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10/7/2011
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Cloud, Unified Communications Improves Trade Show Logistics

Metropolitan Exposition is using hosted UC from Alteva and cloud services like Dropbox and Chatter to improve the coordination of trade show booth setup and logistics.

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When the trade show must go on, Metropolitan Exposition is one of the companies that makes it happen, with unified communications and cloud collaboration services to grease the wheels.

"Ultimately, it's all about communications," CIO Larry Grossenbacher said in an interview. "Everything for us is relationship driven, so communications is huge." To smooth communications, he relies on cloud-hosted services including Alteva for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service and unified communications, Salesforce.com's Chatter, and the Dropbox file sharing service.

Metropolitan Exposition has about 100 employees, of whom approximately 70 are computer users. Grossenbacher said he got the CIO title because he knows just a little more about computers than everyone else in the company. He started out in college as a computer science major before veering into English literature, creative writing, and cinema, then wandered into the business of trade show logistics. Yet he never lost his interest in technology. As a CIO, he has been learning by doing.

Metropolitan Exposition is a New Jersey company founded in 2001 by three childhood friends, all of whom had been working for other show logistics companies. Its business is setting up booths and providing related services, such as audio visual setup. Customers are trade show organizers, as well as the exhibitors. The first contract Metropolitan Exposition won was for an event scheduled to open at the Jacob Javits Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Following that day's terrorist attacks, the first order of business was to tear down that show and hunker down to survive the interruption in business that followed.

"In the beginning, it was unbelievably rocky," Grossenbacher said.

The company persevered and began to grow rapidly. Within a year, it opened an office in Las Vegas and relocated its headquarters from Hoboken to Carlstadt. In 2005, Metro added an office in Edison and became the preferred contractor for the New Jersey Convention & Expo Center. In 2006, it relocated to a larger headquarters office in Moonachie. Because the company made finding inexpensive warehouse locations a priority, niceties like Internet connectivity were sometimes overlooked. At one point, the staff was dependent on a cellular phone network connection to the Internet that could only be used by one person at a time, Grossenbacher recalled.

[ Want to know more about Chatter? Read Salesforce.com Chatter Gets Smart. ]

Once Metropolitan Exposition had expanded into several locations, however, he went shopping for a better way to keep employees in all the locations connected. Grossenbacher said he initially considered Alteva as a provider for hosted VoIP phone service but instead picked Mindshift, which has a reputation as an all-in-one solution provider for mid-market firms. Mindshift provided a good turnkey service, but was "not as well versed" in VoIP as it was in managing email and other services, he said. When the contract came up for renewal, he went back to Alteva and signed up.

Alteva provides Metropolitan Exposition with a bundle of unified communications services built around Microsoft Office Communicator. Alteva Chief Sales Officer Louis Hayner said his company has not yet moved to Lync, Microsoft's latest update to its unified communications platform, because it doesn't work as well in a multi-tenant environment, meaning one where multiple customers are using the same server. "They decided to launch it to enterprise customers first, and make it multi-tenantable later," he said. Meanwhile, Alteva has a lot of experience using Office Communications Server as part of a hosted service and is sticking with that for now, he said.

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