ATB Financial dips toe into VoIP waters

ATB Financial may not be moving to voice-over-IP just yet, but it has signed an $8.3-million agreement with one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers to make sure it is ready when the time comes.

The Edmonton-based financial institution said this week that it had chosen Telus Corp. to be its partner in a deal that includes responsibility for its wide area network, local area network, local access, high-speed Internet and data support services. The two firms have already worked together to deploy an Avaya switch to its existing infrastructure, and will be working to improve service levels at its 200-seat call centre.

Chet Niemczyk, ATB Financial’s vice-president of information technology and operations, said the Telus agreement is part of a four-year IT roadmap that is exploring how it will grow in terms of technology infrastructure. There are eight programs that will spin out of that roadmap, Niemczyk said, including one centred on its voice and data strategy.

“There’s roads within a roadmap, and this one is sort of like a highway,” Niemczyk explained. “It’s going to lead us to a decision-making process in terms of voice-over-IP.”

Like many organizations, ATB wants to ease into VoIP rather than adopt a “big bang” approach, Niemczyk said. The Telus contract includes ongoing maintenance of its Centrex services, while preparing for a possible VoIP transition.

“We want to identify all the investments we’re going to have to make to upgrade the infrastructure,” he said.

Telus’s Alberta managing director Monty Carter said many users are jumping on the VoIP bandwagon to reduce their long-distance costs, but many enterprises are testing it in limited areas first.

“We’re not seeing a lot of wholesale replacement with VoIP,” he said. “A lot of the organizations are not technically ready to adopt that challenge.” 

Niemczyk said the Avaya switch, which went live in May, was an important part of addressing an increase in business demand, though that growth does not mean ATB Financial is about to move to more automated call-handling.

“When you call our contact centre, there is no front-end IVR,” he said, referring to an interactive voice response system which routes calls to an agent. “Part of the philosophy here is the notion that with more branches, you have more people, and if you have more people there should be more face-to-face. We want to always to provide that personal touch.”

Although Telus has had a long relationship with ATB Financial, Carter said the call centre work represents new business, for which the telco competed aggressively.

“We have to manage it very carefully, and it’s something where we set up one of our stronger governance processes,” he said. “A large portion of those meetings are going through the more strategic issues.”

ATB Financial’s growth was reflected in its first quarter earnings. On Thursday it reported $62.1 million for the period ending June 30, 2006, up $11.1 million since the same time last year.


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