Competition and data

I have had the pleasure for some time now of trying to set up toll free phone service for my company’s sales and support efforts. When I say “pleasure,” I mean intense annoyance coming close to precipitating psychosis.

In the days when the Ma Bells reigned unchallenged you could say things like “these cities [list attached] are routed to my 1-800 line.” You old folks should remember such entities as Bell Canada (since it only really ever handled Ontario and Quebec, I find its name presumptuous), AGT and BC Tel. They knew the telephone exchanges that lived in each city. And you paid for it.

Then, following the lead in the U.S., Canada started allowing competition so that other telcos could start offering services in each other’s backyards. Long distance and toll free services were the first easy targets. But sadly now in the 21st Century, I am faced with the phone companies asking me to figure out their exchanges. Here’s roughly how my conversation with one telco went:

Me: I would like all the phone numbers for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands – when someone dials my support toll free number – to be routed to my support person in Victoria please. The rest of B.C. should go to my support person in Vancouver.

Them: Is that the 250 area code sir?

Me: It’s part of it. Greater Vancouver is 604.

Them: Oh. Do you know the exchanges in the 250 area code you want routed?

Me: Gosh I don’t know all the phone exchanges for Vancouver Island. Don’t you have a list? You are a phone company.

Them: Sorry, no we don’t, because other companies provide cell and local services.

Me: Give me a break. I know that you guys bill each other for carrying signals on each other’s wires; it’s like airlines that share passengers.

Them: I’m sorry I don’t have access to that information.

Apart from the equally offensive fact that one of their staff in Toronto didn’t know the difference between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, I was stonewalled. They had given up. Someone in their organization had found some of the exchanges, but it seemed ludicrous that we couldn’t find all of them.

So I started searching on the Internet and I found a guy who had compiled all the exchanges from various phone companies and had made a list. (See It’s fairly accurate too – I cross-referenced my existing customer phone list to this Internet listing and they were all there. Where is he getting the information? He says it’s from “tariff documents, telephone directories, CRTC tariff filings, and other telephone company sources.”

So, in the IT business it seems that if we don’t like our competitors, we don’t collect information about them even though it would be good customer service. But someone can do this part time just for the fun of it…does anyone other than me have a headache?

I believe there is room in the IT department to rise above the silly twaddle of competition and mean-spiritedness and maintain inter-company data of this sort. The IT department should do the data collection in order to apply accuracy and load it into a clean database with integrity and make it generally available.

I suspect that IT managers don’t want to be seen spending money “outside the box” by collecting data pertaining to competitors. My message to these managers is to not mention it; say it was as easy to collect all the data as it was to capture your own data; or, perhaps, the truth would be good: our customers want it.

Ford is a consultant in Vancouver who has no toll free numbers yet, but he still likes watching those ads on TV with Sela Ward (who replaced Candice Bergen) because he’s had a crush on Sela Ward since The Fugitive.