Halifax engineering firm outsources to Bell Aliant

In an effort to centralize the ICT aspects of their sprawling operations, Halifax-based environmental and geotechnical engineering firm Jacques Whitford has inked a $40-million outsourcing deal with ICT provider Bell Aliant.

Bell’s business-solutions provider arm, xwave, has been gathering Jacques Whitford’s IT operations under one roof since summer, while the new year will see them implement a VOIP system for the firm.

xwave’s managing director of managed services Ray Miller is eager to get his hands on Jacques Whitford’s IT operations and offer some holistic solutions. Said Miller: “Who better to work with your IT and telecommunications than IT and telecommunications people?”

According to Jacques Whitford CTO Russ Morrison, the company’s 1,500 employees spread over 46 offices makes for a massive amount of IT to keep an eye on. “Supporting IT and voice operations in such a widely spread-out area was a challenge for the tech team,” he said. The lack of links decreased collaborative ability, and put strain on the non-central offices. “When your hub is in Atlantic Canada and you’ve only placed the odd person here and there in the small offices, it makes it difficult to deal with so many servers, network computers, and voice systems,” said Morrison.

To solve the problem, xwave has been busy at work since August, centralizing the company’s ICT operations (everything from their ERP application to e-mail), courtesy of a server farm. “We’ve put it all in one lot: a very high-end data centre that will manage all systems,” Morrison said.

Jacques Whitford is also streamlining their processes with a few key upgrades. Miller said that they’re switching their operating system from Novell to Microsoft, as it is more standard, and, according to Morrison, has better collaborative tools like Live Meeting and Live Communicator. Cohesiveness was one of the main selling points of this partnership, according to Morrison: “If you’re all running the same OS and vendor on all the network, there’s much better transparency.”

Transparency-or getting in less of an IT muddle-will also be aided by the expanding of the deal to include a North America-wide implementation of VOIP, effective in January. “When we started contemplating about what centralization would entail, what with ripping out all the routers and switches, we thought that VOIP might fit well and if we’re taking stuff out, we might as well put in VOIP-compatible hardware as well.”

Going with VOIP has a multitude of benefits, said Miller. Voice systems can be run out of a central location, instead of having multiple offices with their own systems that expensively run over long-distance telephone networks. Bundling VOIP with other services can also bring cost savings.

Morrison is confident that this strategy will put them ahead of their competitors in the environmental engineering game-in an industry that involves a lot of site assessment and being on-site, mobility is coveted. “People working from home or in the field can access that kind of mobility with a soft phone on their laptop,” Morrison said.

Miller said that he sees that many companies are starting to use VOIP (or at least thinking about it), but Jacques Whitford’s full-speed-ahead tactic sets them apart. “No one else is combining VOIP with consolidating all data with using all-new technology. It really puts us ahead of our competitors,” said Morrison. How long they’ll remain at the top remains to be seen-the new IT operations should be fully operational by the first quarter of 2007, according to Morrison, but Miller believes that Jacques Whitford’s brand of IT solution combination will be a driving trend in 2007.

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