Five Problems to Control with Telecom Expense Management

How does telecom expense management save you money? Any fleet of phones can accumulate cost inefficiencies. Some of these happen because of the way carriers bill customers. Others stem from making less than optimal choices about cell phone plans, long distance billing and other telecom services. Here are five common issues that a professional telecom cost audit and expense management program can remedy. Â

Billing Errors: Analysts estimate that billing errors alone can add 6%, 8% or more to your communications costs. These errors are hard to detect; it takes an expert to tell whether many fees have been legitimately added or properly calculated. GILL Technologies performs a thorough examination of your company’s billing as part of your initial audit, and stays on top of your bills to head of future errors.

Excess Minutes and Data: Our Tele-Watch communications management software is an important tool to show you exactly what your needs are. In many cases, people opt for attractive looking plans that offer a large amount of voice minutes or data, but when they fail to use them, these plans end up making their bills larger than they would have been if they’d picked a plan that represented their true usage. We can help you discover what your real communications needs are and adapt your choice of plan and carrier to match.

Hardware Costs: Is the plan that subsidizes your hardware costs really saving you money? What’s the right smartphone for you? What are the advantages of buying a cell phone outright? Where can you get inexpensive headsets? We can answer all these questions so that you only purchase the most cost-effective hardware. Our telecom customer service and procurement team will not only help you pick a solution, but can order the hardware on your behalf, often with a significant savings thanks to preferred relationships with select suppliers in North America.

Inappropriate Usage: Tele-Watch doesn’t just help you understand your company’s needs, but lets you see exactly how much every department and individual in your business uses company resources. When your employees know that you have this information it deters inappropriate usage, and when you need to act, you have all the data to define the issue in dollars and cents. Doing it this way is the path to responsible management that minimizes confrontation.

Roaming Fees: When you leave your carrier’s coverage area do you have reasonable roaming fees? Do you have a choice? If you’re a heavy roaming user we can help you find a carrier that offers the best prices for the areas you expect to visit. Furthermore, our telecom customer service team can help guide you when you visit Europe or another part of the world with different telecom standards. You’ll be able to go virtually anywhere without losing contact.

Blackberry Takes Competition up a Notch with the App World

Blackberry opened its App World on April 1st, 2009, taking a leap into the kinds of personalized smartphone applications made popular by Apple’s iPhone. Now that competitors are rolling out touchscreen phones and people aren’t as dazzled by the style and technology, Apps are easily the most popular aspect of the iPhone. On the other hand, iPhone Apps tend to be more recreational than practical, in keeping with the phone’s popular image as a high tech toy. Blackberries have always been more business oriented. Will the App World reflect this?

Looking at App World’s featured Apps it looks like the initial rollout is designed to make new Blackberries full-featured internet devices. There are Apps for Facebook, AIM, Windows Live Messenger – all core internet applications. There are also news and entertainment media applications and even a few games, though these have a more serious focus than Apple counterparts. They’re the kinds of things that an executive wouldn’t mind being seen using during a break. They include business news, stress management games and tools to simplify travel.

The Blackberry’s serious image helps make it the first choice for enterprise-level smartphone procurement, and Research in Motion certainly little motive to change this, but there’s always the temptation of the wider consumer market, which models like the Curve have been steadily courting. Success will probably be found somewhere in between consumer fun and business utility because of the way people use company smartphones. The barriers between personal and business use are steadily eroding, as managers want employees to be constantly available, and employees want to use the phones they’re supposed to carry at all times for personal use.

For businesses though, the Blackberry still has one advantage: carrier flexibility. iPhones are wedded to exclusive plans in both Canada and the US, but every major carrier offers the Blackberry. This makes cellular expense management far more effective for the Blackberry. We can compare plans from multiple carriers using several metrics and find the best option for you – and with the App World, your on-call employees can get a few morale building applications, while you maintain total knowledge of their usage through our Tele-Watch Communications management software. They’re happier and you save money.

Manual Auditing or Telecom Expense Management Software: Why Pick One?

Enterprise level clients like ours typically have complex communications needs. They need a 360-degree solution that encompasses hardware, software and service, bound around core telecom cost reduction. People naturally have a drive to simplify the solution as much as possible. Lately, the telecom expense management community has discussed this process by contrasting manual auditing and using a telecom expense management software solution.

In our experience, the trouble with this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t really take the distinct role of both methods into account. A total communications solution uses manual auditing and software together. We’ve learned that this provides the greatest benefits to our clients.

