Canada Life insures itself against telephony costs

One of Canada’s largest insurance companies says it is reaping return on investment from Internet Protocol telephony.

This fall Canada Life will continue its rollout of integrated voice and data infrastructure based on Cisco Systems’ IP communications technology to the rest of its Toronto campus, which includes an additional 2,500 phones. The insurance firm already has more than 700 Cisco IP phones deployed in its Toronto, London, Burlington, Montréal and Puerto Rico offices. Eventually, the entire organization will convert to a unified environment.

“”We had to do a couple of pilots to prove it to the bean counters,”” said Scott Martin, director of global network services at Canada Life. The first step was to get the network infrastructure in place. “”We certainly had a lot of positioning work to do upfront. Once that happened we had a pilot of 25 phones here in Toronto with favorable results. That was about two years ago.””

From there, the business case was written to roll out IP telephony everywhere. “”The extension of mobility is a huge benefit,”” said Martin. “”The moves, adds and changes and the amount of money we were spending on a monthly and annual basis between all of our offices was phenomenal.””

Martin said in a busy month prior to moving to IP telephony, Canada Life could spend as much as $50,000 relocating an employee and their phone. Now it doesn’t even have to deal with a telecommunications service provider.

Another benefit will be that new locations will not have to install a voice infrastructure, he added. “”We’re looking at cost avoidance. “”The business case wrote itself.””

The most common concern most enterprises face when rolling out Voice over IP is quality of service, but it’s not been an issue for Canada Life, says Martin.

“”It’s a matter of matching compression and prioritizing the voice traffic over everything else,”” he said. “”We had zero quality problems with the VoIP between offices.””

There were some issues with using it over the public Internet to communicate with remote workers, said Martin, but those workers got used to the functionality and have accepted the quality. Thanks to cell phones, employees are used to not having the quality of a landline all of the time, he said. “”All in all, we’re not doing a lot of it over the Internet. We’re controlling it all over our own infrastructure.””

Canada Life will ultimately have one unified network infrastructure to maintain, something Brantz Myers, national manager for enterprise marketing with Cisco Systems Canada, described as one of the most compelling reasons for IP telephony.

“”With IP networks being so capable today, you’re able to think of pretty much any communications mode as being an application of IP.””

Myers said more applications have moved to IP over the last few years, but one of the last things organizations have held out on is the idea of including telephone calls as just another application.

“”The point we’re trying to get clearly established in the minds of our customers is that this one network built on IP can solve all sorts of cost and productivity problems,”” said Myers, “”and by implementing telephony, you take the last piece and bring it to the network.””

Warren Chaisatien, senior telecommunications analyst with research firm IDC Canada in Toronto, said Canada Life is a relatively early adopter of IP telephony. Particular vertical markets such as academic institution and health care are more apt to adopt IP telephony, he added, because they have multiple locations, sometimes spread over a large geographic area.

While Canada Life does not fall into either of these verticals, it does have multiple offices in different cities, he said. “”They can quickly realize the return. It cuts your telephone bills right away. That is the immediate benefit customers experience.””

Earlier this year Canada Life was acquired by Great-West Life Insurance Co., in part, executives said, because it was attracted by its strategic use of technology.


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