Sink or swim: Merging IT and telecom

When Michael Harrison first came to NexInnovations, telephony, mobile devices, desktop printing and departmental printing were outside his realm of responsibility. But the CIO and vice-president of IT at the Mississauga, Ont.-based technology provider quickly saw to it that things changed.


preached to the executive team: ‘If it plugs in physically or virtually, I own it.’ They bought into it,”” says Harrison. One of the first jobs he tackled was to merge the IT and telecom departments.

“”By converging all of the different technologies — not just voice and data — into a single department, we were able to leverage suppliers and contracts to drive better value back into the business. Without owning the entire communications process, you can’t drive communications efficiencies through your 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, he says. The process started three years ago. Before Harrison’s changes brought order out of chaos, the company had 42 different mobility suppliers. But 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, says Harrison, has not only produced “”significant savings”” for the business, it has also eliminated some of the problems that would have manifested had the departments remained separate entities, each fiercely protecting its domain.

Mobile Knowledge, a Kanata, Ont.-based company that offers GPS, wireless and mobile data communications for the taxi industry, has managed to avoid some of the us-versus-them shenanigans stemming from having separate IT and telecom departments.

Mick Chawner, president and CEO of the company, says he’s worked for startups and for established firms over the course of his career. Startups, he says, are not likely going to have both a dedicated department for IT and a dedicated department for telecom.

“”Our IT department is also our telecom department,”” says 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.””

The politics of rivals

Because of the politics among rival departments, some businesses are seeking to bring IT and telecom departments closer together, breaking down walls that can divide and have a negative impact on the attainment of corporate objectives.

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

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

As for organizations that still have separate IT and telecom departments, Riddell says 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 says. In the future, Riddell says 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. Telecom systems tend to run with a minimum amount of care. But a fleet of cellphones 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.””

The trend toward merging IT and telecom departments started years ago, says Brian Sharwood, an analyst at the Seaboard Group in Toronto. But he says it’s never easy to determine which department should ultimately be asked to keep track of the company’s wireless devices.

“”We’ve found that cell-phones come under all sorts of budgets — from general budgets to IT to telecom,”” says Sharwood. He says another problem with the use of cellphones in enterprises is that service providers haven’t been able to get their heads around the corporate market. And until that happens, he says, they won’t be able to provide integrated bundles that appeal to their customers.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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