Changes at TD spell a shift in telecom billing

When Canada Trust started outsourcing telecom cost management 10 years ago, the bank probably couldn’t have predicted how much of its tech infrastructure and its business would change in the future. But as different as life is today for the former standalone firm, it seems Canada Trust’s service provider may play a big part in the bank’s new life.

Back in the’90s Canada Trust operated private branch exchange (PBX) phone systems at its locations. The bank wanted to get a leash on its long-distance bills, so it called in MDR Switchview Global Networks Inc., a call-accounting company, to provide detailed billing that would pave the way for business-line charge back.

“We also wanted to get some activity reports on our trunk routes for capacity planning.” said Rick Wilbur, a London, Ont.-based IT consultant at TD Bank Financial Group (TD). “Long-distance was a fair bit more expensive back then.” MDR put digital collection boxes into the telephone system to harvest the information that Canada Trust required. The bank could then allocate telecom costs to each department according to the amount of calls made by the business units.

When TD acquired Canada Trust in 2000, that spelled a major change for its telecom infrastructure. Canada Trust got rid of many of its PBXs and started using Centrex, like TD.

Centrex equipment resides with the telecom service provider. The provider offers the detailed billing that Canada Trust originally received from MDR.

“Now we have three PBX sites and one voice over IP (VoIP) location,” Wilbur said, pointing out that these are the only places where MDR — or as it’s known today, Avotus Corp. — continues to have a call-accounting presence. “That’s around 8,000 stations — still significant.”

But Avotus may well play an even greater part in TD’s telecom system down the road. Wilbur said his company is eyeing VoIP to replace Centrex. “If we continue with premise-based equipment, somebody will need to do the detailed billing.”

According to Alan Gold of Avotus, it’s important for firms like his to change with the times. Long-distance toll charges are not as high as they used to be, so Avotus’ customers no longer seek solutions for skyrocketing phone expenses. As customers turn to VoIP, however, they may seek a way to continue charge backs to business units, and they may want information for network planning. Avotus’ portfolio of telecom asset- and expense-management services might work well for VoIP implementations, Gold said.

But it’s too soon for Avotus to count TD as a “win” in the VoIP space. Wilbur said TD has not decided whether to source detailed billing from Avotus, another similar company or a service provider like Bell Canada, should the financial institution install VoIP.

TD does, however, have some experience with outsourcing this part of its telecom infrastructure, thanks to Canada Trust’s relationship with Avotus. Wilbur offered advice about how to make the most of such agreements:

“Make sure you look at all of the benefits. Originally it was a matter of getting a handle on our toll costs and making individuals accountable for their toll costs. I think that’s much less of a factor these days….But it gives you a good idea of your traffic patterns, which can help you design a private voice network.”

Wilbur also said it’s a good idea to have a system in place to monitor voice traffic as it traverses the data network in any VoIP implementation. Voice traffic can affect the amount of bandwidth required to carry voice and data smoothly. Monitoring “also helps you with the public-access network for external calls,” he added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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