Bell Canada debuts IP collaboration offering

Bell Canada unveiled Monday a combination of hardware, software and professional services that aims to help businesses effect a cultural change toward a truly collaborative space featuring integrated IP telephony.

The company’s Converged Office, produced in tandem with partners Microsoft and Nortel, runs on Nortel’s Communication Server, and Microsoft’s Communicator and Live Communicator servers. Converged Office represents the goal of going beyond “simple dial-tone functionality,” said Bell professional services’ regional vice-president Gilmond Lapointe.

The solution includes the hardware and software, along with the professional services to integrate everything. This results in features like integration of different contact lists, instant messaging to any device (including BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile-based smartphones, PCs, and regular cellphones), and click-to-call capabilities that allows the user to click on an e-mail and call the sender). Converged Office also has conferencing and application sharing.

Since some of these features are already baked in to the Microsoft and Nortel products, Lapointe said that the primary market for the product is companies who already utilize the two solutions for basic telephony and are looking to unify their communications.

The professional services offers a customized solution, and integrates the set-up with the company’s infrastructure. Also included is a tailor-made roadmap. Said Lapointe: “We assess the company’s plan, and how to empower them (with unified communications). Most companies are in phase zero, a free-for-all, so we want to help them climb up that maturity scale, and build a team-based, and worker-based approach, and then business and enterprise strategies (and that will help businesses change their culture).”

Available since August, the solution is a natural offshoot of Bell Canada’s own collaborative practices, something that it has been doing for years, according to Eugene Roman, Bell Canada’s group president of Bell systems and technology. He said that Bell Canada has been embracing numerous collaborative strategies, such as a large mobile workforce, collective online idea brainstorming (which has yielded innovations like SMS-delivered Amber Alerts, and an IT equipment recycling program), and a new “Just Ask” feature for internal questions.

It is this type of practicing-what-they-preach that has placed Bell Canada at the corporate collaboration vanguard, said Forrester Research principal analyst Rob Koplowitz. “(Collaboration) is not about technology,” he said. “It’s about cultural change.” According to Koplowitz, for true collaboration to take place, companies need to break away from the “command-control culture, and allow and empower employees to collaborate.” Said Koplowitz: “Ultimately, it’s about having an organization that implements the ideas (generated by collaboration).”

There is a collaboration gap, he said, that is brought about by companies not integrating their collaboration strategies well enough. By just using IP telephony, and not taking advantage of the converged solutions such a solution offers, companies are merely reducing costs instead of also increasing productivity. “We haven’t seen the pay-off because there hasn’t been a cultural shift yet,” he said.

Bell Canada’s focus on bridging the strategy gap (and thus effecting a cultural shift) and maximizing IP infrastructure is exemplified in Converged Office. The unified communications solution brings voice and data into applications, and offers collaborative messaging, conferencing, and contact list management features, but a major part of it is the professional services offered with the solution, which offers businesses a customized communications strategy and a roadmap.