The Role of System Integrators in an Ever-More Demanding Market – CGI

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The Role of System Integrators in an Ever-More Demanding Market – CGI

The 5G Hub proudly introduces its project partner: CGI. Being a leader in the market of system integrators for many years, CGI has an extensive innovation track record. An example is its Spark Innovation Center, a result of CGI’s firm belief that having an inspiring environment, a place to feel and experience innovation, is crucial. To celebrate this partnership, we talked to Lucien Smits, Vice-President of (tele)communications for CGI in the Netherlands, where he has been working for over 23 years. Lucien says that his clients are the big Communications Service Provider (CSPs) who want to transform into agile, advanced analytics-driven digital operators. “By offering strategic IT and business consulting, systems integration, solutions, and business process services, we support them to take the next steps in becoming digital operators,” he explains. In this interview, Lucien gives us some formidable examples of his company’s accomplishments throughout the years – some of which have changed the world of communications for good.


What are the achievements you are most proud of?   

Out of the many projects I am so very proud of, I’ll name two. The first one is something we all take for granted in the Netherlands – number portability, as in taking your mobile number with you when you switch operators. Back in the 90s, CGI built the initial platform to make that possible. Afterward, it became a legal obligation. As a result, we handed its IP rights over to the association COIN, which currently retains it and does the new developments on it, still supported by CGI.  

The second one has to do with these very successful and so deeply rooted in our daily lives message-based applications, like WhatsApp, Snapchat, the Chinese WeChat, etc. Most people do not know that we stood at the basis of the commercial 2G success with their predecessor SMS. Although SMS was developed in the 80s, we built it as a commercial solution for a large Scandinavian telecom company to provide messaging amongst their engineers. The technology was a success, so we further commercialized it – and we all know what happened after that. Moreover, it resulted in CGI, or its predecessor, becoming Europe’s SMSC market leader in the 90s. At first, SMS consisted of text messages only, but video and other features were also added later (MMS). Because of the limitations of 2G, data transfer speed back then was ridiculously slow compared to what we have today.  

Nevertheless, we are responsible for that pioneer project and product. I always like to mention this case because, with the long catalog of sophisticated CGI solutions, we might miss the actual dimension of what was achieved there. So, taking our minds back to past accomplishments for a moment gives us a better perspective on what we have reached today and makes the whole scenario a bit more comprehensive.    

In a nutshell, what does system integration mean?     

System integration means that we support clients in different industries to build and integrate end-to-end solutions. Moreover, it is essential to implement a very high level of agility, to adequately anticipate changes in ever more demanding customer needs. Products and services development cycles need to be short, flexible, cost-efficient, and, therefore, developed in an agile way. Consequently, you can adjust, stop, or move on to the next phase or use case you want to build.   

We must provide that responsiveness, also making sure we do it securely and resiliently in those technology supply chains. When implementing agility in an organization, you are constantly faced with your technical landscape, more specifically your technical debt, and that is something you do not change overnight. CGI advises and helps our clients adopt and harmonize a number of technologies and services such as cloud automation and managed services. And because these strategies cannot change instantly, we must work on a clear roadmap, as in “where do you want to move to and what are the steps you need to take to achieve that?” We have many programs that can support our clients in reaching those goals.   

Besides the hundreds of solutions CGI offers, we are proud to be an independent system integrator shop. We help our clients make well-considered, independent choices, which is excellent for them when taking the next steps in their digital transformation journey.   

Do you believe the role of system integrators has changed?      

Yes, absolutely. With the program Voice of Our Clients (VOC), we do over 1,500 face-to-face interviews every year, asking business and IT leaders which evolving business and IT trends they see in the industry and how it impacts their organization. This program has been running for more than five years now, granting us an enormous amount of insights on the top IT and business priorities. This kind of information is useful to us as much as it is to them because we provide the results back to the interviewees to help them make the right choices in their next steps and investments. Traditionally, the role of a system integrator lies on as a more technically-focused solution, without this kind of advice.   

