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Water treatment giant bridges language divide

MWH plans to deploy a translation extension to open up communication between 7500 Microsoft Lync users across the globe

Global water treatment organisation, MWH is planning to deploy an extension to its Microsoft Lync deployment that translates instant messages between staff across 180 offices in 35 countries.

In January, MWH deployed the unified communications system to 7500 staff worldwide as part of a strategy created in 2011 to build a workforce that is no longer geographically dependent. The system provides instant messaging, voice, presence and desktop conferencing services to these staff.

The organisation is now gearing up to trial Microsoft’s Bing Translator among staff that speak languages other than English. This may include small groups of staff at Spanish speaking offices in South America, Mandarin speakers in China and Taiwan and Dutch speakers in the Netherlands. The functionality will then be rolled out across the rest of the company.

MWH designs and builds hundreds of water and wastewater treatment plants, reservoirs and pumping stations worldwide.

MWH’s regional IT director, Giovanni Ambrosini told CIO that comments about engineering designs and drawings being shared between staff at offices from different countries could sometimes be lost in translation.

“Because we are a multinational company dealing in multiple languages, interpretation can be lost,” he said.

Ambrosini said the translator has positive implications for the company’s global helpdesk by making it easier for people in multiple countries and languages to access this service.

“It [the translator] opens up our workforce,” he said. “For instance, it makes it easier for our staff in China who speak Mandarin to communicate more effectively with people in Australia and vice versa.”

"This ultimately means our breadth of knowledge will be able to be accessible and leveraged easier than it has before. From a people perspective, staff can speak in their native language – translated what they are trying to say.”

In the first six months of this year, MWH used Microsoft Lync to complete 2 million minutes worth of audio sessions worldwide and around 50,000 minutes of video across Asia-Pacific.

The company also saved $400,000 in costs related to audio conferencing calls worldwide during the period by eliminating the need to use a traditional call conferencing system.

According to Ambrosini, unified communications has captured the attention of staff across the entire enterprise by providing a far richer communication tools that offer more than instant messaging such as the ability to conduct video conferences and share documents form a desktop irrespective of their location.

“Even at executive level, they don’t see it as a cost, rather it’s an investment in supporting an integrated global workforce and our values of sustainability,” he said.

“The technology is so simple to use that people can answer questions and resolve issues more rapidly than they have before. It’s completely changing the way we work and collaborate with each other.”

Ambrosini said that having an installed base of Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 users meant that the transition to Microsoft Lync “wasn’t a massive step.”

In fact, the entire deployment across 7500 users took around 30 days and the organisation allowed staff to choose when they wanted to install various product capabilities.

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