RBC Financial Group has signed on to a multi-year contract with Bell Canada to convert 8,400 of the bank’s Centrex phone lines in its downtown Toronto locations to Voice over Internet Protocol by the end of November.
Financial terms of the deal, which was announced Wednesday, were not disclosed. Under the contract, RBC will receive telephone service for two-and-a-half years and maintenance on its call servers for five years. For this project, which is scheduled to start deployment next month, Bell chose partners Cisco Systems Canada to provide the hardware, software, and technical/advanced network support, while IBM Canada will provide IP telephony support as well as network monitoring and management.
“Most of our network is IP today,” said Bob Matthews, senior manager, telecommunications, RBC. “This allows us to piggyback our communication services onto an infrastructure, which allows us to save money.”
While RBC has an IP network already in place, the bank will have to upgrade its routers and switches as well as put in universal power supplies on its existing switches. (The central office currently powers the bank’s Centrex servers.) RBC will not be implementing a unified messaging system, choosing to stay with its existing voice mail system. To do this, the bank has put in gateways between its existing voice mail system and Cisco’s Call Manager to continue to use the older equipment. RBC will be replacing the the Centrex phones with Cisco’s 7960, 7940 and 7905 models.
This is not the first time RBC has implemented a IP communications solution. In 2003, the bank set up a pilot with employees at the same Toronto offices. RBC cancelled the project because it felt the technology was not ready for the enterprise at that point in time.
“We were having a lot of software changes in the service,” said Matthews. “That was causing us a lot of grief in that we had to do a lot of lab testing to prove the product worked.”
This time around, Matthews is confident Cisco’s products will require fewer changes and will be easier for the bank to implement.
Confidence in VoIP in the enterprise is growing — better technology and improved productivity are contributing to this trend.
“As big enterprises get comfortable enough now they’re willing to take the larger scale deployments of VoIP,” said Jon Arnold, an independent telecommunications consultant. “Before they were only doing it on a small scale.”
Likewise, Cisco Systems Canada vice-president of enterprise Gilles St. Hilaire said his company is starting to see VoIP adoption rates gain momentum.
“The Canadian enterprise is really waking up to IP communications this year,” said Hilaire. “It’s going to be a very strong year for VoIP.”
While the maturation of the technology has significantly helped adoption rates, Renato Discenza, senior vice-president of BCE sales, said businesses’ thinking around productivity is really what has caused the market to move.
“Years ago people thought of IP as a cheap telecom solution,” said Discenza. “The business case approach has changed. They’re not just looking at costs. They’re looking how many more customer contacts can we have.”
Cost savings and productivity benefits aside, Hilaire said financial services customers like RBC are also looking to VoIP for business integration and applications like directory services, touch-screen capabilities and conferencing capabilities, for example.
“There are a number of applications that could be added to these solutions that go far beyond simple cost savings,” said Hilaire. “The technology that’s provided is more reliable than traditional voice systems because you’re reducing the complexity of traditional voice networks and the total cost of operation.”
With improved confidence in the VoIP market comes some stiff competition. Arnold suspects Bell wanted to nab a large customer following Telus’s recent win of TD CanadaTrust for its VoIP offering.
“Bell is looking very aggressively for a big score in the financial sector,” said Arnold. “Bell has to come up at their end with something too. There’s a lot of incentive for them to get something like this announced.”
Discenza noted that Bell has had other customer successes with BMO Bank of Montreal and Manulife — who were existing Bell legacy customers prior to switching to VoIP.
“This is potentially a fiercely competitive field,” he said. “Some institutions look at self-sourcing this type of activity.”
As for future uses of this technology, RBC is looking into mobile capabilities for some of its bankers and eventually putting voice, video and data over a single network.