RBC embraces IP

RBC Financial Group will begin switching most of its Toronto telephone lines to a Cisco converged IP network this month, targeting nine of its 10 downtown locations in a multimillion-dollar managed services deal with Bell Canada, IBM and Cisco.

Canada’s largest bank is converting 8,400 Centrex lines to VoIP telephones as part of Bell Canada’s strategy to move its top enterprise customers to Internet Protocol telephony by the end of 2006. Last year Bell signed Manulife Financial for $140 million and the Bank of Montreal for $84 million. Financial details of the RBC agreement were not disclosed.

RBC excluded one of its downtown sites because the upgrade to VoIP from a PBX system did not make business sense, says Bob Matthews, senior manager of telecommunications for Royal Bank of Canada.

RBC is moving ahead cautiously in its IP implementation, upgrading switches and routers where necessary but replacing only the telephone handsets in the initial stages. The bank is buying into the future of voice and data convergence, but is adopting a wait-and-see approach on the application side of the technology.

“It’s for the future we’re doing this,” says Matthews.

“We believe the future applications that we can add to these IP phones — and they aren’t developed yet — are going to be helping us to serve our clients better.

“Today we’re saving money, but tomorrow we believe it’s going to help us do our business better.”

At the outset the bank will only be replacing like for like, says Matthews, swapping the Centrex service features with similar IP telecom services.

IP telephony is a technology that RBC’s telecom group has identified to support business growth, says Kelly Gard, project manager for voice development.

Gard says the upgraded IP infrastructure will position RBC to implement new applications in the future. “When we converge our voice and data network together, we’re going to end up with a multi-service network,” she says. But “we’re going to walk before we can run.”

Before any migrations begin, Gard says a large part of her job is to map-test and certify the products in a lab environment. “When it is delivered to our internal clients, it goes on the desk clean.”

Gard says RBC’s telecom department is still in the process of evaluating products and vendors. “There are a lot of futures we’re looking at, like unified messaging or leveraging our Outlook address book with an application that has a click-to-dial feature.”

Applications of the future will be a key to customer relationship management (CRM), according to Dave DeAbreu, director of financial services, enterprise group, for Cisco Systems Canada Co. in Toronto. “When you have all your data integrated into your telephony network, you’re able to move that customer information around anywhere on the network,” he says.

An example of enhanced customer care would be the ability to track down an individual anywhere on the network and then direct a customer query to the right person the first time, possibly adding a video link.

One of the stronger benefits of the technology is the reliability inherent in its architecture, says Gilles St. Hilaire, vice-president of national enterprise strategic accounts for Cisco Canada.

The CallManager switching software resides in multiple servers in different locations. “This means you don’t have a single point of failure,” he says.

For the one RBC location that functions off a PBX (privately owned branch exchange), Matthews says at today’s cost it made no sense to convert to IP telephones. “The business case was not positive so we excluded anyone who was on PBX,” he says.

The bank has also elected to maintain its existing Octel voice mail system, integrating the messaging service with Cisco’s CallManager VoIP software.

As well as replacing all the telephones with Cisco 7940 IP handsets, Matthews says the backbone network needed major upgrades to accommodate voice traffic. New hardware modules include Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 Series routers designed for high-gigabit Ethernet connectivity and multilayer switching, as well as Catalyst 4506 switches with six-port chassis and PoE (Power over Ethernet).

According to Gard, the bank is aiming to start the implementation in the middle of February and continue, building by building and floor by floor, up until the end of November.

As RBC’s single point of contact, Bell Canada says it will be responsible for systems integration, planning, design and implementation of the infrastructure, as well as testing, training, auditing and support.

IBM Canada Ltd. is providing network monitoring and management of the LAN (local area network) infrastructure, according to Renato Discenza, senior vice-president of enterprise sales for Bell Canada Inc.

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