IBM offers new customized services

Brent Eriksson faced a dilemma last summer: his IT resources had been depleted and he had to install a network at the North Shore Health Region in North Vancouver, B.C.

Eriksson is regional director of IS with North Shore, administering the IT needs of 1,000 users at the Lions Gate acute care facility and eight other health care sites in and around North Vancouver. The project was being hampered by an all too familiar problem – lack of trained staff.

“We have very limited resources. We’re also a public company, and being in health care, have a hard time paying the wages that it takes to maintain some critical IT resources,” he said.

And with the economy in B.C. in the midst of a downturn, many skilled IT workers were moving further east or south to the U.S., compounding an already difficult hiring situation.

So Eriksson turned to IBM Corp. and signed up for a service that’s now called Total Systems Management. Officially launched early last month, TSM aims to bring customized IT services to overburdened or understaffed client sites.

“There are certain areas that clients can outsource, and the difficulty for most of them is they don’t know which ones to outsource, or how to take most advantage of a partner,” said Don Bradford, vice-president of Total Systems Management with IBM Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

“With TSM we go in and work with the customer in a consultative engagement, starting with business issues…and then work back down with them and determine the best utilization of their people.”

The goal of TSM is to free up the client’s resources so they can focus on core competencies, Bradford said. To ensure that IBM fulfils that requirement, the company spends anywhere from six to 12 weeks getting to know the client, assessing where they can be of most help, before they make a proposal. And if the client asks them to assume responsibility for a technology that is not a traditional IBM strength, the vendor will find a third-party that can do the job.

Bradford said it’s also important not to keep CEOs in the dark. “When we go through this, we will quantify the economic value of the strategy back to the CIO, and the CIO can respond to these issues pertaining to the business value and respond back to the CEO,” he added.

Once the project begins, IBM puts a project manager on site and that person becomes the client’s single point of contact with IBM.

Letting TSM design and install North Shore’s network allowed Eriksson to concentrate on other, more business-related problems. “It allows me to get [those tasks] done really quickly,” he said.

And he said IBM is more open to negotiation and discussion than are the outsourcers he has dealt with in the past. “A lot of the other vendors we talk with, they come in, they get in the door, and they use it as a hook to get a whole bunch of other stuff.”

Shekar Iyer, wealth management CIO at CIBC in Toronto, agrees. “Normally, when you deal with a lot of service providers, they have a lot of ready-made solutions…I think the approach we went through (with IBM) was different,” he said.

Iyer’s department has outsourced its network to TSM, and is now working with them on a disaster recovery plan for CIBC’s on-line trading system.Though the idea of outsourcing may worry some, Iyer said he’s only being realistic. “I don’t have an army here to manage a network. And as your network becomes complex, one option is to say ‘I will be responsible for strategy and design, and the day-to-day operations and construction, I’ll give to someone else.'”

IBM’s Bradford said IBM Global Services first developed the idea for TSM after talking to IBM clients. CIOs told him that they’re being pulled in two directions at once: forced to find a way to bring business value to their company, move projects forward and assess new technology while trying to cope with decreasing staff.

TSM already has 262 accounts, over half of which are finance and distribution companies. Most customers in Canada are small to mid-sized companies, the ones Bradford said tend to lose most of their IT staff to bigger firms.

“This is a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away, and most CIOs feel it most when one, two or three of their key people leave, and they’re faced with trying to respond to issues on availability.”