Besides that, in 2020, during the pandemic, we also launched a program called Respond. Rebound. Reinvent. It is an in-depth approach that helped clients respond to all the challenges from last year. Both these programs show that, during the pandemic, the CSPs, for example, had to actually do more for less. There was, for instance, a massive uptake in data usage due to the overall home office situation and an over-the-top increase in video-on-demand, telephony, mobile, etc. They had to cope with it, putting a lot of effort into keeping the economy going. As a silver lining, it also worked as a catalyst to shape their future, their landscape.    

There you see how our role is changing. We have had the response phase, the rebound phase, and we are now in the thrive moment. Most of our clients also had to reinvent themselves. I think the pandemic made clear that we all need to innovate out of the crisis, which means that we have to take the next steps into things like 5G and autonomous networks, supporting tomorrow’s ICT businesses and operational efficiency. Those are catalysts boosting businesses and new revenue streams, which is lacking at the moment. That is why we have these new technologies; that is why we have the 5G Hub. We are not only helping our clients with their technical challenges but also creating value together. By joining forces with partners like Ericsson and Vodafone, we can think of ways to help our clients add value to their clients. Looking at their vital technology supply chain, these companies have to renew their cross-channel property solutions to improve operations and meet the customer demands, which are very high at the moment.


Cell tower with monitoring and control devices and antennas, transmitters, and repeaters for mobile communications and the Internet.

In which industries do you see 5G as a game-changer?     

5G on itself is only connectivity, but it provides the means to make possible things that were impossible before. 5G brings extreme speed, high connectivity, reliability, network slicing, improved quality of service, and it helps accelerate future business innovations for companies. But I think the main growth will be in verticals, like, smart manufacturing, the oil & gas, and mining industries, airports, and others.   

Also, when we talk about artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and industrial automation, or as we move to 360-degree video, we can see several fields that will make 5G successful. All that was, in a way, possible with the old 4G networks. However, as the current infrastructure cannot handle the massive impact of new smart manufacturing technologies, there is no doubt 5G is the game-changer in the scenario, bringing a whole new world of possibilities.  

What are CGI solutions that employ or could greatly benefit from 5G?    

CGI has a 5G offer called Intelligent Connect. As mentioned before, we are an independent system integrator. As such, we try to help clients get the most out of 5G with solutions that meet or accelerate their business requirements. So, we help them navigate through the wide range of products and approaches, and we provide them independent analysis and insights into possible solutions that involve 5G. We know how to efficiently design and build a 5G solution, identify its benefits for clients, determine and avoid risks, and provide them with secure guidance on 5G. To support their digital transformation, we use and, if needed, implement LADx, our proven lean agile DevOps approach.    

How could you summarize the partnership agreement between the 5G Hub and CGI? Are there any projects already in development?    

Together with VodafoneZiggo and Ericsson, we aim to develop strong use cases, starting with manufacturing execution systems. I think these use cases can be easily replicated to other clients. We are also trying to combine the three companies’ technology capabilities and brand recognition in this partnership to help us develop the use cases and put them in the market.   

As an on-development project, we have supplied the 5G Hub with the CGI maintenance and expertise video-assisted collaboration platform CGI MaEVA. We have implemented that in the Hub. It is a demonstrator for Ericsson’s 5G demo kits. We are currently implementing the use case together with Ericsson, and it is already up and running in the 5G Hub.    

What does it mean for CGI to be part of the 5G Hub ecosystem?  

We are very enthusiastic about the 5G Hub, and we see it as an excellent opportunity to cooperate with the companies that make the 5G Hub and its ecosystem. This partnership enables us to develop strong use cases together with partners and technology brands. It is also a huge benefit for both parties to benefit from each other’s business insights, relationships, and network to create joint marketing initiatives and accelerate converting these use cases into relevant commercial opportunities.    

For us, it needs to result in business prospects with our customers, as well as with yours. Hopefully, we will reach that goal and strengthen both parties by using each other’s knowledge and expertise. In summary, we want to work together in defining and co-creating propositions for different markets.