Best Online Solution: Telus
A ringing endorsement
by howard solomon
In June 2005, more than 35 Alberta communities declared states of local emergencies as floods overwhelmed large parts of the province.
But using a Web-based emergency management service from the Geomatics division of Telus Corp., they were able to stay linked to the province to co-ordinate disaster recovery.
That hosted service, called Emergency Management Operating System (EMOS), was named Best Online Solution by the CEA judges.
EMOS is “truly a tool that integrates a number of technologies and provides a degree of command and control for an (emergency) operations centre,” said David Parry, specialty sales manager for Telus Geomatics in Alberta.
The provincial government believes the service is valuable enough that it is considering subsidizing the roughly $5,000 a year annual subscription cost to allow more municipalities to subscribe, he said. That would get them EMOS’ geographic information system (GIS) mapping and incident logging capabilities.
Geomatics offers a number of services around the GIS system, components of which are used by some 20 Alberta ministries, municipal agencies and private corporations. Most are emergency management departments responsible for preparing for a disaster, anything from an outbreak of animal disease to a natural gas well blowout.
EMOS allows an organization to get an emergency operations centre up and running quickly because it lets administrators see where assets are so they can judge the impact of an incident.
Auto phone alerts
The system maps and tracks almost anything from natural gas wells to vehicles. That lets administrators see, for example, if a gas well has blown, what nearby business and residents could be affected. Automated phone, e-mail or fax warnings can be sent out if necessary to emergency measures staff, businesses or residents. It can dial 1,500 residents an hour with messages in English and French.
Operated from a Telus data centre in Calgary, EMOS was first developed in Alberta out of the services offered by Telus Geomatics, a division of the telco created in 1998. Working closely with Emergency Management Alberta, a provincial department, Telus created EMOS to be a round-the-clock service with rugged security, reliability and redundancy.
The core components include GeoExplorer, a browser-based map service based on AutoDesk’s MapGuide application, which Telus has customized. More than 400 data layers including real-time weather and air quality information can be overlayed on top of location maps.
Other features include E-Team, an incident logging system, and the Emergency Notification System. Plug-in modules allow the location monitoring of vehicles carrying special GPS and cellular phone transmitters.
Since its creation, EMOS has become a bilingual product available in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. Eventually, Parry said, it will be offered in every province.
Best Small Business Solution: Conamex International
Skis the limit in Bromont
<by buket oktem
Skiers and snowboarders visiting Ski Bromont in Quebec during peak periods will be able to purchase lift tickets and be gliding down the slopes in no time thanks to Conamex International of Montreal.
The solution provider received the top prize in the Best Small Business Solution category for migrating the four-season resort’s Novell infrastructure to Microsoft and developing an answer to the security, redundancy and reliability issues faced by Ski Bromont.
“The resort didn’t have an adequate IT department to stay on top of what was needed, the system was barely supporting them and they were very vulnerable to things like hackers and system crashes,” said Elisabeth Vanderveldt, vice-president of business development at Conamex.
The deployment, which took between four to six months, involved setting up the system on Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, SQL Server 2000 for the database and Microsoft ISA (Integrated Security and Acceleration) 2004.
“We also worked with different business applications that had been customized to make sure that those apps would work properly in the new environment,” said Vanderveldt.
Conamex also implemented a software asset management process using Microsoft Visio to enable a more detailed and manageable layout of Ski Bromont’s users and licenses.
On the hardware side, new servers with built-in redundancy were put in place along with a pair of remotely manageable UPSs (uninterruptible power supply) to provide power to the servers in all circumstances.
For security and performance, Conamex divided the network into four different segments each controlled by ISA 2004 to filter traffic between the segments, the Internet and Exchange Server.
“It was like going from potential disaster to a point where they’re now looking at RFID technology to measure traffic. The resort is able to look at future technologies without having to worry about the current state of the system,” added Vanderveldt.
For Conamex, being recognized by the industry and not just the vendor community is significant, said Vanderveldt.
“We plan on looking at CEA again next year because we’re heavily involved in all the new Microsoft technologies,” she said.
“There is going to be amazing solutions that can be put together by partners and we see ourselves as being very competitive in that environment.”
The solution provider has been part of Microsoft’s technology adoption and beta program since the early part of this year.
Vanderveldt said Conamex has been involved in the Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 with unified messaging beta programs.
“We’ve been getting ramped up in order to address the market as it (the new systems) becomes available.”
Best Channel Marketing Initiative: Softchoice
Softchoice tops in marketing
By Paolo Del Nibletto
Toronto-based Softchoice Corp., one of the nation’s biggest large account resellers, was faced with a customer dilemma.
It needed to provide product overview information, order fulfilment information and SKU numbers on everything it sells. But with the market evolving almost daily, the company had to be an influencer of technology as well.
Communications manager Eric Gardiner and his team wanted to create a marketing solution that provided value to customers.
“We wanted it to be more of a magazine than a catalogue,” he said.
“We wanted it to reflect the approach we were taking with customers. Businesses are looking towards IT departments to deliver measurable value and expectations have changed. So it has changed here at Softchoice.”
With the Softchoice Advisor series of books, customers can find the latest trends, discover stories on strategy in obtaining IT and learn how to get back measurable ROI.
“We built the catalogue around that concept,” Gardiner said, “and about 70 per cent is editorial content and the rest is product placement.”
The majority of the work was done inhouse, he said. Softchoice has employees knowledgable in areas of purchasing security, storage and Microsoft licensing.
When customers began asking the company about issues such as PC lifecycle management, protection against software threats, the cost of IT infrastructure, the team came with more creative ideas for the catalogue.
“It’s more about value-added content than product and price. It’s more of a strategic view and it positions us as a trusted advisor because our people are driving that content,” Gardiner said.
In 2005, Softchoice produced Advisor guides for Microsoft technology, security, storage and hardware. This year Softchoice is working on an advisor guide for Windows Vista.
Some of the topics include understanding the new operating system and its features, and how to make sure the hardware is ready for the new OS.
“A lot of the other stuff has a small lifespan, but this is more of a reference guide. Customers can refer back to it when they are looking at making a hard decision on storage,” he said.
The Softchoice Advisor books go to sales people and to potential customers. It has become the solution providers’ second-best lead generation piece behind the company’s brochure.
But Gardiner cautions that this type of marketing initiative is not easy to do.
First, you have to have the people who have business expertise in storage and security and understand the market. They also must know how to write in a professional way. To do this kind of project in-house you must also have a design team, he said.
“It’s possible, but when you factor in marketing, assembly, and the design work you can see that this cannot be done by all. And, it can’t be outsourced either because there are too many components. It is very niche,” he said.
Sona Computer Group of Ottawa and Compugen of Richmond Hill, Ont., tied for the silver award in this category.