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Black & Veatch extends the enterprise with unified communications
April 11, 2011 Black & Veatch

At its headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., Black & Veatch had an immediate need to replace its aging private-branch exchange (PBX) telephony system. The PBX, which was 12 years old, had failed several times and parts for repair were unavailable. In addition, the company was renovating the building that houses its headquarters. “We knew we wanted to modernize our communications and provide professionals with better capabilities. We did not want to replace the phone system with just another phone system that would not offer us anything more than what we had before,” explained Brad Vaughan, chief information officer at Black & Veatch.

To communicate, professionals at Black & Veatch relied mainly on phone and e-mail. With projects around the world, high telephony charges for long-distance calls were a real concern for the company. For messaging, it had implemented Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, and its professionals used e-mail to share and collaborate on important project documents. Professionals also occasionally used third-party web conferencing services to collaborate with each other or with remote business partners.

For internal collaboration on projects and for intranet content, Black & Veatch uses Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003. The company currently is upgrading its intranet content to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and it will upgrade its project and team sites to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for integration with third-party applications.

Black & Veatch started to consider how it could change the way professionals communicated, not only with each other but with business partners and clients. As part of its “Reinvent IT” initiative, the company engaged its professionals and talked to them about what they needed to improve and streamline their communications: a unified communications solution that enhanced business and personal mobility and helped them to communicate and collaborate in real time. The company also wanted to ensure that professionals could communicate from anywhere and on any device. Often professionals have to work on computers in offices at partner or client sites, so they needed a way to access important contacts and information.

As part of its integrated project delivery (IPD) model, Black & Veatch wanted to make it easier for its professionals to collaborate with business partners and clients, too. “We needed a solution that would help us reduce the latency we experienced with phone calls and e-mail,” Vaughan said. “We realized that just in Kansas City alone, we were handling 25,000 voicemails a week. Those were missed opportunities for people to collaborate in real time to solve issues.”

With the help of HP Enterprise Services and HP Technical Services, Black & Veatch considered communications solutions from several vendors. In the end, Black & Veatch selected a unified communications solution from Microsoft. “We liked the software-centered approach Microsoft takes to communication. Voice is just another application, another part of a solution that offers us so many other advantages,” said Jeff Phillips, director of infrastructure and security at Black & Veatch. “We picked the highest value option with the best roadmap for what we want to accomplish.”

Beginning in December 2009, Black & Veatch deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 to its global work force to provide presence, instant messaging, desktop sharing, conferencing, and internal voice capabilities. It also deployed enterprise voice capabilities for its work force of approximately 2,700 across the greater Kansas City metropolitan area and global headquarters. In 2011, it plans to deploy enterprise voice to an additional 2,100 professionals in 20 of its regional offices.

HP Technical Services worked with Microsoft to design the solution and architecture for the solution. With Microsoft providing support for the software implementation, HP deployed Office Communications Server in a highly-available configuration to provide disaster recovery. HP also provided instructor-led training for Black & Veatch professionals, in addition to an online training site and an internal newsletter to help prepare people for the new technology.

To reduce costs, the company also began a campaign to replace desk phones with headsets for professionals across the greater Kansas City area and its headquarters. It distributed 3,000 Plantronics Blackwire C220-M headsets, which are optimized for use with Lync, and worked with HP to train professionals on how to use them. “On the day we enabled enterprise voice, we had seven people onsite, ready to answer questions, and two people running a hotline. The cutover was literally a nonevent. I’ve never personally seen a 3,000-person technology transformation go as smoothly as this,” Phillips explained. Since then, requests for headsets have increased even at regional offices where people do not yet have enterprise voice, and the number of desk phones has dropped significantly.

For professionals, the interoperation of Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with Exchange Server 2007 is critical to helping them be more productive. They can view presence information for contacts through the Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client, and then start a chat session or click to call within Office Outlook. Black & Veatch also enabled federation, so individuals can place Communicator calls, share a desktop, start an instant messaging session, or view presence and calendar information for partners and clients who also are using Office Communications Server. With federation, Black & Veatch engineers can work more closely with partners to design critical components for projects. For the future, the company also is considering federation with public instant messaging clients to help professionals communicate with business partners who are not using Office Communications Server.

Another popular feature with Black & Veatch professionals is desktop sharing. “What really caught the imagination of our work force was the simple desktop sharing,” Vaughan said. “Instead of sending an e-mail with an attachment, an engineer at a construction site can easily share plans, photos, blueprints, or specifications and solve problems in real time. That’s huge.”

