructure based on Microsoft technology. It also expects to reduce costs by gradually retiring its PBX system and migrating entirely to VoIP telephony.”

Both the case study and video are worth a few minutes of your time, to see Unified Communications in action. – Jon Arnold