House of Blues sings IP praise

With offices in Vancouver and Toronto, and hosting over 12,000 concerts each year, the House of Blues Concerts Canada (HOB) was in serious need of a communications system overhaul.

Calls between the two offices sent the company’s monthly long distance bills through the roof and since it already had invested a large sum in its initial telephone system form Nortel Networks and had the Brampton. Ont.-based company’s NorStar IP phones in some of its locations, HOB wasn’t looking forward to another expensive alternative.

“We had full-time IP data connections between our offices, which we were paying for on a monthly basis, but we weren’t really making use of them in the ways we could have,” said Howie Gold, manager of information systems and technology with HOB Canada in Toronto.

Gold said HOB was also looking for enhanced telephony features including caller ID, call display and extension dialling between the Vancouver and Toronto offices.

After numerous quotes, HOB found what it wanted in the Business Communications Manager (BCM) from Nortel.

According to Becky Lance, a senior manager for Nortel in Nashville, Tenn., this converged voice-data platform supports traditional as well as IP telephony through built-in IP gateways, IP trunking and IP stations that can be switched on and off via software keycodes.

According to Gold, that HOB could have voice over IP (VoIP) capabilities along with the enhanced features and do so on existing NorStar phones sealed the deal.

“Our initial decision-making process was specifically to save money on new phones,” Gold said. “We had no idea at the time that we were going to make such use of the IP side of it. I didn’t fully appreciate how well it would work and how much our company would utilize it until we started rolling it out bit by bit.”

The roll out was long and at times arduous. The company installed its initial BCM in Toronto in early 2001. This past March the firm installed another BCM in Vancouver. Gold said HOB had its fair share of glitches along the way, but explained that the issues wouldn’t deter someone from using the technology.

“We went in a little fearless,” he said. “Nothing really impacted our ability to carry on our business. It was more about little annoyances every so often.”

He said that as HOB upgraded its BCM software from 2.0 to 3.5, the annoyances disappeared. Gold added that the end result was worth the hurdles.

“We saved about $1,000 per month on long distance charges,” he said. “We were also able to cut our 85 standard analogue phone lines (in Toronto) down to about 40 lines, which saved us an additional $2,000 per month. All in all, we are saving about $40,000 a year.”

Gold said he’s the one getting the credit.

“I’m a hero here at the company. I get people calling me all the time telling me how cool it is that they can access their e-mail from a hotel room in (the middle of) nowhere.”

Long-term, HOB plans to deploy BCMs in all its locations including its nine amphitheatres and 15 clubs across Canada and the U.S. to create its own long-distance network internally, Gold said.