Carriers explain their business plans

If you’ve ever wondered what network service providers really think of their customers, here’s your chance to find out.

At the Canadian Telecom Summit in June, carrier representatives offered insights on what they think their big business clients expect of them.

The carrier reps seemed to agree that it’s not enough for them to offer basic voice and data services anymore. Enterprises want not only robust wide-area connections, but they also seek applications that boost productivity or offer cost savings, service providers say.

Myriad challenges stand before service providers in their quest for corporate Canada’s bucks. For instance, Telus faces a paradox regarding its relationship with systems integrators, explained Joe Natale, the carrier’s chief operating officer.

On one hand Telus works alongside systems integrators, partnering with these companies on projects. On the other hand, as Telus offers more and more network consulting services, the carrier ends up competing with the systems integrators.

Managing such a competitive-cooperative relationship can be difficult. “We have to do it in a very careful, considered way,” Natale said, adding that Telus hopes to make strategic partnerships with systems integrators.

For example, systems integrators seem to be moving into the business-process outsourcing (BPO) space. “They need a network infrastructure to make that happen,” Natale said. Telus can offer the connective part of the BPO platform.

“The role of systems integrators is a big question mark for us,” said Duncan McEwan, Sprint Canada’s chief operating officer, indicating that Telus is not unique in this quandary. McEwan also said customers expect Sprint Canada to pay close attention to their wants and needs.

“We have a huge focus on responsiveness,” he said, explaining that it’s his company’s job to comprehend the thought process that underscores each customer’s request. “What people say they want isn’t always what they want. You have to understand the subtext behind that.”

Mike Kologinski, executive vice-president, marketing at Allstream, said businesses want his company to help them contain costs and maintain business continuity. Security is a growing concern among enterprises clients, he added.

A Summit audience member asked the carrier representatives what sets each apart from the others. McEwan from Sprint Canada said, “We probably don’t have a sustainable advantage, one to another,” explaining that service providers seem to be moving in the same direction, aiming to offer applications as well as voice and data links. McEwan added that his firm tries to set itself apart by being “smarter, more clever” than its competitors.

Natale from Telus said his company’s defining characteristic is a workforce dedicated to meeting enterprise requirements. Kologinski said Allstream aims to offer customized service packages to its business clients.

Isabelle Courville, president of Bell’s enterprise group, said her company relies on its breadth and depth of services to stand out from the other carriers. She also said Bell is increasingly focused on vertical markets in an attempt to get closer to its enterprise accounts.

Lis Angus, executive vice-president of Angus TeleManagement Group Inc., a telecom consultancy, pointed out that enterprise IT budgets rarely grow, although voice and data managers are expected to do more with this unchanging fiscal base. She wondered how carriers expect to grow their own revenues given this situation among corporate clients.

“I hope we are seeing a turning point,” said Courville, indicating that IT budgets might be wending their way back up. “It’s our job to find where the growth is.”

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