UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS AT BOEING
UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS AT BOEING
The Boeing Company (http://www.boeing.com/), headquartered in Chicago,
Illinois, is the world’s largest manufacturer of military aircraft and
commercial jetliners. Boeing has more than 159,000 employees working in
70 different countries who require effective communication to develop and
build some of the world’s most complex products using components from
more than 22,000 global suppliers.
The company’s workforce is one of the most highly educated in the
world. Most employees hold a college degree and many hold advanced
degrees. Collectively Boeing employees have very broad and deep
knowledge that can be harnessed to solve problems and design next
Like many major corporations, Boeing has experienced an uptick in the
number of employees who work remotely or travel the majority of each work
week. Boeing’s engineers number in the thousands and are purposely
scattered worldwide to support the company’s global operations.
Boeing organizes its employees into work and project teams. Given the
company’s size and geographic footprint, many of Boeing work’s teams
include globally dispersed members. Engineers on the same team may be
separated by multiple time zones and thousands of miles. Time zone
differences and distance frequently present teams with communication
challenges when they are faced with time sensitive issues that must be
Additional communication issues are associated with the sheer breadth
and depth of Boeing’s knowledge base. When faced with questions about a
particular part included in one of Boeing’s new airliners, an engineer can be
challenged to identify the right person in the company to contact for
Collaboration Technologies Boeing knows that continual innovation is important to its long term success.
It also recognizes that effective communication among its employees,
customers, and suppliers is an important enabler of continual innovation.
Boeing has traditionally relied on a variety of systems to facilitate
collaboration among its employees and business partners. As illustrated in
Figure C1-1a, Web conferencing, audio conferencing, desktop sharing, and
mobile voice and data services have been used by Boeing employees to
facilitate communication among geographically dispersed team members.
Historically, these capabilities have been provided by different third-party
providers who were selected on the basis of their ability to provide high-
quality communication services at competitive rates.
By the mid-2000s, Boeing had begun its migration toward unified
messaging and unified communications. At that time, instant messaging (IM)
was one of the more popular messaging services used Boeing employees. At
Boeing, IM has traditionally been supplemented by Web and audio
conferencing services as well as by desktop sharing services. The capabilities
provided by these services are especially important when answers to
complex questions are needed. During the mid-2000s, more than 100,000
employees used conferencing services each year. As you might expect,
conferencing services represented a significant percentage of Boeing’s
annual communication expenses.
As collaboration technologies, the desktop sharing and conferencing
systems worked well alone, but it was not easy to get them to use them
simultaneously for a virtual team meeting. To use them in combination
required scheduling conference rooms equipped with at least one phone lines
and data drop. It also required reserving conferencing time with one or both
service providers, getting all locations logged in to each service, and
performing some quick set up tasks and tests at the beginning of each
session. Hence, while it was possible to use multiple collaboration capabilities
at the same time, this was not easily or transparently done. Advanced
planning was needed at all locations to have satisfactory interactive
conferencing and desktop sharing sessions.
Over time, it became increasingly more apparent to Boeing that a
superior collaboration platform was needed. While the company’s
subscriptions to third-party services did support collaboration among
geographically dispersed team members, Boeing began to feel that it needed
something that was both easier and more robust to achieve the levels of
collaboration, innovation and responsiveness that it aspired to have.
Converged Network Project In 2008, Boeing signed a $400 million contract with AT&T to consolidate its
existing voice and data networks into an IP-network. Boeing began using
AT&T’s WAN services, audio conferencing services, and wireless voice and
data services. Moving the bulk of its communication facilities to a common
IP-based network infrastructure enabled Boeing to roll out unified messaging
services to more of its employees. The converged network project also set
the stage for its subsequent move to unified communications.
To better serve its mobile workers, one of the first enterprise-wide
applications that Boeing deployed on its converged IP network was
Mircosoft’s Office Communication Server. This was implemented to provide
desktop sharing, VoIP, audio conferencing, instant messaging, and presence
capabilities to all of its workers worldwide. This quickly became a popular
supplement or alternative to the company’s traditional collaboration services.
Boeing subsequently made the decision to upgrade to Mircosoft’s Lync
Server to enable its employees to leverage enhanced presence, ad hoc
collaboration, desktop sharing, and online meeting capabilities.
