General Motors (GM) has handed AT&T a five-year, $1 billion (£509 million) contract to continue building a global (internet protocol) IP network for voice, data and video traffic.
In the new deal, AT&T also becomes the übermanager of GM's regional network providers.
Ralph Szygenda, GM's chief information officer and group vice president, said the IP network is intended to help GM operate as a "real-time global business" whose workers can collaborate using a consistent set of technologies, whether the workers are in Detroit, Shanghai or Zurich.
The contract renews a prior five-year agreement and expands on it by giving AT&T responsibility for managing GM's relationships with 150 other telecommunications providers around the globe.
AT&T's new management role is part of GM's year-old effort to ensure that all of its IT providers work together as a team and follow a consistent set of service and support practices.
"Information technology providers have to work as one in a corporation," Szygenda said. "They can't work as a bunch of IT companies competing against each other inside your own company."
GM began insisting that IT vendors agree to follow standard IT processes a year ago, when the automaker started awarding $15 billion in IT outsourcing contracts to EDS, HP, IBM, Wipro and others.
Paul Roehrig, an analyst at Forrester Research said GM's approach to outsourcing is smart because it "streamlines the management of all the other governance contracts." He said the strategy has been used by other large organisations that have enough buying clout to insist on process standards, such as NASA.
The approach isn't without risks, however, especially if a conflict of interest develops when a vendor like AT&T is managing a competitor, Roehrig said.
AT&T currently provides GM with a global virtual private network and is building an IP network based on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology, which enables network traffic to be managed by priority.
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. "Now the next five years is really taking it to a totally different level," he said, noting that new initiatives will involve building out the capabilities of the MPLS network, integrating voice, data and video, and managing it as one system.
Work on the integrated IP network is under way, said Ron Spears, executive vice president of AT&T global business sales, adding that it will take about 18 months to reach the point where GM is "running effectively a complete IP infrastructure environment on a global basis."
The goal is to give GM workers everywhere a consistent technology experience. "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 isn't a trivial goal, Spears said.
Historically, "it's been a hodgepodge of systems mostly built by the regional entities, and that's true in most enterprises today," he added.
Szygenda said GM engineers and support staffers work as teams, so 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.
"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."
GM has manufacturing operations in 33 countries, and its vehicles are sold in 192 countries, according to the company's website.