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Grande Cache Coal Case Study

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Case Studies

Grande Cache Coal mines big savings with ShoreTel Unified Communications

Unreliable Nortel PBX

A legacy Nortel PBX, with many points of failure, was costly and difficult to maintain, often requiring expensive service calls to resolve connection problems that left Grande Cache Coal (GCC) without phone service several days each month.

Lower management and maintenance costs

Communications with remote mining operations are truly the lifeblood of GCC’s business. But harsh winters, rugged and mountainous terrain, and the mines present GCC with formidable business communication challenges. An aging legacy system didn’t help.

“Anytime we wanted to make changes—move or add a phone or extension—we had to call a Nortel service provider,” explains GCC Senior Infrastructure Engineer Thayer Ramahi. “We were calling a Nortel service provider about four times a week to add, remove, and move phones at the site. In one case, it took three weeks simply to connect a new extension.”

That was a piece of cake, though, compared to connecting the company’s two mining sites with the Grande Cache site office. With no commercial communications infrastructure of any kind available, GCC was forced to build its own wireless network and initially rely on radios and satellite phones.

Canadian safety laws require GCC to shut down the mining operations if communication fails between headquarters and the mine site offices, which affects the company’s bottom line. For example, after a radio tower blew down in a storm, mine operations shut down for three days, costing about $3 million. “During this type of outage, employees can’t work, but they’re still on the job and still have to be paid,” says Ramahi. “Plus, we still have to pay for the train pickups, even if the trains leave empty and leave us with unhappy customers.”

When GCC needed to add 25 new extensions—which would max out the Nortel system’s limits—it was the ideal opportunity to make a fresh communications start.

Flexibility with ShoreTel provides platform for growth

Scalability, reliability, and flexibility were nonnegotiable requirements for the replacement system. “We didn’t want to have to worry about having to replace the system to accommodate future growth,” explains Ramahi. “We also wanted a new phone system that was easy to maintain, that we could maintain and deploy ourselves without relying on outside vendors or having to travel to the remote sites.”

To help evaluate options for a new VoIP communications system, GCC worked with its existing vendor, TNS Telecom Networking Solutions. “TNS introduced us to ShoreTel and put us in touch with ShoreTel customers,” states Ramahi. “They demonstrated the ShoreTel system at our office, and we were able to see how simple it was to manage, and ShoreTel’s many features and technical capabilities. We were very impressed. ShoreTel had many features that other more expensive systems lacked, and the user interface and documentation were intuitive and easy to understand.”

ShoreTel fast-tracks savings and efficiency for GCC

GCC rolled out its first ShoreTel implementation in the company’s Calgary headquarters. “It only took three business days to cut over to ShoreTel. Training was just as simple because ShoreTel is easy to learn. Training for my team took three hours. In half a day our receptionist learned to use ShoreTel Operator Call Manager—and she had never used a VoIP system before,” says Ramahi.

“WITH THE OLD SYSTEM, EVERY SERVICE CALL COST $700 FOR THE TRAVEL EXPENSES ALONE. SINCE WE DIDN’T HAVE IT STAFF ON-SITE AT REMOTE LOCATIONS, CALLOUTS CAME FROM CALGARY, WHICH TOOK TIME AND WAS EXPENSIVE.”

Thayer Ramahi, Senior Infrastructure Engineer
Grande Cache Coal

A ShoreTel Voice Switch at each mine connects to a wireless radio, which is part of GCC’s wireless network. To ensure communications reliability, GCC operates two wireless networks, using the second as a backup. “All we have to do is connect the switches via Ethernet to the network,” explains Ramahi. “Switchover is plug and play. The ShoreTel system continues to deliver 100 percent uptime, and ShoreTel’s ability to provide reliable communications in harsh environments is outstanding.”

ShoreTel’s ease of management reduces support costs

GCC realized sizable savings from the beginning of the deployment. With four-digit dialing, internal calls are no longer toll calls. Bundling their own service levels with ShoreTel’s partner support program, TNS can offer GCC a support program that makes per-incident charges a thing of the past. “With the old system, every service call cost $700 for the travel expenses alone. Since we didn’t have IT staff on-site at remote locations, callouts came from Calgary, which took time and was expensive,” says Ramahi.

The ShoreTel system also improves GCC’s emergency response. “Our mine rescue team is distributed across the company,” explains Ramahi. “Calls to the rescue number go to every single member of that team, one by one, until the call is answered.”

“It used to require several vendors to move extensions,” says Ramahi. “Now we can just unplug a phone from one office and plug it into another office, at another site. It’s just that simple.” Employees can also take their phone connection with them when they travel. Managers visiting mining sites, who need to handle critical issues personally, can simply login to any office phone and reassign their extensions.

“THE SHORETEL SYSTEM CONTINUES TO DELIVER 100 PERCENT UPTIME, AND SHORETEL’S ABILITY TO PROVIDE RELIABLE COMMUNICATIONS IN HARSH ENVIRONMENTS IS OUTSTANDING.”

ShoreTel scalability facilitates GCC expansion plans

GCC is planning to expand its ShoreTel implementation as it opens a new building at a new mine site. “I know it will be painless to implement ShoreTel in this new building,” says Ramahi. “All I will have to do is ship the equipment to the site and plug in the phones. The phones will be available immediately.”

“When I presented the system to my management, I included a slide showing ShoreTel’s advantages. Half of the management voted to go forward with ShoreTel, while the other half was unfamiliar with ShoreTel’s success and market presence. Now, after ShoreTel deployment, they’re enthusiastic about our success and are receptive to expansion. ShoreTel delivered exactly what we were looking for,” concludes Ramahi.

CHALLENGE:

  • To provide reliable unified communications for mine operations in rugged terrain, avoid costly shutdowns, and enhance productivity.

SOLUTION:

  • The ShoreTel UC system included 150 ShoreTel IP Phones, IP conference phones, and ShoreTel Voice Switches.

BENEFITS:

  • Centrally support a growing business
  • Reliable, flexible, high-quality communications
  • Reduced overall costs
  • Built-in redundancy for high availability