Firms dial telecom outsourcing

Several years ago, all hospitals and long-term and homecare health facilities in Calgary were operating as individual entities. They have all since amalgamated, but when the time came to come together, they ran into some infrastructure issues relating to their voice networks.

First off, all the organizations’ telephony gear was old – and there was a lot of it. In most cases, the equipment – such as the telephone switches – was more than 15 years old. As well, each hospital and centre had its own technology, and was at a different stage with technology implementations.

Secondly, there was no money to implement the kinds of changes that were required.

“To be very honest, we would rather spend our money on direct patient care,” notes Sam Tse, executive director of information technology services at Calgary Health Region, the organization now responsible for all of the city’s health care facilities.

The time had come for a total revamp, and to mesh the various organizations’ networks together.

“So our strategy was to go out and find a partner that could have that competency, have that discipline and process to bring that in to help us. We realized very early in the game that network operations maintenance and break-fixes and monitoring is not our core competency.”

Calgary Health Region realized the most effective way to get what it needed was to outsource the entire project. It utilized an RFP process to find a company that could help with the implementation and management of the new system, and came up with Telus Corp.

Telus is now responsible for Calgary Health Region’s entire voice network, as well as its data network, although that is under a separate contract.

“The Region now runs voice over an IP network, across the WAN data network. Before that it was all entirely separate,” notes Tse.

He added that the Region has kept its architecting and planning functions in-house.

Telus, meanwhile, has been monitoring the organization’s network and handling repairs and project work for the organization for the past year.

“Without this approach, we would not have been able to get this done,” Tse says. “From the IT side…we would not have been able to do it because we don’t have all the skills that would be needed, nor the process and the disciplines. Cost savings? Absolutely. Early numbers show that we are saving money.”

For the Canadian Department of National Defence, personnel and budget cuts were reasons to take a look at outsourcing. The department was also anticipating an increase in bandwidth demand.

“We were looking for voice, data and IP services, so basically all services,” says Major Winston Sheppard, senior implementation manager for the telecom services renewal project with the Department of Defence in Ottawa. ” And that was the big issue. We were going to offer up all of our systems out there for an intra-Canada solution for the department, basically at the transport level.…But we also went up to another layer and included the routers for the IP networks. We also included the PBXs for the voice networks and another system called a multiplexer for our data networks.”

The department also went through an RFP process, and ended up awarding its contract to Bell Nexxia.

At the time, the Defence Department had individual networks spread across the country, and it was receiving various services from different service providers. Bell took over all of the existing contracts and put everything onto its ATM backbone, Sheppard says.

“We still do our deployed operations here. Basically, for all of our domestic communication requirements that are not classified, we use Bell.”

Telecom outsourcing is something that seems to be catching on in specific verticals, according to Michael Gelinas, vice-president of Custom Solutions at Telus.

“I would say the areas we’re seeing the most activity in would be the energy, education and what I would call just generally the public sector – the larger type of clients,” he says.

But while these larger-sized organizations might be seeking out services, the average enterprise is not, according to one analyst. Telecom outsourcing has traditionally been something that Canadian enterprises have been offered, rather than sought out, says Brownlee Thomas, a Montreal-based analyst with the Giga Information Group Inc.

“This has always been lacking by probably a good year in Canada compared to the U.S., pretty much across the board and also the fact that there’s less competition and telecoms in Canada, which means there are fewer incentives to aggressively pursue. So it is going to be your usual suspects of those who are offering and actually pushing (the services),” she says. “The telcos want to offer the managed service, which means you won’t do it to yourself, and therefore they get more revenues from value-added services.”

But the fact that technologies are ever-changing is something that might in fact make enterprises want to take a look at outsourcing their voice networks and/or applications, says Charles Salameh, vice-president of enterprise data, managed solutions at Bell Canada in Toronto.

“What has happened now with these IP networks is that…along with that expansion came more advanced and unique technologies, and customers are sort of being bombarded with these newer technologies because of the expanding networks and are unable to keep up with them, and unable to keep up with how to best leverage these technologies to gain a competitive advantage,” he explains. “(They are unable to) leverage these technologies to improve their productivity or to reduce their overall costs for two big reasons. One: the technology is complex to begin with. And secondly, the resources that they require – these specialized IP resources to manage these infrastructures – are very rare and hard to find in the marketplace.”

What it came down to for the Calgary Health Region was realizing what its core competencies were, and how it could deal with its technology issues in a fashion that allowed it to keep its eyes on the ball. Tse recommends enterprises who decide to explore the outsourcing option keep that in mind.

“Be very clear on what you are trying to achieve,” he says.