Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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6/3/2010
09:00 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Full Nelson: Tech Innovation, San Francisco Giants Style

Stadium Wi-Fi, video-based player development tools, and other cool stuff, as seen through the eyes of a cranky L.A. Dodgers fan.

The San Francisco Giants haven't won a World Series in 56 years. Now they have ShoreTel's IP phone system in place, so they're pretty much a lock. OK, not really, but it's got to be a lot cheaper to make that call down to the bullpen in the third inning every night (except when Tim Lincecum is pitching; even a lifelong Dodgers fan has to give the Giants ace his due).

With its voice over IP, a wireless infrastructure that lets thousands of fans at AT&T Park browse the Web as soon as the Giants are way down, and some innovative video solutions to track every booted ground ball, this is an organization bounding toward a .500 season.

I'm not sure if ShoreTel would have invited me if it had known I'm from Los Angeles, and Giants CIO Bill Schlough was reluctant to let me into his wiring closet, lined with punch-down blocks and racks of unused gear. Schlough's pride and joy in the room--at least on this night, since ShoreTel was hosting several journalists--was the stack of ShoreTel voice switches, which now run the stadium's phone system. Schlough was sold on IP telephony to cut costs; he admitted that the Giants were at the top of Major League Baseball's telecom spending list, and he had a memo (typed) from former Giants owner Peter Magowan to prove it. The system has saved the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said, and increased productivity; also, the owner memos have stopped.

ShoreTel's system runs the Giants' teleconferencing, its call center and call routing, and it's even integrated with the team's front-office CRM system, so (all five) season ticket holders are easily identified when they call in (to complain about the team). ShoreTel CEO John Combs seemed most impressed with the use of an E911 feature, which can pinpoint the location (dugout) the call is coming from, notifying off-site and on-site security immediately.

Schlough, who considered Nortel, Cisco, and Avaya phone systems as well, touted the ShoreTel system's simplicity more than anything else. The other vendors, he said, required certification, stacks of equipment, and lots of power to support it all. Schlough said a non-engineer runs the system day to day, as adds, moves, and changes take just a few clicks on its user interface. Even a Dodgers fan could do it, he quipped.

IP telephony is just one of the innovations Schlough is putting in place. He told the story of how on opening day last season, the unanticipated glut of iPhones saturated the park's wireless network--no e-mail, no calls (and nothing out of the opposing team's infield). Being that the park's namesake is AT&T, that was a bit of a problem.

So AT&T and the Giants installed a distributed antenna system throughout the park. Now, the stadium supports about 30,000 cell phone users vigilantly texting away. The Giants also have 266 Cisco Wi-Fi access points throughout the park, supporting as many as 5,000 fans at a time, Schlough said. Lord knows what they're doing--maybe playing fantasy baseball. Between the 3G and Wi-Fi coverage, AT&T and the Giants have invested seven figures this past off-season. This is the modern-day ballpark.

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