Connecting the Dots

By Nick Wreden  |  Posted 2009-05-27 Print this article Print

Energy and utility companies rely heavily on technology solutions to meet complex customer, operational and service demands.

When you operate the world’s longest crude oil and liquids transportation system, you can spend a lot of time on the road.

For Enbridge, building and maintaining pipelines across North America requires thousands of employees and contractors who are geographically dispersed, but who still require frequent contact to stay on top of more than $12 billion worth of capital projects, as well as consult with regulators and other stakeholders. Sometimes, phone calls or e-mails get the job done. At other times, nothing can replace face-to-face meetings. But they require time and money, resulting in lost productivity and even lost family time.

To ensure adequate contact without travel—and to cope with major expansion—Enbridge, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, invested in remote communications tools. These tools include Microsoft Office Communicator, Office Live Meeting and SharePoint, as well as Cisco TelePresence, a dedicated facility optimized for video conferencing.

“Traditional video conferencing had a bad reputation,” says Brent Poohkay, Enbridge CIO. “It was believed that a computer engineering degree was needed to run a video conference, but the industry has learned its lesson. Systems like TelePresence are as easy to use as a microwave oven.”

When Enbridge first installed the TelePresence system in its Calgary and Edmonton offices, “People were skeptical,” Poohkay recalls. “But it took only 20 seconds to get over their concerns, and then they focused on the meeting.” Now there is often a waiting list to use the system, and Enbridge is installing another video conferencing room in Superior, Wis.

Enbridge is still calculating the productivity and other savings, but anecdotal evidence indicates gains. For example, pipeline executives used to alternate driving three-and-a-half hours each way between Edmonton and Calgary once a month for meetings. “That took its toll in terms of productivity and raised work-life issues,” says Poohkay. The TelePresence sessions, which run on the existing corporate WAN, have proved effective enough to reduce the frequency of face-to-face meetings to every other month.

“There are real benefits,” says Poohkay. “People are working well together and are making better decisions more quickly.”

Nick Wreden is a writer and marketing specialist in business and technology.

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