Collaborating From a Single Pane of Glass

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Publicly traded utility company consolidates collaboration and communication tools in the email inbox.

By Steve Brescia

Based in Voorhees, N.J., American Water is the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company in the United States. With 300 locations in 30 states and parts of Canada, the company provides drinking water, wastewater and related services to approximately 15 million people under locally managed operations.

When American Water began planning a collaboration project for its 7,000-plus employees in 2010, one of the first decisions we made was to simplify the user experience by eliminating the need to toggle among multiple applications to get work done. The goal was to allow employees to access documents, maps, email, calendaring, company directories, instant messaging, Web conferencing and other tools from a single interface that would both encourage collaboration and save time.

With our heavily email-based work culture, the IT team determined that the ideal approach would be to aggregate communication and collaboration tools within the email client so users would not have to change work habits. As a result, we are in the process of rolling out a solution that will enable our employees to access Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Sametime, WebEx, AT&T audio conferencing and Cisco unified communications functionality from a small window embedded in the email inbox.

This “single pane of glass” strategy is expected to streamline work efforts for projects ranging from water-main repairs to new business proposals. That’s because our users will be able to retrieve a document; call or IM a colleague about it; and/or initiate a chat, Web or audio conference for further discussion—all without leaving their email comfort zone.

In addition, the project promises to drive SharePoint adoption by replacing frustrating multistep SharePoint navigation with a drag-and-drop process through the email window.

Over the years, that decentralized corporate structure had produced a patchwork of stand-alone communication tools, as well as hundreds of information silos scattered in more than 1,000 IBM Lotus Domino databases. With no ability to easily find and reuse existing content, incorporate edits, share new versions, or route a document through a workflow, knowledge sharing within and across business units was extremely difficult.

That, in turn, was hampering efficient execution of our everyday business activities. Responding to an audit or rate case from a public utility commission requires soliciting, merging and refining input from 20 or more staff members under a tight deadline. Similar group efforts are required to assemble a request for proposal (RFP) to manage a new municipal drinking water or wastewater system or to initiate, approve and manage capital projects. The lack of tools to address these needs translated into duplicated effort and wasted time.

This article was originally published on 2012-07-26
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