BMO preps for VOIP with branch network upgrade

The Bank of Montreal is switching its 1,100 branches across the country to an IP-based network to improve applications responsible for customer service and prepare for a move to voice over IP.

Through an $84-million, four-year

deal announced late last week, BMO will adopt Bell Canada’s IP VPN network. “”It is giving the employees what they need to better service the customers but also looking at a level of convergence around the different channels in how we provide that experience to the customer,”” said Nimish Patel, vice-president of network services for BMO Financial Group.

BMO has used IP in some of its corporate offices, but this is the bank’s first attempt at a comprehensive rollout, said Patel. “”Moving to a network like this, we can support multiple protocols over an IP network. Today we run things like SNA (Systems Network Architecture) as well as IP. This allows us to basically converge.””

The bank will replace its Nortel switches with Cisco gear, including Catalyst 3550 switches and ISR 2851 routers. Cisco’s latest lines of Integrated Service Router were introduced last fall, said Chris Bazinet, Cisco Canada’s director of product marketing in Toronto. “”It does all your data communication, provides connectivity between the headquarters and the branch — it will support voice . . . and it supports state of the art security in terms of firewall and intrusion detection,”” he said.

Patel said that employees in branches will be able to view the same data that is available to operators in the bank’s call centres. The technology will also lay the groundwork for future applications, including Web services, voice over IP and e-learning. “”This is was kind of the next step up. . . . (It) positions us really well to go (to) voice over IP in a big way.””

Bell’s IP VPN service has been available for three years and is approaching 100 Canadian customers. Last month, Manulife Financial announced its intent to adopt the service. “”We went to all of our customers in 2004 and discussed migration plans with them. . . . There will hopefully be many more (making the transition),”” said Isabelle Courville, president of Bell Canada’s enterprise group.

Courville said that Bell will continue to develop applications for IP corporate customers. In the case of BMO, that could include security, payment gateways and storage, as well as voice.

The move to IP in BMO branches will take approximately a year and a half, said Patel. The transition should be invisible to the bank’s customers, he said. “”We’ve done this sort of thing in the past where we’ve had to refresh our infrastructure and also deploy banking applications. It should be transparent.””

The bank is currently in the design and test phase. A rollout schedule for all 1,100 branches will be determined once that is completed.

Earlier this month, BMO competitor Scotiabank announced plans to move its 1,050 branches to an IP-based network through provider Allstream.

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