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Unify OpenScape connects communications for Midwest utilities provider

The Unify OpenScape platform has been chosen by We Energies, a Midwest utilities provider, to connect its multiple lines of communications.

We Energies, a Midwestern energy provider, replaced its disjointed communications tools with Unify OpenScape, a single voice, UC and Web collaboration platform.

Communications are critical in the utility services industry, where energy companies have a consistent stream of incoming information from different sources that needs to be managed and prioritized, especially in the event of an outage or emergency. "We need to deploy people where outages are occurring and we get information from many various sources," said Scott Johanning, telecom supervisor at We Energies.

Unify OpenScape brings together an unconnected communications strategy

We Energies serves over 1.1 million electric customers in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and 1.1 million natural gas customers in Wisconsin. With 4,300 employees spread across 62 manned locations and hundreds of substations and monitoring locations, the utilities provider was looking for an advanced UC and voice platform that would support mobility and BYOD for employees and business continuity for its customers, Johanning said.

Prior to Unify OpenScape, We Energies didn't have unified communications. The company was using WebEx and InterCall for desktop communications, Polycom for video in the some of its conference rooms, and both Polycom and AT&T for internal audio conferencing.  One department was also using AOL for instant messaging (IM), Johanning said. Connecting its communications channels was a critical requirement. "Our main focus is to replace the existing [UC] infrastructure and give our users the tools and services they need," he said.

We Energies chose Unify's OpenScape after an RFP process. In addition to having a single provider for all of its UC and collaboration needs, Johanning and his team liked the ability to self-maintain the UC infrastructure. "As a utilities provider, we wanted to make sure that even when there are outages or emergencies, we can support our infrastructure internally and have the ability to respond very quickly," he said.

We Energies is still in the design phase for its UC rollout, but Johanning and his team plans on purchasing between 6,000-7,000 endpoint licenses from Unify. Unify OpenScape will replace the company's AOL IM platform, as well as InterCall collaboration and the audio conferencing bridges. We Energies will still use Polycom's video conferencing, but plans to migrate to a fully unified experience with Unify over time, Johanning said.

The utilities provider is a BYOD shop, and plans to "fully take advantage of the mobile services for smartphones and tablets," he said. "Some of our business units are now experimenting with tablets, and ruggedized tablets, which will all have the Unify client."

The company will still need to support analog phones in harsher, industrial locations -- like power plants. "We'll use IP adapters to support those, but all of that is still managed through the Unify (platform)," Johanning said.

Rolling out Unify OpenScape to employees, business units

While the company is still assembling its new UC system, employees within certain business units and the IT team are already exploring the Unify OpenScape features for different use cases. For example, when storms roll through, engineers and directors need to have a clear idea of any damage that occurred. "To have that collaborative capability through the client and the [mobile device], just brings that awareness quicker and easier to the leadership that has to address restorations." he said. "Right now, [users] don't have things like a video capability easily [on the desktop] or IM across the organization, and I predict that will be adopted by many employees."

Johanning and his team also have the ability to make user profiles to distinguish between two different sets of users. "There's a big difference in communications requirements from one individual to another -- those who spend all of their time in the field, usually with two-way radios, don't necessarily need UC collaboration. And then the other profile will give users all the features and services that are offered within the UC solution."

The business units will also have the freedom to decide over time which features they will adopt, and training will be offered to users associated with the new features and functionality, he said. "I can really see adoption of the new features easily growing over time as employees realize the benefits."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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