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.

By Peter High

Jo-ann Olsovsky, the vice president and CIO of BNSF Railway, shares her experiences with implementing unified communications, the benefits BNSF has gained, and the company’s immediate IT challenges. 

WHO: Jo-ann Olsovsky, VP and CIO of BNSF Railway
WHAT: Sharing her experiences about BNSF Railway’s approach to unified communications
WHERE: Fort Worth, Texas
WHY: To provide CIOs and other IT leaders with actionable advice and insights about how to implement unified communications.

Jo-ann Olsovsky knows a thing or two about telecommunications. Prior to becoming CIO of BNSF Railway in June 2008, she was the assistant vice president of telecommunications at BNSF, and previously, she was the director of enterprise network services and technology support services at Verizon Communications. Soon after joining BNSF, Olsovsky recognized that unified communications would be an important area to invest in as the workforce that she supported was increasingly mobile.

In this Q&A, Olsovsky tells CIO Insight contributor Peter High about the steps she has taken relative to unified communications, the value her company has derived, and her future plans.

CIO Insight: How did the idea to pursue unified communications become a strategic imperative for BNSF Railway?

There was a combination of factors that led us to pursue that strategy. First, our workforce is very mobile. We have 40,000 employees all over the United States, and many of them are not in traditional office settings or spend a significant portion of their work day on the go. As a result, we needed to tailor communications tools that fit their needs. 

Second, our voicemail system was no longer adequately supported. With our focus on being good stewards of the technology investments that we deploy, we jokingly say that “We will replace no asset before its time.” Well, our voicemail system had clearly reached its time. This added an additional reason to understand what the marketplace offered when it came to advanced communications solutions.

What features did you include as you pursued unified communications?

It began with the replacement of our voicemail system. We later implemented a few voice over IP installations. We also added click-to-call and click-to-video functionality in a few small areas. A broader rollout required a network upgrade that we are in the process of implementing. We added NetMeeting, desktop sharing and instant messaging for most employees. We had never used instant messaging at BNSF, so this was an opportunity to introduce it, and for those of us who had relied upon it in our prior experiences, we brought the others up to speed quickly, and usage spread contagiously. 

It was key for us that the solution we chose integrated with our other tools. For instance, since we chose Microsoft, our solution integrates with Exchange. If I am browsing SharePoint, and I view a document that I find interesting, I can identify the author in SharePoint, and if he is online, I can instant message him to see if he is available to chat, and have a NetMeeting with him right then and there to discuss it.  

This article was originally published on 01-29-2013
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