Combining IT, telecom departments helped services firm get better prices

When Michael Harrison first came to NexInnovations, his responsibilities did not include telephony, mobile devices, desktop printing or departmental printing. But the CIO and vice-president of IT at the Mississauga, Ont.-based IT service firm quickly saw to it that things changed.

“”I preached

to the executive team: ‘If it plugs in physically or virtually, I own it.’ They bought into it,”” said Harrison, discussing why his company merged the IT and telecom departments. “”By converging all of the different technologies … into a single department, we were able to leverage suppliers and contracts to drive better value back into the business.””


What got NexInnovations on the road toward bringing together the IT and telecom departments was the need to wirelessly connect technicians with near real-time data, Harrison said. The process started some three years ago. Before changes brought order out of chaos, the company had 42 different mobility suppliers. Bringing them back to a common platform has enabled NexInnovations to get better pricing. And employees now know how much of their airtime charges they can bill to the company and how much they have to foot themselves.

Combining the two departments, continued Harrison, has not only produced “”significant savings”” for the business, but also eliminated some of the problems that would have manifested themselves had the departments remained separate entities, each fiercely protecting its domain.

Mobile Knowledge, an Ottawa-based company that offers global positioning system (GPS), wireless and mobile data communications for the taxi industry, has managed to avoid some of the us-versus-them shenanigans that result from having separate IT and telecom departments.

Mick Chawner, Mobile Knowledge’s president and chief executive officer, said he’s worked for startups and for established firms over the course of his career. Startups, he reasoned, are not likely to have both a dedicated department for IT and a dedicated department for telecom.

“”Our IT department is also our telecom department,”” said Chawner, whose company employs about 50 people. “”It’s different from organization to organization … unless you have a CIO who controls telecom, IT and telecom departments will try to maintain their own separate systems. In one of my previous lives when I sold to Fortune 500 companies, we’d sometimes have problems having to sell to both telecom guys and to IT guys.””

Because of the politics among rival departments, some businesses are trying to bring IT and telecom departments closer together, breaking down walls that can divide and prevent companies from achieving their goals.

But it’s not enough to have data and telecom professionals sitting together in the same offices, said John Riddell, senior analyst at the Angus TeleManagement Group in Ajax, Ont.

“”If you’re going to converge networks,”” he argued, “”you need to converge staff.””

As for organizations that still have separate IT and telecom departments, Riddell said the issue of which unit should be responsible for wireless devices is another can of worms.


“”Monitoring wireless devices is not related to the problem of integrating IT and telecom staff,”” he said, adding that in the future, people will be able to buy Wi-Fi cell phones capable of hooking up to corporate wireless LANs.

“”Wireless devices are not generally using corporate networks,”” he said. “”Telecom systems tend to run with a minimum amount of care. But a fleet of cell phones requires great care. If you buy 150 BlackBerrys and disperse them throughout the organization: Where are they? Keeping track of them and their use is a concern.””

Arguing that the trend toward merging IT and telecom departments started years ago, Brian Sharwood, an analyst at the SeaBoard Group in Toronto, Ont., said that it’s not so easy to determine which department should ultimately be asked to keep track of wireless devices.

“”We’ve found that cell phones come under all sorts of budgets-from general budgets to IT to telecom,”” said Sharwood. He added that another problem surrounding the use of cell phones in enterprises is that service providers haven’t yet been able to get their heads around the corporate market, and are therefore not providing the right bundles for companies.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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