Well… Here in my company, I was first introduced to this word, used in that fashion, as a means of bringing something to the attention of someone higher up in the food chain, so to speak.
It appears to be another example of business jargon.
If we can’t get this resolved using our standard procedures, we will escalate this issue to management.
A, to me, more recent phenomenon is the use of the word to mean "refer upwards". It is typically used in the world of call-centres, help-lines and other telephonic and/or internet-based businesses (a world, I may say, which is somewhat addicted to the needless invention of jargon: if I have a computer problem—sorry: "issue"—at work I am no longer told to call IT Support, but instead to "raise a call" with them).
Though it was borrowed from somewhere else, hope it helps.