How a ShoreTel reseller overhauled comms at Hoyts

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This article appeared in the March 2015 issue of CRN magazine.

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How a ShoreTel reseller overhauled comms at Hoyts
Left to right: Adam Wrightson and Nigel Sinclair

With 48 cinemas across Australia and New Zealand, several sales offices, more than 650 DVD rental kiosks and media division Val Morgan, which runs digital advertising on 2,000 cinema screens and in excess of 3,200 digital panels in shopping centres and petrol stations throughout the two countries, Hoyts’ business now extends well beyond the silver screen, as does its technology requirements.

When Hoyts wanted to switch its Australian business to IP telephony, it partnered with Sydney-based PTS Communications (Business Technology Group did the New Zealand rollout). CRN sat down with the general manager of Hoyts Cinema Technology Group, Adam Wrightson, and PTS Communications sales director and principal Nigel Sinclair to learn more.

What triggered the rollout?

Adam Wrightson: A few years ago we were embarking on a new office move and had been running an analogue PABX system, which had reached its capacity. Looking to the future, we needed to either upgrade that system or purchase a new one for moving into the new office.

We did a lot of research looking at different telephone systems that had the ability to grow with our business. It coincided with some other large projects [related to] the industry’s transformation from analogue film projection through to digital projection.

That [analogue to digital change] resulted in a new data communication network and opened up the opportunity for us to look at an IP telephony system. Our corporate network, which joins all of our cinema complexes back to head office for transfer of daily takings and box office transactions, is the same network that now runs our IP telephony.

Can you tell us more about your network upgrade?

Wrightson: We’re not moving content at this point in time out to the cinemas via the network. The content is just too large so it’s distributed on hard drives. But all of the auditoriums within a cinema complex are now networked – that transition from analogue to digital required a significant amount of network infrastructure within our cinema complexes in general. Part of that was new switches, not just for the auditoriums but for the actual site itself, which are now all power over Ethernet, which facilitates the IP telephony. 

Which vendors did you look at?

Wrightson: We went to tender and looked at all of the big name suppliers, from Avaya to Cisco, Mitel and Siemens. We’d done some research on Gartner reports and so on. At that time I hadn’t heard of ShoreTel and they were pretty much number one across the board as far as reliability, return on investment – all of the key KPIs that as an IT director you’re looking to tick the boxes on. We still did a fairly rigorous RFP and chose ShoreTel at the end of the day.

Take us through the rollout…

Wrightson: We were supporting over  150 staff in our head office. As we progressed with our rollout of digital cinema and the new data communications network that was part of that project, it became clear that we now had the infrastructure and the right opportunity to roll the IP telephony system out across our cinemas.  As you can imagine in a retail business like ours, PSTN services had grown out of control over many decades. Phone lines sort of creep in there, and you end up with large phone bills that nobody ever really goes through in a lot of detail. So while we had some rationalisation projects to cull some of those phone lines in years gone by, it was as we moved to IP telephony that we were really able to get some material savings.

First was the 2010 office move. We then rolled out ShoreTel into New Zealand probably about 12 months later, and then about another six months after that we commenced the rollout across the Australian cinema circuit. That also included all of our other corporate offices – so, all of our sales offices for our Val Morgan business. Everything is being transitioned across to IP telephony.

How many cinemas have you connected to IP telephony?

Wrightson: There are 38 cinemas in Australia, there’s 10 in New Zealand, and in addition to that there’s our corporate head office in Sydney, our head office in New Zealand and then there’s four or five other sales offices for Val Morgan throughout the country as well.

What benefits have you seen?

Wrightson: We’ve realised savings in excess of $300,000 a year from an operating expense perspective by using SIP trunks and by being able to eliminate the majority of our fixed line PSTN services to all of our sites.

While we had some teething problems around SIP in implementation, again from a cost-saving perspective and efficiency perspective, we’ve been able to consolidate all of the trunks for the whole of Australia into two sites. So there’s no telephone lines that run into any of the cinema complexes for running the voice system. It all runs over the network and goes out through trunks here in Sydney, so even when somebody makes a phone call in WA, that’s coming out through trunks that are located here in Sydney.

Of course, we still run some PSTN voice services for things like alarms and elevator lines, and critical services where you want or need just a local PSTN service.

How did this project compare with other rollouts that PTS has done?

Nigel Sinclair: It was certainly one of the largest and most diverse projects we’ve worked on, simply due to the quantity of sites. Typically, we were dealing with multi-site clients, but they would probably have a Sydney, Brisbane [and] Melbourne presence. They probably wouldn’t have 50 sites spread over two countries. That’s really quite unique.

What’s your background in this area?

Sinclair: We were actually the first partner in Australia with ShoreTel, and we were supplying ShoreTel in Australia before they even had any presence in the country. So we very quickly had to become very self-sufficient and, of course, that goes in line with training our engineers. Any business, I believe, needs to be self-sufficient in an engineering sense. You can’t rely on manufacturers to supply support to the end-customer because there’s always a lag whenever that happens. We do get good support from ShoreTel, but it’s better if we can be responsible immediately to the end-user.

Was ShoreTel directly involved in the project?

Sinclair: Oh, absolutely yes. Not in a deployment sense, but what we do with a project of that size, we’ll always go back to ShoreTel engineers to help cross-check our design, because with a project of that size, it’s always good to get several sets of eyes on the project, just to make sure that we’ve got the right design element all together.

