Overview

In 2011, utility company American Water (NYSE: AWK) launched a unified communication and collaboration program to streamline work efforts and develop a robust knowledge base for projects ranging from water main repairs to new business proposals. With approximately 7,000 employees in 300 locations in 30 states and parts of Canada, the objective was to provide a ‘single pane of glass’ from which users can access documents, maps, email, calendaring, instant messaging, web conferencing and other UC tools to drive new efficiencies and interaction within and across business units. After rejecting the option of migrating to a single vendor solution, the company selected a multi-vendor strategy anchored by its existing IBM Lotus Notes environment, Microsoft SharePoint and harmon.ie for SharePoint - social email software that provides point-and-click access to SharePoint functionality through the email inbox.

Taking a multi-vendor approach allowed American Water to avoid budgeting an additional $3 million in investments over a five-year period by preserving Lotus Notes and utilizing it in conjunction with harmon.ie. Additionally, the use of email as the access point through harmon.ie will promote collaboration by eliminating the need to change user work habits while respecting confidentiality requirements customized for different states and business needs.

“We wanted to build our collaboration strategy around the email client because our company operates in an email culture. That’s why harmon.ie is such a pivotal component of our platform. Bringing SharePoint into the email interface will not only save people time but also encourage use of our collaboration tools by making them easily accessible within the familiar email context.” - Steve Brescia, Manager, ITS Enterprise Architecture

Collaboration Challenges

Founded in 1886, New Jersey-based American Water is the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company in the U.S. The company provides drinking water, wastewater and related services to approximately 15 million people in more than 30 states and parts of Canada under locally managed operations.

That decentralized corporate structure produced a patchwork of standalone communication tools and more than 1,000 IBM Lotus Domino databases, presenting roadblocks to standardization, knowledge sharing and collaboration required for everyday business activities. Workers in the field need mobile access to maps and documents from a central database for system construction, repairs and maintenance. 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. Assembling an RFP to manage a new municipal drinking water or wastewater system is a group effort that can fill three to four binders.

Without the ability to easily find and reuse existing content, incorporate edits, share new versions or route a document through a workflow, each document search, business contract or other project traditionally required an unnecessary duplication of effort and - in the case of co-authored documents - wasted time manually reconciling everyone’s input.

Not surprisingly, requests for collaboration tools to solve these problems began pouring in from all levels of the company, from field workers needing mobile document access to state presidents wanting to leverage the knowledge and experience of their counterpart organizations in other states.

“While there are some differences in the types of water and wastewater services we provide across North America, many of the activities -- from implementing new systems to maintaining existing ones -- are very similar. Traditionally, we lacked an easy way to simplify planning and share best practices to enable those activities, and we recognized that we could work faster and more efficiently by deploying a unified communication and collaboration platform.” - Steve Brescia

Notes + SharePoint + harmon.ie

Over 200 users in American Water’s IT service department had been using Microsoft SharePoint for several years, primarily to manage IT projects, so SharePoint was the obvious choice for core collaboration functions such as content management, document collaboration and enterprise search. However, IT managers wanted to aggregate communication and collaboration functions within the email interface where users were accustomed to working.

The question was whether to retain Lotus Notes as the corporate email platform - bringing SharePoint into the Notes environment using harmon.ie for SharePoint, Notes Edition as well as providing access to WebEx, AT&T and Cisco UCC from the email window - or go with a single-vendor solution.

After evaluating both options, the IT team came to two conclusions: first, that there were no compelling technical reasons to switch to another email solution or follow a roadmap from a single collaboration provider and therefore no reason to abandon the company’s long-time commitment to Lotus Notes; and second, that a multi-vendor strategy preserving Lotus Notes and combining it with SharePoint and harmon.ie rather than migrating to a single-vendor stack would allow American Water to avoid $3 million in additional investments over a five-year period.

With harmon.ie serving as the glue between Notes and SharePoint, American Water end users are not only able to access SharePoint functions within their Notes comfort zone but also eliminate the multi-step navigation and repeated application switching otherwise required to complete collaboration tasks. From the harmon.ie sidebar in the Notes client, users can:

  • Access SharePoint document libraries, including creating and updating documents and document metadata
  • Drag and drop e-mail attachments, as well as full e-mail messages with embedded attachments, to and from SharePoint
  • Drag and drop document links from SharePoint documents into email messages, enabling recipients to access a document while only storing a single copy
  • Search SharePoint content
  • Access SharePoint calendars as well as merged Notes, SharePoint and Google calendars
  • Initiate instant messaging, chat, phone calls, and both audio and video conferences

harmon.ie also helps enforce confidentiality, respecting customized permissions and access to SharePoint for different states’ and business units’ needs and requirements.

“Without harmon.ie, there would be no way for users to upload documents from Notes into SharePoint or sync personal and team calendars due to the lack of integration between IBM and Microsoft. By bridging that gap, harmon.ie enables us to have a cross-platform collaboration solution as well as preserve the Lotus Notes email environment that we have used for over 10 years.” - Steve Brescia

Working Smarter

American Water began the initial rollout of its new collaboration platform to user desktops in mid-2011 as part of a migration to Windows 7. The strategy entails deploying a core base build that includes Lotus Notes 8.52, Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and harmon.ie for SharePoint 3.0 - Notes Edition, along with IBM Sametime, WebEx and AT&T audio conferencing for unified communications to all users beginning in Q4 2011.

American Water expects the initiative to meet the growing needs of the organization, reduce storage capacity for duplicate files and email data, and deliver other key benefits including:

  • Easy collaboration - Making SharePoint-based enterprise content and document collaboration available from the harmon.ie window in the Notes inbox will facilitate information sharing, document co-authoring and other collaborative work for every business user.
  • Faster SharePoint acceptance - harmon.ie will remove barriers to SharePoint adoption by eliminating complex SharePoint navigation and allowing users to stay within the familiar e-mail interface instead of toggling between application windows.
  • Mobile access to document libraries - American Water’s 2,000+ mobile employees will be able to access system maps, water hydrant locations and other business-critical information stored in SharePoint from ruggedized computers in their trucks, simply by signing onto their email and opening the harmon.ie window.
  • Cross-platform compatibility - harmon.ie’s ability to deliver an integrated user experience across Lotus Notes and SharePoint will enable American Water to mix messaging and collaboration components without leaving the familiar Notes email environment.
  • Increased accountability to ratepayers - Eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel on many projects will save time and reduce administrative overhead, optimizing the use of utility fees paid to American Water by consumers, businesses and municipalities.

“When we polled people in a recent survey about our ‘single pane of glass’ collaboration concept, 90% voiced strong support for the initiative and the idea of using a few common platforms to simplify and expedite work. As the connector between SharePoint and Lotus Notes, harmon.ie is playing a major role in delivering the one-stop email, collaboration and communications gateway that will power the entire effort.” - Steve Brescia