New Bell unit looks to take a load off network management

Bell Canada has launched what it calls a one-stop source for network-based voice, video and data communications.

Charles Salameh, vice-president of the new Bell Managed Solutions group, said that “managed solutions for us is the ability to manage a customer’s total communication environment from desktop to desktop and any network-centric applications that rides on that platform.”

Salameh said that his division will focus on network management and outsourcing, e-business applications, converged desktop communications where voice, data and video run on a common platform with a single utility pricing model, and a new security and data integrity practice. Although it is officially a new portfolio, Salameh noted that the security practice involves both an extension of parent company BCE Inc.’s internal security department, and a partnership with Ottawa-based Jetnet internetworking Services Inc.

Various Bell companies have offered managed solutions for the last three years to the tune of about $500 million (16 per cent of the Canadian market) but Salameh said the new, integrated unit “is the catalyst for delivering all of BCE’s convergence strategies.” The defining feature of Bell Managed Solutions, he said, is its focus on network-based, end-to-end service, rather than a customer’s business processes. Salameh was also not coy about listing the new unit’s main competitors.

“Right now Telus (Corp.), AT&T (Corp.) and Bell tend to compete on connectivity for connectivity, our frame against their frame, our ATM against their ATM etc. So we’re taking aim at anyone in our market space, and it’s particularly the ILECs that have the scale to compete against us, so it’s primarily Telus. But it’s also our partners too, like IBM (Canada Corp.). They’re trying to backwards integrate into our space of networks, and Bell and IBM have always been in the ‘coopitition’ environment.”

Bob Hafner, Toronto-based vice-president with analyst firm Gartner Inc., said that despite the number of players entering the fray, the market for these types of service packages is steadily growing.

“More and more enterprises have determined that they are a bank or an insurance company – not a network service provider – and they want to give greater responsibility to their service providers to do those kinds of things,” Hafner said.

It was for this reason that the Bank of Montreal engaged Bell to supply its ATM-based network backbone and all branch networks a few years ago and, more recently, its corporate LANs, said Steve Garner, manager of network services planning and engineering for the bank’s networks and systems division. The goal, Garner said, was to move key staff higher up the value-chain into architecture, design and strategic planning

“We’re in the business of designing IT solutions for the bank, but to do that we don’t necessarily need to be at the working level with a force out there in the field doing the care and feeding of those assets. [Outsourcing] definitely gets you out of what I call the ‘microengineering’ business – the move, add and change level of segmenting LANs, for example,” Garner said.

Although shifting focus into vendor management and service level agreement (SLA) management has, for the most part, been a positive experience, Garner did have a few tips for other organizations contemplating a similar move.

“When we issue the [request for proposal] we embed right into it what the actual SLA would look like. We tell the service provider that they must look at this solution as a partnership with us and everything they with that solution – if they try to save costs by reducing the network’s diversity or survivability, or move to a single operation centre – has to be in the best interest of the bank,” he said.

“Initially [Bell] might have underestimated the amount of regular move, add and change in our networks. But once they realized what they had to do they certainly stepped up to it. We’re very process-oriented here, so we’re a very demanding client in terms of service level specifications, time to repair, time to respond, but the support has been very good,” Garner said.

Although Bell is one of the dominant players in this space, and likely to be a strong market force, Hafner noted that security, for one, has more sophisticated requirements than its previous router-management-type of offerings.

“Clearly there are going to be some learning experiences from the customer side as well as the Bell side, so it’s no surprise in the early stages of rollouts of these kinds of products that there are some learning pains. Vendor management and setting very clear project timelines will be a very important component of this for customers.”

One final surprise, Garner said, was some of the regulatory issues that surround handing over key systems to a contractor.

“If you are engaging in what’s called ‘material outsourcing’ – outsourcing a key component of your business that poses a significant risk if it goes south – you have to fill out documents and do security audits to assure the government and the federal regulators that you are taking every precaution. So you want to make sure [outsourcing companies] know what you are talking about when you ask about ‘fast 70 audits’ or other processes that the government recognizes,” he said.