Racetrack Wins with VOIP

 
 
By Ron Miller  |  Posted 2005-10-17
 
 
 

Racetrack Wins with VOIP


Racetracks are all about speed. And in the winter of 2002, Sara Grafals, vice president of finance at Infineon Raceway, in Sonoma, Calif., knew the raceway needed a new telecommunications system in a hurry.

The old system lacked the most basic services such as caller ID and voice mail, never mind more sophisticated call tracking and reporting capabilities. With a new race season bearing down, Grafals said she felt the need to make a fast change before the busy ticket season began in March.

As she began the search for a modern phone system, Grafals said, the raceway was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar modernization program that included a new administration building, where the ticketing center would be housed.

Unfortunately, she said, because of the racing season schedule, the new phone system had to be installed in the existing building before construction was completed on the new one.

This meant the vendor would have to move the phone system to the new building only a month or two after the initial installation.

"We could not wait to move into our new building, which was [not going to be ready until] the middle of May. Our old phone system wasnt going to last," Grafals said.

"Our peak event season is from the first of May until the end of August. Our whole push for the entire event season is March through May, when the phones really start ringing hard and we get inundated with calls for ticket sales and outbound sales calls for sponsorship sales. The phone system we had just couldnt handle the capacity."

Whats more, Grafals said that her telecom consultants would soon discover that the track was paying $200,000 a year for track event phone lines, which were ordered for each event and then left in place long after the events were over.

This was repeated over time until there were hundreds of open lines, many of which were not being used.

VOIP traffic is subject to a wiretap law. Click here to read more.

Infineon Raceway is a road course motor-sports facility that opened for business in 1968 and was sold to Speedway Motorsports Inc. of Concord, N.C., in 1998, Grafals said.

The raceway operates approximately 340 days per year, with the major racing season running June through August. Infineon hosts races from major racing sanctioning bodies including NASCAR; the American Motorcyclist Association; American Le Mans Series; and this year, for the first time, the Indy Racing League.

After putting out a request for bids, Grafals chose Planit Solutions Inc., in Petaluma, Calif., a VAR that had proposed installing a VOIP (voice over IP) system from ShoreTel, of Sunnyvale, Calif. Grafals said that Planit not only offered what she considered the best solution but also could meet her requirement of setting up in one building and then moving quickly to another.

"We had two or three vendors come out and talk to us about different phone systems and the options that were available to us, but we liked the flexibility and the ability to control as much as possible from our own computers," Grafals said. "[Planit was also willing to work with us to install it in our existing office building and then [move the phone system] to the new building with little or no additional cost."

Jim Lewis, president of Planit Solutions, said that his company tries to be vendor-neutral but that ShoreTel is one company that Planit has developed strong ties with.

"When we started looking at carrying a telecommunications system, we took a long time, probably a year, looking at all the systems out there," Lewis said. "[We liked] the combination of the thought ShoreTel put into the design and the fact they designed [the system] from scratch. Its not a bolt-on to a legacy system or cobbled together [from multiple companies]. Its an integrated, distributed architecture."

VOIP behaves exactly the same way as a traditional telephone system, Lewis explained, except that it runs over the data network, meaning there is only one infrastructure to support.

"Its not a voice over Internet. Its a voice-over-IP system. [That means] its essentially taking the data network and putting voice traffic on it," Lewis said.

Lewis explained that the system had a lot of rich features and was tied to the personal PCs of Infineon staff, enabling them to get their voice mail as e-mails or drag and drop to transfer calls in the ShoreTel Call Manager application. The Call Manager also provided a way to log calls and see exactly how long people were waiting, and Grafals said that this was a valuable tool to determine temporary staffing requirements.

"Our ticketing department now has the ability to check logs and see how many users were logged in, the call volume, wait time and call time. This helped us to manage staffing levels, so we bring on additional seasonal [staff] as phone calls [increase]," Grafals said.

Next Page: Turning phone services into profit.

Turning Phone Services into


Profit">

When Infineon first purchased the ShoreTel system, Grafals said, some people from Planit Solutions came to a staff meeting right after the system was installed and trained the 40 permanent employees on how to use the ShoreTel system. Grafals said that after some initial training, the system was fairly easy to understand and use.

Shortly after, Planit Solutions staff discovered that Infineon was paying for hundreds of telephone lines it was no longer using. The impact added up to serious money.

"Our telecommunications were [costing us] a couple of hundred thousand a year. We had permanent lines running all over the facility for sanctioning bodies and TV stations and race crews," Grafals said. "There was little control over where the phone lines went or whether we could reuse existing phone lines."

Lewis said he told Grafals that instead of spending all this money, Infineon could turn it around and start making money from telephone services.

"After [they hired us], we really started looking at the infrastructure of the POTS [plain old telephone service] lines that were costing them incredible amounts of money. [We told Infineon], they could get rid of [all these extra lines] and turn this into a profit center, so instead of [event participants] ordering service from the local phone company, they can order lines from Infineon," Lewis said.

Grafals said Infineon now has ShoreTel ports located throughout the property and can turn phone lines on and off as needed, and Planit Solutions manages the whole process for Infineon.

This has enabled Infineon to kill hundreds of phone lines. She said that anyone who needs phone service for an event is directed to the Infineon Web site to order the lines.

Planit Solutions monitors this site and sets up phones wherever they are needed on the Infineon property.

With the help of Planit Solutions, Grafals said, she has been able to manage the phone lines more efficiently to the point that she has cut telecom costs between 2003 and 2004 by more than $70,000. She said she expects that number to go up as more event participants use Infineons telecom services.

Ultimately, Grafals said the ShoreTel phone system and the relationship Infineon has established with Planit Solutions has resulted in improved efficiency, and it has given her better control over telecom, turning what once was a costly expenditure into a profit center.

Ron Miller is a free-lance writer in Amherst, Mass. Contact him at ronsmiller@ronsmiller.com.

Case file

  • Customer Infineon Raceway
  • Location Sonoma, Calif.
  • Organizational snapshot Professional automotive racetrack, part of the NASCAR professional racing circuit
  • Business need Outdated phone system that needed to be replaced in a hurry, as the busy race season was approaching, and the bulk of ticket sales was traditionally done by telephone
  • Technology partner Planit Solutions, Petaluma, Calif.
  • Recommended solution Install VOIP system from ShoreTel; train Infineon personnel on new system; transfer new phone system to new building when complete; analyze telecom infrastructure; suggest ways to cut telecom costs
  • ROI Infineon was able to turn telecom from a cost center that cost $200,000 per year into a profit center that resulted in more than $70,000 in savings between 2003 and 2004
  • Lessons learned Infineon realized it was paying far too much money for telecom than it needed to; with the help of Planit Solutions, it was able to turn off hundreds of open telephone lines and make money by providing telecom services for event participants, rather than having the local telephone company do so

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