Empire Blue Cross Soon To Post 'Just Moved' Signs

New site will offer high-tech amenities for insurance company's employees.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 3, 2002

4 Min Read

Within a month of losing its offices at One World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield found a new location for its employees. The building in downtown Brooklyn, just across the East River and a few miles from lower Manhattan, will offer the latest high-speed computer networking technology. The insurance company will design its office space from scratch. There's only one problem: The building won't be completed until year's end or later.

To prepare 1,500 employees to move into a building that's still little more than a two-story skeleton of steel girders and joists, Empire Blue Cross this month plans to install an outdoor camera to transmit images to the company's network and workers' desktops, letting employees watch the construction from their computers.

The construction camera will serve an important purpose, says Charlene McMichael, an Empire Blue Cross manager of insurance accreditation and compliance. "Watching the building being built will be like watching someone breathe life into its existence," she says.

For McMichael, the ability to watch her company's new building rise up from the city's pavement will help provide her with a bit of closure from the Sept. 11 disaster. "It's more sentimental for me," says McMichael, who's worked for Empire Blue Cross for 20 years. She was in One World Trade Center's shopping mall on the ground floor when the jetliner struck the building. The insurance company had about 10 floors of space in one of the twin towers.

Empire Blue Cross is committed to New York City, Snow says.

Company executives also plan to build bigger and better Webcasting capabilities into the new building, which will be part of Brooklyn's emerging MetroTech Center, a 16-acre complex of office buildings, stores, and Polytechnic University classrooms being built at a cost of about $1 billion. As the building's largest tenant, Empire Blue Cross also will be able to install satellite receivers on the roof, something it couldn't do at the World Trade Center, says David Snow, the company's chief operating officer.

One of MetroTech Center's biggest attractions for Empire Blue Cross is the ability to plan from a clean slate. The company will occupy 322,220 square feet of office space covering nine of the building's 19 floors. It had been leasing 480,000 square feet, Snow says, so in addition to the Brooklyn site, the company will maintain offices in several other New York locations.

"We'll be able to build our IT operations to our specifications," Snow says. "Now that we're even more spread out as a company, video and Internet conferencing are even more important."

Snow and his colleagues are designing a broadcast studio into the new building's floor plans. The studio will let the company better utilize the capabilities of its Cisco IP/TV network video-streaming system. IP/TV provides TV-quality live-video programming that lets company executives broadcast and archive meetings and make the content available online to all employees. Empire Blue Cross used some Internet conferencing technology when it was at One World Trade Center, Snow says. But that building's older wiring and smaller rooms limited the technology's usefulness. "We did IP/TV in the World Trade Center from a storage room on the 28th floor," Snow says.

Empire Blue Cross will be able to install rooftop satellite dishes at its MetroTech Center offices.

With more advanced wiring, the new building will let the company's IT and telecommunications staff broadcast messages directly to employees' desktops, offer instant polling on different topics, archive meetings, and provide E-learning programs.

Rooftop access is another advantage, letting Empire Blue Cross install satellite dishes. "A more clear satellite signal will help us transmit data between our facilities worldwide without using expensive T1 lines," Snow says, adding that satellite technology is a good backup in the event of another major disruption to the city's infrastructure.

MetroTech Center will have eight other buildings that provide a lower-cost alternative to Manhattan and have attracted companies such as Bell Atlantic and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Rental space in Brooklyn averages about $37 per square foot, compared with $55 per square foot in Manhattan, Snow says.

Empire Blue Cross' executives considered other areas for relocation. But most facilities in Brooklyn and Queens aren't large enough or wouldn't have been able to handle the company's high-speed computers and wiring, Snow says.

There was never a question that Empire Blue Cross would stay in New York City, Snow says. "We've been in New York for 65 years. We're a New York company, and we're committed to staying."

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