A peek into some Canadian firms

Microsoft Canada Co. yesterday released the results of survey indicating mid-size and large Canadian companies are using technology to their advantage and are confident about their future.

At a round table event in Toronto, the software maker gathered executives from several prominent Canadian companies to discuss their recent IT successes and their upcoming plans for IT spending. Upcoming projects rnage from collaborative software to geographic information systems projects, plus customer relationship management improvements and service-oriented architecture.

Jill Schoolenberg, general manager for Microsoft Canada’s small and medium business unit, said that the results—culled from a survey conducted by the London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group of 200 Canadian business executives in December 2007—showed that technology was the number-one growth enabler, according to the respondents.

Business was also looking good for the respondents, two-thirds of whom said that they expected to expand their operations in the coming year. The majority of both mid-size and large business respondents plan, however, to concentrate on getting this growth from existing business.

Several Canadian companies present at the roundtable have been solidly building their existing business for decades, while the other is an up-and-comer who is doing rather well right out of the gate.

The latter is EnWise Power Solutions, a Toronto-based home energy solutions provider. Headed by CEO Peter Hwang, the company has been expanding rapidly, courtesy of technology. Sales field staff are all equipped with personal digital assistants that allow them to keep up with appointments in real time. His goals are to work on CRM database integrity and robustness, along with an implementation of Windows Server’s Terminal Services, so that everything can be reported back to a centralized hub and improve dispatch services.

One of the more established companies present was Tridel, the Toronto-based condo developer; its CIO, Ted Maulucci, shared some of the company’s strategies at staying on top over the years, which included standardizing on a Microsoft platform and custom development of software that would break down departmental barriers and allow remote offices and departments to tap into a centralized hub.

“We’ve also started automating some of our partners,” Maulucci said. “We have a law firm and we had to send them boxes and boxes of information and they had to process these packages into closing documents. So, instead, we put this process on top of our network; using a document server, we could digitize the format, post to the Web site, and then do overnight thousands of documents. We cut twice the deals in half the time. We’re saving $130,000 per year because of this,” he said.

Future plans for the condo developer include taking part in a real-time real estate-based search engine, tapping into a smart client to work in tandem with a title insurance company, and continuing to implement a “zero invoice” policy (through a consolidation process, the company has managed to streamline its number of invoices from 2200 down to 17). Also on the horizon for Tridel are collaboration software, VoIP, and possibly hiring more business analysts, according to Maulucci.

Pizza Pizza, the well-known eatery and delivery chain, also had a representative at the round table, vice-president of enterprise development George Jeffrey. He detailed the company’s early technical innovations, from the heated pizza bag to the one-number call system. These have led to the company’s recent new IT goals (and an increased IT budget for the upcoming year), such as an implementation of service-oriented architecture around the company’s call centre operations.

“This will support PDA and (short messaging service) text ordering,” he said. Another addition will be bulked-up GIS technologies, which will allow Pizza Pizza execs to target new high-density areas for fresh Pizza Pizza locations.

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