President, Bell

BMO Financial Group is making the jump to IP connectivity in a deal with Bell Canada that should help the bank improve its customer service applications, according to one of the financial firm’s representatives.

Bell announced the $84 million agreement Friday that makes the telco BMO’s primary IP communication provider. The four-year contract will see the bank’s 1,100 branch locations equipped for IP applications and IP virtual private network (VPN) connectivity.

Nimish Patel, BMO’s vice-president of network services, said IP helps connect the bank’s numerous customer-service channels, such as branches and call centres, so the institution might provide an “enhanced customer experience” to its users. The firm employs Frame Relay at ATM connections between locations today. In 2003, we laid out a strategy to set the IP standard for our customers. This agreement with BMO is a perfect example showing that our strategy is not only working but the marketplace is responding.Isabelle Courville>Text

Although Patel didn’t go into detail about the types of customer-service apps BMO would build on the IP backbone, he did cite a future voice over IP (VoIP) implementation and cross-enterprise e-learning as programs that would help the bank’s staffers communicate and grow within the company.

“It’s a question of the building blocks to get there,” Patel said of the Bell deal, adding that it will probably take 18 months to two years for BMO to complete the IP conversion project.

Bell will install network gear from Cisco Systems Inc. to IP-ify the bank, according to Chris Bazinet, Cisco Systems Canada’s director of product marketing in Toronto. In particular the agreement should see BMO get Cisco Catalyst 3750 switches and the vendor’s ISR 2851s, Integrated Services Routers with built-in security features that make the boxes less expensive to operate than competing products, Bazinet said.

The BMO announcement suggests that Bell was right to start pushing IP as a tech force to be reckoned with, as it did some time ago. “In 2003, we laid out a strategy to set the IP standard for our customers,” said Isabelle Courville in a statement. She’s president of Bell’s enterprise group. “This agreement with BMO is a perfect example showing that our strategy is not only working but the marketplace is responding.”

Mark Quigley, an industry analyst at The Yankee Group Canada, said BMO’s switch to IP shouldn’t come as a surprise. “This type of thing is an inevitability. The world is going IP.”

Still, the announcement is “pretty important” for Bell, Quigley said. The BMO account could help the telco convince other blue-chip businesses to board the IP bandwagon. “That gravy helps.”

He also noted that the deal “doesn’t make it any easier” for Bell’s rival, Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Corp., to sell its IP offerings in Ontario and Quebec, where Bell is the dominant player.

Bell and Telus have been trading boasts over the years, each claiming to be Canada’s prime IP shop. Telus was first out of the gate with a hosted voice-data service, IP-One in 2003. Bell turned on a similar product, Managed IP Telephony, in 2004.

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