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Feature Article
February 2005

Maine Energy Company Selects Networked Telecom Solution

Downeast Energy is a family-owned company, delivering energy products and building materials to households in Maine and New Hampshire since 1908. Headquartered in Brunswick, Maine, Downeast Energy supports 12 locations with 400 employees and 60,000 customers.

“In a region like Maine where winter home heating can be a life or death situation, our telephones literally can be the lifeline for our customers,” said Chris Turner, director of IT for Downeast Energy. A Toshiba customer since 1983, Downeast Energy turned to NorthStar Communications of Cumberland, Maine, with whom it has a 20-year relationship, when it was time to upgrade their system and network its 12 locations throughout Maine. With up to 1,600 incoming calls per day in the Brunswick office alone, the stakes were high.

“We’ve greatly improved our employees’ ability
to communicate with each other and
our customers.”

- Chris Turner
Downeast Energy

“Our challenge was to design an integrated solution that permitted each user and each location to utilize the technology that best served their particular customer service needs,” said Bill Fogel, president of NorthStar. “Some locations would benefit from IP applications, while traditional PBX was a better fit for others. Everyone wanted centralized voicemail and instant internal connectivity.”

To network its communications between its 12 sites, Downeast Energy chose four Toshiba Strata CTX670 business communications systems (one at its headquarters), five Strata CTX100 systems, and Toshiba IP phones at three smaller locations. Toshiba’s Stratagy iES32 Voice Processing system delivers centralized voice mail for all 12 sites.

Improved Communication Inside And Out
Twenty-year company veteran Patti Weaver relies on Toshiba’s PC Attendant Console to answer and route all of the incoming calls to the company’s headquarters office in Brunswick. Turner said, “We don’t want to use an automated attendant, as we believe in personalized customer service. Having the Toshiba PC Attendant makes it possible for Patti to answer the hundreds of calls we receive, making sure every customer feels important.”

Weaver was a key decision-maker for the telecommunications system. Turner added, “Patti had the final vote, because we respect her experience in knowing what would work to maintain customer satisfaction over the telephones. She’s been very pleased.”

Downeast Energy also benefits from Direct Inward Dialing (DiD) and four-digit extension dialing between its 500 employees regardless of location. Turner said, “Extension dialing improves internal communication while reducing overall costs since we rely on our own WAN for the calls, rather than analog tie lines or public lines.”

Using Toshiba’s Stratagy iES32 Voice Processing system, NorthStar Communications installed a centralized voice mail system that supports all locations. Turner said, “By centralizing voice mail, we can communicate with groups of people with broadcast messages. We’ve greatly improved our employees’ ability to access their voice messages and communicate with each other and our customers.”

Remote Administration With Toshiba WinAdmin
There’s a saying in Maine, “You can’t get there from here…,” which can be absolutely true in the wintertime. Turner said, “Having the ability to remotely program changes, such as moves, adds, and changes, to our Toshiba system is a major benefit when temperatures dip and roads are closed. We can still make changes for our offices hundreds of miles away, without leaving our desks, using Toshiba’s WinAdmin program.”

In addition, Turner has his voice mail programmed to page him when calls come in after hours, allowing him to handle emergencies quickly, a functionality that is new with the Strata CTX. He also appreciates the system’s reporting capabilities and the ability to track call volumes and determine usage needs and requirements.

Seamless Migration Path
Downeast Energy purchased its first Toshiba Perception telecommunications system in 1983, migrating to Toshiba’s Strata DK systems as the company grew. It migrated its Strata DK systems to the Strata CTX. “Toshiba’s migration to the Strata CTX systems allowed us to retain much of the investment we had put into our earlier equipment, through seamless re-use of many telephones and CO and station cards at a savings of $20,000, while still allowing us to take advantage of the latest technologies and capabilities,” Turner said. “There was a great comfort in knowing that NorthStar Communications would be handling our migration. Their team knows our system inside out. Despite all the technology, this is still a people business.”

Not having to retrain its employees to learn a new telephone system was a huge time and cost savings, according to Turner. “Our employees were pleased with the smooth migration. Folks were just as proficient on the cut-over day as they were the day before.”

Cost Savings Abound
Today, by avoiding the public lines and relying on its own WAN for extension calling, Downeast Energy eliminated long-distance charges between employees, a savings of more than 20 percent. Using their ATM backbone and VoIP cards in every PBX, the WAN also provides a cost savings of about 50 percent over using leased lines, along with delivering VoIP dial tone to the smaller sites via Toshiba IP telephones. By using VoIP instead of installing three complete telecommunications systems, Downeast Energy’s overall costs are reduced significantly, yet the smaller offices get the benefits of the communications system.

The Bottom Line
“NorthStar has given us unparalleled support, and Toshiba’s products are in a class of their own delivering quality and reliability,” Turner said. “Both companies delivered superior service in helping us migrate and be able to use our system at its ultimate performance. The combination of NorthStar Communications and Toshiba is unbeatable.”
Turner summed it up, saying, “We wanted a business communications system that works like the utility companies — you turn on the switch, and it works — and that’s what we’ve got.”

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