Rising demand for off-site application maintenance and support has led a Calgary outsourcing firm to set up operations in Toronto.

RIS Inc. Wednesday said its solution centre was already at work on a $5 million contract with a

client it wouldn’t name. The company, which also counts Talisman Energy and Toyota among its customers, employs 10 people at the Toronto facility so far.

RIS has focused exclusively on application maintenance and support since it was founded in 1979, but Peter Thompson, its president, said working off-site would allow clients to get the full value out of its service offerings. “”It avoids conflict with the culture of the client,”” he said.

Culture is important to Thompson, whose employees stick to the nuts and bolts of keeping applications running at a low cost. This niche needs to be separated from application development, he said, because unlike the cyclical nature of maintenance, development is often done on a project-by-project basis. There is also a culture unique to each discipline, he said.

“”When you give a problem to a maintainer, they fix it,”” he said. “”When you give it to a developer, they want to replace it. They’ll say, ‘Well, let’s throw this out and make something new.’ Sometimes you might want to do that, but not always.””

Lise Dellazizzo, director of applications outsourcing research at IDC Canada, said RIS will probably have to continue to articulate the differences between development and maintenance to potential customers.

“”Larger service providers are actually including that part in their overall service,”” she said. “”They’re with the company at the development stage . . . RIS is basing their strength on the fact that they have very strong core competencies.””

Thompson said he sees RIS as an example of how the outsourcing industry is evolving. “”It’s like engineering in the 1700s; you just had engineers,”” he said. “”Today, you wouldn’t ask an electrical engineer to build a bridge.””

The challenge for RIS is attracting employees who can commit to the sometimes less than glamorous area of support, Thompson admitted, though he said the job will become increasingly complex as the industry moves from client/server to application service provision to the emerging Web services market.

“”We make it clear in our advertising what we want,”” he said. “”These are people who are saying, ‘Find me a company where I won’t be a oddball because I want to focus on maintenance.'””

Dellazizzo said it was particularly important for RIS to avoid turnover in its workforce, given its clients are depending on its reliability.

“”It may be a lot more exciting to be assigned to projects where you’re developing new applications than it is to basically be maintaining and managing the same type of application for a longer period of time,”” she said, “”One is really not necessarily better or worse than the other. It really all depend on what it is you are looking for.””

Thompson said RIS chose Toronto as the home of its solution centre because of its central location and the attraction of the Canadian dollar to its international customers. RIS’s Toronto business has grown by 50 per cent in the last few years.

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