Enbridge project teams across North America accelerate decision making


Enbridge Inc. is a Canadian energy delivery company, undergoing a period of unprecedented growth. It provides oil and gas transportation via pipelines stretching across North America, and gas distribution to about 2 million customers from a large gas utility in the greater Toronto area. A more recent line of business, green energy, generates 800 megawatts of renewable and alternative energy, including solar, geothermal, wind, integrated fuel cells and waste heat recovery facilities.

Enbridge is expanding more rapidly than ever before. Between 2005 and 2009, the company added more than 1500 employees. Approximately CAD$14-billion worth of oil, gas, and green energy projects are in the construction phase and expected to go into service prior to the end of 2011. Another $6 billion of projects has been secured with an in-service date after 2011. “In the past, we’ve made acquisitions, built new pipelines, or constructed new projects, but never before have we done so many projects that are so large all at the same time,” says Brent Poohkay, CIO, Enbridge Inc. “That has been a massive change and a challenge for Enbridge.”

With many very large work teams, geographically and functionally dispersed across North America, the need to communicate and collaborate had never been greater. Enbridge was also bringing in hundreds of new employees who were new to the corporation, its culture, and its processes.

Along with this unprecedented growth came a few basic goals. Enbridge wished to improve communication, simplify access to information, facilitate collaboration among its project teams, and reduce cycle times in its corporate decision making. It also wanted to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce its carbon footprint.

The company’s IT department developed a strategy to support these four overall goals.

Poohkay says it was logical for Enbridge to speak to Cisco, to evaluate whether the vendor’s technologies met Enbridge’s goals. The two already had a strong relationship, because Cisco provides the backbone for Enbridge’s network infrastructure. “When we spoke to Cisco, we found that their TelePresence product met all of our criteria. It’s easy to use, provides a very high-quality experience, and is as close as possible to feeling like sitting across the table talking to one of your colleagues in person,” says Poohkay.

Enbridge started its Cisco TelePresenceTM Technology implementation slowly, installing two Cisco TelePresence rooms, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary. Enbridge wanted to help ensure that Cisco TelePresence worked as well within Enbridge as it did in the Cisco showroom. Though the company believed the technology was a good substitute for travel, the firm wanted to be sure employees would embrace the new solution.

When deploying Cisco TelePresence, Enbridge wanted an “out-of-the-box solution.” All rooms got the same furniture, same chairs, and the same paint color on the walls. The company imposed the standard on smaller rooms as well for consistency and to create realistic face-to-face meetings.

Today Enbridge has 12 TelePresence rooms and includes at least one in each location: four Cisco TelePresence System 3000 (12-person) rooms in Edmonton, Calgary, Superior, and Toronto; one Cisco TelePresence System 1000 (two-person) room in Houston; Cisco TelePresence System 500 (two-person) rooms in Toronto, Thorold, Ottawa, and Calgary; and three Cisco TelePresence System 500 rooms in Edmonton.

One of the aspects of TelePresence that Enbridge found appealing was that in most cases it could run on existing WAN infrastructure, so in major corporate centers Enbridge had to make minimal upgrades. In smaller rural locations, more significant network upgrades were sometimes required. However, return on investment (ROI) easily and quickly justified the installations.

Poohkay says that recently Enbridge has been experimenting with another new Cisco product, Cisco TelePresence Recording Studio, in order to practice its incident response processes.

The company already spends a lot of time doing simulations and tabletop exercises, practicing procedures involving disaster recovery and other events. Cisco TelePresence Recording Studio allows various team leaders to record messages in a TelePresence studio to build scenarios used later in the simulation. “It’s easy and very effective,” says Poohkay. “You really just give somebody a script, and they go into a room, sit down, hit a button, and record it, and we integrate it into our simulation very easily.”

In future, executives may also use this technology to talk to entire teams of employees, some in rural or distant locations, in a more personal and frequent way. Certain executives are already recording sessions in the TelePresence studio to be played back over Enbridge’s intranet to specific team members.

Usage of Enbridge’s TelePresence rooms has been startling. In 2009, almost 3000 TelePresence meetings occurred in 2009. According to Poohkay, on average, the company’s 12 rooms are used five business hours every day, which he considers fully utilized.

Improved Employee Communications

Poohkay says that as soon as the first two rooms were in place, it was clear they held widespread appeal. Employees of every level of seniority from every department were booking meetings.

Feedback from users indicates the TelePresence rooms help them do their jobs better. In fact, every new TelePresence room installation has been undertaken only after employee demand warranted it. “Our employees are telling us, ‘This helps us be more productive. This allows us to make decisions more quickly. This allows me to connect with my peers and colleagues and make important decisions. This is so much better than a phone call, because I can see the body language, I can evaluate comprehension, and I can see when they don’t understand something by the look on their face.’ It really is employee demand that’s driving this program,” says Poohkay.

Collaboration among Project Teams

Enbridge’s research has provided clear evidence the project teams are using TelePresence technology to cut down on travel. This usage means fewer unproductive hours spent in rental cars, at airports, on planes or trains, and in hotel rooms. Employees are able to go home more often at night, so they can spend more time with their families, leading to happier and more productive employees.

ROI Results

Poohkay says approximately 40 percent of Enbridge’s TelePresence meetings would have required travel. In 2009, travel costs were cut by $1.5 million. Enbridge expects to save $2.09 million in 2010 and $2.23 million in 2011, for a three-year total of $5.5 million.

“When it comes to ROI, some of Enbridge’s smaller rooms have provided a payback within 90 days,” says Poohkay. “The larger rooms pay for themselves in under a year. It just makes good business sense.”

Poohkay has even noted ROI from a personal standpoint. As CIO, he must travel and meet with many business divisions across North America, so from 2008 to 2009, Poohkay made a personal effort to hold more meetings over TelePresence. He ended up cutting his business travel by 50 percent. “It’s been life-changing,” he says. “From a financial perspective, I cut my travel budget in half.”
Next Steps

Enbridge currently has plans to install two more Cisco TelePresence rooms. Going forward, the company’s policy will be to continue installing new TelePresence rooms based on employee demand.

For More Information

Enbridge, visit: http://www.enbridge.com
Cisco, visit: http://www.cisco.com
Cisco TelePresence Technology, visit: http://www.cisco.com/go/telepresence