BNSF Railway: Unified and Communicating

Jo-ann Olsovsky discusses how BNSF Railway supports its widespread and increasingly mobile workforce of 40,000 employees with unified communications.

How did you plan and stage the rollout of unified communications?

We identified the opportunity in the second quarter of 2008. We spent a good portion of that quarter investigating solutions, and decided upon Microsoft. By the third quarter of 2008, we piloted the solution in Fort Worth, where we are headquartered, and a few select locations across the U.S. Since there were some pretty big changes that we were putting in place, we used the pilot as an opportunity to learn prior to the bigger launch.

That launch happened in the third quarter of 2009. Fifteen thousand users changed over to the new voicemail system, 14,000 of them in a single day. We leveraged the change management process designed during the pilot. We trained subject matter experts who were on call when issues arose, and we developed self-help programs including quick tip sheets. 

We are now in the process of upgrading to the newest version, Microsoft Lync, which will replace our current Microsoft Office Communications Server. This appears to be a pretty easy transition, and we are excited about the added functionality. In fact, since a lot of our PBXs [private branch exchanges] are aging, we will review this functionality as we consider our future voice strategy. 

Now that the initial unified communications strategy has been in place for a few years, what benefits has BNSF gained?

We have seen a 63 percent reduction in voicemail use since implementing our unified communications. Moreover, these voicemails are delivered via email. People can reply to them and forward them as emails. This has dramatically reduced our phone use. 

Also, as text messages become more popular, it has reduced phone use even more substantially. In the first quarter of 2012, eight million instant messages were sent on the BNSF network.

People are collaborating across locations to a much greater extent than they had in the past. We had 65,500 sessions so far this year where employees shared desktops to update documents, hold meetings, etc. We suspect this ability to collaborate seamlessly could reduce our need to get on planes in order to walk through presentations and collaborate together.  

The ability to work on presentations together in real-time and then saving the new version of that presentation on SharePoint has led to reduced instances where the same presentation is saved 10 times to 10 PCs. Version control is also a significant efficiency and productivity benefit. It is also important to note that unified communications are considered “casual conversation.” As such, we don’t have to save them as we do emails, for instance, leading to storage savings. 

BNSF has a lot of employees who have been with the company for many years.  Was there any push back that you dealt with in implementing these solutions?

This article was originally published on 01-29-2013
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