Rising from the Arizona desert in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale is the brand-new $450 million University of Phoenix Stadium, which seats almost 65,000. Since 2006 it has not only been the home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl but also hosts many ambitious public gatherings, from concerts and monster truck rallies to large trade shows and other business functions. The facility, which will host Super Bowl XLII in February, 2008, features a cutting-edge voice and data communications infrastructure that includes a multimedia IP network.
Incorporating this communications network was a challenge for the Cardinals’ two-person IT staff when building the structure in 2004.
“Someone had to take responsibility for developing this system,” says Mark Feller, VP of Technology for the Cardinals. He notes that early in the process Bill Bidwell, the team’s owner, decided that if the stadium were to be truly a state-of-the-art stadium, the team had to take the lead. “And it became clear that we needed an outsourcing partner to make all the right moves, not only during development but also after the stadium opened. Technology churn can make today’s systems obsolete very quickly.”
“In today’s dynamic IT environment, enterprise customers across the United States face the daunting task of trying to plan for the future,” says Nick Maynard, Senior Analyst, Communications Network Infrastructure for the Yankee Group. “And if you don’t have the in-house resources to do that, you must outsource.”
Feller and Ron Minegar, Executive VP, worked on the plan for almost a year, dealing with a myriad of technology suitors to incorporate the technology used at the stadium into the team’s executive offices and practice facility. Fortunately, they didn’t need to go far in finding a “technology quarterback.”
Insight North America, a subsidiary of Insight Enterprises, is based in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. Insight worked in unison with both the stadium’s contractor and the Cardinals, serving as technology liaison between the two and consultant to the team; this included helping it decide which technology providers’ hardware and services would go into the stadium. This input eventually led the two partners to select IT and telecom providers such as Cisco and Mobile Access Networks among others. Insight served as primary manager of those relationships on behalf of the Cardinals both during and after construction.
Keeping the Stadium Cutting Edge, Not Bleeding Edge
“We’ve accumulated a great deal of experience in advising our clients on issues like this, both initially and as technology advances continue,” says Insight’s Solution Service Executive Alan Hahn, who convinced first the Cardinals, then his associates. He remains intimately involved in all aspects of the relationship. “We do a lot of similar work with commercial real estate development and redevelopment industries, since high-speed and wireless communications technology is very important to a lot of different businesses.”
Flexibility was a high priority for the stadium owners. A myriad of organizations use the stadium and its office space the entire year. Concessionaires and retailers need access to the stadium’s IP network. And wireless communications for tens of thousands of attendees also need to be quick and responsive.
“We have to please all sorts of different businesses,” Feller said. “The football team uses the stadium only a few times a year. The network can be segmented to accommodate a myriad of different needs, depending on the circumstances at the time.”
“Ordinarily, the general contractors work directly with these communications providers,” says Hahn. “But we do that, and express the wishes of the client–in this case, the Cardinals and stadium users. We provide the products, services, and ongoing management even after the stadium is done. We’re producing one integrated solution,” he adds.
According to Feller, things went very well between Insight and the stadium’s general contractor. “We welcomed Insight’s input, as it was clear they had an appreciation of what the stadium’s contractor needed to do. Insight also demonstrated a clear blueprint for how to build this communication technology efficiently and within the project’s timetable for completion.”
Provider/Buyer Culture Mesh Eliminates Bottlenecks
But before beginning the stadium’s network installation, Insight and its tech providers overhauled the communication network at the Cardinals’ training facility in Tempe, installing optical fiber, IP (Internet Protocol) phones, and a state-of-the-art videoconferencing system. According to Feller, this seemed an appropriate place for a practice run of what would be a much larger network installation. It would also give them an idea of what lay ahead as the much larger stadium work approached.
“Essentially, the training facility was a dress rehearsal for the stadium,” says Feller. “The ‘dry run’ worked the way it was meant to and told us all that we were on the right track.”
For Feller, the payoff lay in timing the network installation with the building construction. “We’d never built a stadium before,” he said. “Hunt (the general contractor) and Insight worked very well under a strict deadline, dictated by the football season, as everything had to be done by early September 2006.”
Now that the stadium enters its second year of operation, and the relationship between the team and Insight continues, Feller is seeing even more benefits. Insight continues the “game plan” to keep the stadium in the communications technology forefront. Today, the issue is WiMAX, the incorporation of real-time wireless video, a dream when the stadium was being built but now a growing reality. And he also appreciates the cultures shared by the two firms.
“As we’ve looked at this next generation of wireless technology, we find that Insight’s views and ours on when to build it into our network are very similar,” he notes. “Move too soon, and it could be an expensive mistake. Move too late, and it becomes an even bigger mistake.”
“We both agree when the perfect time will be to upgrade the wireless service,” says Hahn. “It tells us both just how similar our views are on a lot of things.”
Feller, the Cardinals, and Insight look to what will ultimately be the team’s greatest challenge to this new network–next year’s Super Bowl. “It will tax all of our communications systems to the limit,” he says. “But we’re confident that everything will work properly because we already know it does now, thanks to our technology quarterback.”
Lessons From the Outsourcing Journal:
- When owners of large properties want to incorporate the newest communication technology into their buildings, outsourcing to a provider that knows the benefits of all vendors is an astute move that saves money and time during what can be very tight construction schedules.
- Another benefit of outsourcing is the ability to incorporate new technology at the perfect time, which produces optimum service at the ideal price.
- A technology “quarterback” that can also effectively interface with general contractors can make large construction (or retrofit) projects run much smoother. It also relieves the property owner of many decisions it might be unprepared to make alone.