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GM aims for global IP system with new AT&T deal

GM's CIO says AT&T will work with telecom providers worldwide to ensure consistent practices

February 21, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - General Motors Corp. has agreed to a $1 billion, five-year contract with AT&T to help the automaker continue development of a global IP network supporting voice, data, video and other services, the two companies said today.

The announcement renews an earlier five-year agreement between the two companies and expands on it by giving AT&T responsibility for managing GM's relationships with its other telecommunications providers, some 150 companies globally. The management role for AT&T is part of GM's overall effort to ensure that all of its IT providers work together and follow a consistent set of service and support practices.

"It follows the mind-set that information technology providers have to work as one in a corporation," said Ralph Szygenda, GM's CIO and group vice president. "They can't work as a bunch of IT companies competing against each other inside your own company."

GM has already taken this approach in its IT contracts and is outsourcing some $15 billion in IT work over five years. GM began awarding contracts one year ago this month, with Electronic Data Systems Corp. continuing to have the largest share of the automaker's IT services work, with contracts valued at about $1.4 billion annually.

AT&T now provides GM with a global virtual private network and has built an IP network based on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology, which enables network traffic to be managed by priority.

"Now the next five years is really taking it to a totally different level," Szygenda said. GM runs operations on a global basis, with the capability to work with designers and suppliers no matter where they are located, he said. The company wants to continue to build out the capabilities of its MPLS network that will integrate voice, data and video, he said.

Ron Spears, executive vice president of AT&T global business sales, said the work at GM to integrate its communication platform, which includes voice over IP, is "in process and in progress" and will take some 18 months to reach the point "where they are running effectively a complete IP infrastructure environment on a global basis."

The goal of this IP-based system is to have a consistent experience for GM workers no matter where they are. "At its simplest level, there will be a voice-mail platform that will look the same to every General Motors employee around the world," and that is not a trivial task, said Spears. Historically, "it's been a hodgepodge of systems mostly built by the regional entities, and that's true in most enterprises today," he said.

Szygenda said company engineers and support staffers work as teams, and the company can't have separate telecommunications and management systems supporting them. "That doesn't work when you are running a real-time global company," he said. "You don't want to have any differences."

Szygenda said GM's decision to go with MPLS technology was a "good bet" for the company when it was made about four years ago, and the "next thing now is to leverage all of it" and build out the capability and manage it as one system.

"The real end goal is that every employee has the same type of capabilities no matter where they are in the world," Szygenda said, "and in fact, when they wake up, they don't need to know where they are in the world. It just works."

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