Telecom Outsourcing: Will it merge with data?

As data and voice networks continue to converge in the enterprise, telecommunications and data networking outsourcing contracts are becoming more closely intertwined and a host of French companies are hoping to ride this new wave in services.

At a round-table discussion here called "Outsourcing Telecoms", systems integrators and outsourcing companies argued the merits of keeping telecomms and data contracts separate, or moving toward a more unified model.

"All IT outsourcing includes telecommunications outsourcing," said Jean Nivoix, director of outsourcing for Expertel FM, France Telecom SA's services subsidiary.

"You can't separate telecommunications and overall communications plans within a company," said Roland de Conihout, CEO of French services company Exquadra. "Many of our contracts today are integrated ones, including voice, data and Internet access."

The challenge for most companies today is how to manage an overall communications strategy, agreed Phillipe Clement, commercial outsourcing director at Alcatel Telecom Software and Services. "Voice and data are converging," he said.

But other members of the panel believed that telecomm outsourcing should remain apart from that of data network services, at least for the time being.

"We stop at the entry to the LAN with our telecomm (outsourcing) contract," said Pierre Dulon, telecomm manager at banking giant Groupe Credit Lyonnais. The outsourcing contract covers the voice phone network and phones on the desktops, but it doesn't cover managed data transmission, and the bank sees no reason to change this set-up at the moment.

Services company Syseca still offers "pure voice" contracts, said Jean-Noel Billioud, the company's marketing director. However, some companies achieve such cost savings in outsourcing their phone networks that they have extra money to spend on improving their data networks. Sometimes, after outsourcing their voice networks, companies approach Syseca to take the next step toward managing their intranets and extranets.

However, one thing all the participants agreed upon is that the decision regarding the breadth of the contract should be left up to the client.

There is never one solution and every company has a different set of needs, Exquadra's Conihout said. What drives a company to seek an outsourcing contract of any kind is the feeling that they haven't mastered the best way to do something. And right now, most companies are confused about how to handle data networks that carry an increasing amount of traffic. Therefore, most companies will ask more of a telecommunications outsourcing company than just a managed voice contract, he said.

Telecommunications outsourcing may be a relatively new field in France, but it will soon take off, predicted many of the panelists. With independent systems integrators going head-to-head with France Telecom and other telecomms companies in France that now offer outsourcing, there are bound to be many choices for the user.

One user expressed concern that companies trying to get ahead in the highly competitive telecommunications outsourcing market could forget the most important ingredient -- the client.

"I'm a bit worried about the battle between the carriers (such as France Telecom) and the integrators," Credit Lyonnais' Dulon said. The service providers need to work together with the carriers so that the customer can get the best of both worlds -- inexpensive bandwidth and top-of-the-line services.

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