Boeing’s collaboration capabilities before and after the creation of the
converged IP network are illustrated in Figure C1.1. It is important to note
that Boeing continues to subscribe to many of the collaboration services that
it used prior to implementing its unified communications solutions. Hence,
UC is best observed to be a supplement not a replacement to the
collaboration systems that were already in place.
One of the key changes associated with Boeing UC system has been the
ability of employees to use the same softphone headset to support both
office and mobile phone calls. Phone capabilities follow the mobile worker
who can specify which device to route calls to on the fly. Their Boeing phone
number is always the same whether they are in their office, at home, on the
road, or working on the other side of the world. Detailed presence
information about team members is provided via Lync’s location and activity
feed capabilities. Supply chain partners are also able see the presence
information of their key contacts at Boeing; this facilitates their interactions
with engineering and maintenance teams at Boeing.
UC Benefits Boeing’s converged IP network and unified communications capabilities
enable employees share information and knowledge more quickly and
effectively, regardless of their location. Boeing’s geographically dispersed
engineers use these systems to share expertise with one another just as
they could if they were in the same place at the same time. The ability to
support unified communications capabilities over the converged IP network
facilitates knowledge sharing and has become an important facet of Boeing’s
collaboration and knowledge management strategies.
The company’s unified communications system enables employees at
remote locations to have the same capabilities that have in their home
offices. Virtual teams benefit from being able to adjust their interactions to
the communication mode that makes the most sense. For example, they are
able to transition from instant messaging to a voice communication and/or
desktop sharing session depending on what the situation requires. The UC
system’s enhanced presence capabilities also provides real time information
about the current availability and activities of other Boeing employees so
that they can be brought into conversations about how to address time
sensitive problem issues about parts, maintenance issues, or assembly line
Boeing has benefitted from increased productivity and efficiency at both
the individual and team levels. Its UC capabilities and converged IP network
have also helped the company rein in its Web and audio conferencing costs.
Prior to the UC implementation, Boeing experienced double-digit growth in
costs associated with Web conferencing. Web conferencing continues to be
widely used by Boeing employees, but the annual costs associated with Web
conferencing have leveled off as employees increasingly use UC desktop
sharing and audio conferencing capabilities instead of third-party
Boeing’s annual costs for audio conferencing services have decreased by
more than 15% since implementing the UC system. While Boeing still
subscribes to third-party audio conferencing services, these are being used
less frequently for team meetings as the result of the company’s UC
The UC system has been positively received by Boeing employees. It is
widely viewed as a platform that facilitates collaboration in an engaging
manner. Boeing continues to have the reputation of being one of the world’s
most innovative companies and its decision to implement unified
communications on a converged IP network demonstrates its commitment to
deploy technologies that enable innovation.
Discussion Points 1. Some virtual teams at Boeing have discussions focused on military
aircraft. Do some Internet research on UC security mechanisms and identify and briefly describe several that Boeing should have in place to ensure the privacy and integrity of such discussions.
2. To what extent do the UC benefits experienced by Boeing mirror
those of other firms that have deployed UC capabilities over converged IP networks?
3. To date, Boeing has not implemented the full range of capabilities
available through UC systems. If you were the CIO at Boeing, what additional UC capabilities would you implement? What benefits would you expect Boeing to derive from deploying these capabilities?
Sources [MICR10] Microsoft Case Studies. “Boeing Expects to Lower Costs and Improve Productivity with Messaging Solution.” March 16, 2010. Retrieved online at: http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?casestudyid =4000006703. [MICR11] Microsoft Case Studies. “Boeing Promotes Knowledge Sharing for Global Workforce with Communications Solution.” April 29, 2011. Retrieved online at: http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Microsoft-Lync-Server- 2010/Boeing/Boeing-Promotes-Knowledge-Sharing-for-Global-Workforce- with-Communications-Solution/4000009654. [REED08] Reed, B. “AT&T snags big Boeing voice/data contract.” NetworkWorld. August 12, 2008. Retrieved online at: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/081208-boeing-att-contract.html
- Collaboration Technologies
- Converged Network Project
- UC Benefits
- Discussion Points