What do you see as ShoreTel’s strengths?

Sinclair: ShoreTel was relatively simple. It was more of an appliance base with one centralised server, as opposed to dealing with clusters of servers. We didn’t want to deal with clusters of servers in many ways. I guess it’s not as reliable dealing with lots of Windows systems dispersed all over the place. And it was of course scalable, so we didn’t have to have multiple products, or multiple brands, and be trained in multiple brands, in order to scale over the size that we needed. 

Wrightson: What we liked about the platform is its modularity and scalability. Unlike other IP telephony systems, which were predominantly software-based, the ShoreTel system is more appliance based and you just add appliances. That worked for us, having a fairly distributed network of sites. In the end, the architecture changed and has become even more simplified – we didn’t end up actually putting hardware into our cinema sites at all. We’ve now got them centralised into two sites, in our primary data centre and backup data centre, which gives us full redundancy and failover. 

Were there any challenges?

Wrightson: Things that you take for granted – for example, in an analogue phone system transferring a call from the receptionist – I can tell you that in our implementation there were some teething problems where some things worked and some things didn’t. It’s not as black and white as ‘oh, well that’s the PABX’ or ‘that’s a ShoreTel problem’. 

What other products were deployed?

Wrightson: There are a number of [ShoreTel] ShoreGear switches, which are the hardware pieces that run the foundation of the telephony system. ShoreGear is what ShoreTel calls the actual switch modules that actually take in the SIP trunks, and then also control all of the call handling and communication with the actual handsets.

We’re only running two models of ShoreTel IP handsets – a basic model [ShoreTel 230] and a more advanced model [ShoreTel 265]. We have a network connection out to the handset which then connects the laptops and other devices.  The basic handset we run throughout all of the cinemas and various offices, warehouses and so on.  

We’ve got two stacks of switches in our main data centre, and then also in our backup data centre. They both run in parallel, so half the trunks are on one system and half are on the other. If we do lose a site, we only have half the number of trunks, but at the same time, our phone system stays up.

One of the other reasons we chose ShoreTel was around that reliability. As you can appreciate in a cinema environment, we’ve got handsets sitting in wet areas, behind bars, candy bars – those sorts of things, so we wanted a solution that was going to be robust. As you can appreciate, in a retail environment handsets get abused quite a lot. In the 18 months to two years that we’ve had the full deployment and running over 700 handsets across the circuit, I think we’d probably be lucky if we’ve had 10 go back. 

Sinclair: Yes, and often we get them back and they’re working.

Wrightson: If there’s anything I can say about ShoreTel, it’s just ‘set and forget’. It just works. It’s so robust from a maintenance perspective, from an outage perspective, all of those things. I can’t recall how many times if at all where we’ve had outages since putting in the system.

What about redundancy?

Wrightson: What we’ve done is we’ve put a backup 3G SIM into all of our site routers. So what happens is that if the primary link goes down then it automatically fails over to that 3G service. That has proven to be absolutely reliable as far as a backup, for not only keeping the site up from a data perspective, but also from a voice perspective.  

Quite often we’ll call the site with an outage and they’re not even aware that the site’s gone down, because of the auto failover to a 3G service. It’s been a godsend, because as you can appreciate, a 3G service is very cost-effective.

What other equipment is involved?

Wrightson: We run exclusively HP networking across our circuit, both in head office and here [in the cinema sites]. There’s no ShoreGear PABX equipment sitting in any of the sites.

Some of the other ShoreTel pieces we’re running are some of the collaboration tools, enterprise contact centre, and the IVR system so customers can call to pick up session times to their cinemas. That’s all running on the ShoreTel platform. Our customer service business is also using those IVR tools and platforms to again take calls from the general public with enquiries. 

What do you look for in a technology partner?

Wrightson: The commercial deal we did at the time was done directly with ShoreTel and then they put forward a number of recommendations in relation to partners and we chose PTS. I think that it was how well PTS did during the head office rollout that cemented the relationship and gave us confidence that they were the right partner to then scale this out to close to 60 external sites. While Hoyts is a major brand, I would describe this as a medium enterprise, not what you’d call a large enterprise customer. So when we look for partners, we like to have partners that I like to call ‘right size’. People who can give you the level of attention that a small to medium business enterprise wants or needs. 

Sinclair: We talk about Hoyts all the time because we’re proud of it; it was a great result and we use Hoyts as a great testimonial. They’re also a good group of people to work with. 


THE CUSTOMER: HOYTS

 

  • Established 1909
  • Headcount 2,300
  • Locations  48 cinemas across Australia and New Zealand, plus head office and sales offices.
  • Industry sector Entertainment

 

THE SUPPLIER: PTS COMMUNICATIONS

  • Established 1994
  • Headcount 12
  • Location Sydney
  • Specialty UC: IP PBX, voice, video, mobility, conferencing, collaboration

THE PROJECT

  • Situation IP telephony rollout
  • Technology deployed ShoreTel including ShoreTel Voice Switches, ShoreTel IP230, IP230g, IP265 handsets, IP8000 conference phones, ShoreTel Enterprise Contact Center, ShoreTel VPN Concentrator, ShoreTel Communicator with Professional Access
  • Outcome IP telephony rolled out across corporate network
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