Telus Corp. doesn't own a national television network, it hasn't bought up sports rights, it doesn't own a professional sports team and it doesn't preside over a magazine empire.
In place of the media play many of its competitors have pursued, Telus has long touted its investment in health care – technologies that help bring patient records online and automate processes and insurance transactions.
Health care is also one of Telus's most clearly defined businesses related to its data centre division, another area in which it has followed a different path than its telecom rivals, largely building its own facilities rather than buying existing data centre operations.
Telus chief executive officer Joe Natale told an investor conference last week that the company's health-related investment is more than a substitute for being in the content game.
"We've said for us it's about a $550-million business in terms of revenue for now," he said. "You've heard us say that we can't solve the problems of health care without the ICT [information and communications technology] industry. I think we've got the tools to be a major player in that business and it's one of our fastest growing business areas now as a result."
Canaccord Genuity's Dvai Ghose said several factors support the case for such an investment, including an aging population, room for growth in the use of electronic medical records (EMR), and an abundance of far-flung Canadian communities that could benefit from connected health-care solutions.
"Subsequent to Telus's big commitment to this vertical, you have carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone in the U.K. all committing to health care as a key vertical as well," he said. "Whether it's a good strategy or not, the fact that you have validation is generally a positive."
Telus's health-care division employs 1,600 people and the company has spent $1.5-billion on it since 2000. The bulk of that spending was over the past five years as it acquired a handful of EMR providers and positioned itself as the largest EMR player in Canada.
In early September, the company acquired ZRx Prescriber from Quebec-based ZoomMed Inc., agreeing to pay up to $6.8-million for the technology, which provides on-the-spot insurance coverage information to doctors as they write prescriptions.
Telecom companies across the country are putting increasing emphasis on data centres, which house computing, network and storage equipment in an age when data consumption is ballooning and IT outsourcing is common.
In a recent research report, Bank of Montreal analyst Tim Casey noted that Telus stands out from most of its peers as it has chosen to organically build its data centres rather than making acquisitions such as Shaw Communications Inc.'s $1.2-billion deal to acquire U.S.-based ViaWest Inc. this summer.
Mr. Natale said Telus spent less than $200-million building two "state of the art" data centres, which it opened in Rimouski, Que. and Kamloops, B.C., over the past two years.
Telus also emphasizes managed and "cloud" hosting services, which are more hands-on with customers in contrast to the more basic offering of co-location services, which tend to simply provide space, power, cooling and security.
Mr. Lepage says transaction-based services such as drug and dental claim processing as well as EMR storage all lend themselves to the "software-as-a-service" type of solutions typical of managed and cloud service providers.
The health field also comes with high expectations around data security, privacy and keeping information housed in Canada, he said, adding, "Most customers are looking at that and saying, 'manage it on my behalf.'"