Black & Veatch also deployed Exchange Unified Messaging to provide voicemail service for its professionals who use enterprise voice. With Unified Messaging, professionals can receive and manage both voicemail and e-mail messages through Office Outlook. Another Unified Messaging feature Black & Veatch has taken advantage of is the auto attendant. Black & Veatch used the auto attendant to create voice menu systems that callers use to navigate and locate the department or person they need to reach within an organization.

HP will manage all aspects of the communications solution. It will continue to provide helpdesk, service, and end-user support for the Office Communications Server, in addition to other business-critical solutions that Black & Veatch has deployed. Going forward, Black & Veatch will work with HP to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and to extend enterprise voice service and replace aging telephony equipment at its offices around the world. Eventually the company will upgrade its communications solution to Microsoft Lync Server 2010, which provides enhanced versions of the communications capabilities provided by Office Communications Server 2007 R2 — presence, instant messaging, robust conferencing, and enterprise voice — as well as improvements in topology, deployment, and management tools.

By working with HP to provide a Microsoft Unified Communications solution, Black & Veatch advanced the goals of its “Reinvent IT” initiative: to modernize and globalize communication; to mobilize its work force to enable them to communicate anywhere, anytime; and to economize and save the company money while enhancing productivity and mobility for its professionals.

Provided tools for a globalized work force
Black & Veatch is constantly looking for ways to extend the enterprise to include its business partners and clients, because it believes this is a key factor in IPD. “With federation, we can better integrate with our global partners — a big boost for our business. It absolutely speeds communication,” Vaughan said.

“We are evolving from an internally focused organization to an extended enterprise that relies strongly on its global business partners, and federation really helps with that,” Vaughan added.

With Office Communications Server, Black & Veatch professionals can communicate with colleagues, business partners, and clients from anywhere, anytime. When they are away from the office at project sites, Communicator Web Access makes it possible for them to stay connected as if they were sitting in their own offices. “A lot of our professionals have to work on computers at client or partner sites,” Phillips said. “With Communicator Web Access and Outlook Web App, they still have access to the tools they need to communicate.”

“Communication is transparent, so people can work from anywhere,” Philips continued. “And the solution is platform independent, so people can easily configure Office Communications Server to ring Communicator or their mobile phones to stay connected.”

Improved productivity
With more instant communication through presence, instant messaging, click-to-call, and desktop sharing capabilities, professionals can respond more quickly to questions, requests, or issues that arise.

“[Unified communications allows me to] provide support for my internal clients much easier,” said one Black & Veatch professional. “If they have a question while they are on the phone with someone else, they can simply send me an IM to request information and I can share my desktop with them without interrupting their phone conversation. This lets us solve issues on the spot.”

Black & Veatch has found that with so many options for communication and collaboration, professionals have been able to adapt the technology and use it in a manner that works best to help them be productive at their jobs. “Unified communications has something for everybody. During training, I would watch people’s faces light up at different points, and I knew they were thinking about how the solution would work for them,” Phillips said.

Professionals found that the training HP provided helped them to start using the new technology immediately. Another Black & Veatch professional explained: “At first I was skeptical about the new technology and about the training. However, in the middle of training for Office Communications Server, my attitude changed. I felt positive and was ready to go back to my desk and apply what I had learned. I lost no time and was able to keep working efficiently.”

Reduced costs
Black & Veatch was at a critical juncture when it decided to deploy a unified communications solution: it knew that it could not avoid the cost of replacing its aging PBX system. “In the long run, we really went with the most cost-effective solution,” Vaughan said. “We knew we had to replace our PBX and our voicemail system at our headquarters, but for the same investment we would have made in another PBX, we got many more capabilities with additional benefits.”

Vaughan continued, “Over the first 18 months of the project, we expect to cover the cost of hardware, software, and labor, and still return about $650,000 to the business. This is a real financial benefit that will only increase as we implement the solution globally.”

The company avoided the cost of having to cable their soon-to-be renovated world headquarters building with both voice and data lines; instead, it will only install data lines. Moving to a voiceover IP phone system also means that Black & Veatch can avoid the high cost of individual moves, adds, and changes, because professionals can simply plug into the existing network connection at their new location and immediately have connectivity.

As Black & Veatch works with HP to deploy enterprise voice at its regional offices and construction sites, it expects to reduce voice costs even further by retiring more PBX systems and eliminating additional third-party voicemail and conferencing systems.

Through a successful partnership with HP and Microsoft, Black & Veatch has empowered its professionals to be more productive in a global working environment. The company will continue to look for ways to improve its relationships with partners and clients through technology.


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