Manual telecom cost auditing is actually something of a misnomer because all manual analysis uses software. Over the course of years, we’ve developed custom spreadsheet applications to perform the most accurate and efficient manual audits possible. We’ve graduated from the spreadsheet of doom to custom applications, but we still apply the lessons learned to human analysis. This does the math, but we still need people to investigate current and upcoming service offerings. Our integrated approach starts by asking what clients need, and exploring the industry as a whole to find a solution. This can involve hardware as well as software. Is there a more cost effective handset? What kind of conferencing solution is best for the client? The field is always evolving, so it takes educated eyes to find the data. Furthermore, as the landscape changes, you need someone to explore new alternatives and potential migrations to other carriers/providers. The benefit of manual auditing isn’t in crunching the numbers, but finding the numbers to begin with.

Communications management software provides a way to monitor your costs over time. Our custom Tele-Watch web-based software lets clients view their expenses over a web-based interface. This helps us fulfil one of our company’s central values: accountability in telecommunications. That means we ensure that you know where every penny of expenses come from, and how we’ve saved you money through cost reduction. Tele-Watch lets us and the client view emerging expense trends and consider options to keep costs down. This lets us develop the best long term solution for each client.

In conclusion, we think the ideal form of telecom expense management is a comprehensive approach that evolves over time and relies on a partnership between purpose-built software and trained manual auditing – and even goes beyond that, to skilled client care and hardware procurement. That’s what works best for our clients, and what we think will work best for you.

More on Voicemail Fraud

Following up on our last article about voicemail fraud, users should be aware that Bell Canada has taken the position that the onus is on the victim to pay fraudulent charges. This comes in the wake of several serious voicemail hacks, including one that cost one Oakville, Ontario-based company over $60,000. In this case, Bell detected the situation and cut off long distance access . . . then sent the company the bill. After some wrangling, Bell agreed to accept a smaller amount.

Believe it or not, this is not the worst instance of fraud. One Burlington, Ontario – based company got stuck with a phone bill of over $200,000 due to the same form of fraud. In this case, Bell agreed to accept about half of that amount as a “goodwill gesture.” However, Bell has made it clear that it considers these charges the responsibility of the account holder.

Bell’s position is that account holders are responsible for using the safeguards on voicemail systems to prevent criminals from illegally accessing them. Last month, the company took out ads in major Canadian newspapers detailing this position, and in situations where it’s compromised on bills the company has said lowered charges are a favour, not an obligation.

One thing that Bell is less than forthcoming about, however is who exactly is administering these apparently vulnerable voicemail systems – namely, Bell itself. Furthermore, which of these victims failed to follow Bell’s recommendations? Which ones didn’t – and if they didn’t, did they even know what they were supposed to do? Did Bell say anything to them about what they expected users to do in the way of security administration, or is this advice post-hoc lecturing?

The fact of the matter is that full security precautions are as onerous as the attached system makes them. While using hard to guess passwords is a no-brainer, why do Bell’s services include easily exploitable default settings? Can you really expect companies that don’t have a telecom or security focus to change their passwords every 90 days? If Bell is serious about fraud prevention, why don’t they make a system that pushes security update requests and adds at least one strong, default security process to go through before users get long distance access?

The idea that the user is responsible by default is convenient for providers, but practically speaking, most businesses aren’t filled with telecom security experts. They just want to use their services in a convenient, cost-effective fashion. We can’t comment on who’s legally bound to pay these fraudulent charges (that’s for the courts) but we can say that if you’re worried about these sorts of situations, the best option is to outsource your telecom customer service to experts who understand the providers’ policies and procedures, and can argue your case from an informed position. We’ve learned from experience in the telecom expense management field that needless charges often result from customers who just can’t afford to wait on the phone for provider support, and don’t have the time, knowledge and inclination to argue for the cost reduction they deserve.

Voicemail Security

For GILL Technologies, telecom expense management is a comprehensive service that includes telecom customer service. We pride ourselves on handling technical issues for you. That means we keep abreast of many different trends and issues, including security.

One issue that’s making the rounds right now concerns voicemail security. We’ve received several advisories about professional criminals hacking voicemail systems. Voicemail fraud is typically used to place long distance calls through a system, leaving the billing with you. In an email alert, Bell Canada characterizes this crime as a “global trend.” This is an accurate observation. Telecom-related crime often crosses international borders, making offenders difficult to catch, prosecute or recover damages from.

A voicemail fraudster usually calls a business after hours to get uninterrupted time on the line. The criminal then uses ether automated or manual techniques to steal your password. After getting access to the system, the fraudster uses it to place long distance calls on your bill. If the voicemail configuration allows it, the criminal will make several repeat visits, or even set things up to make it easier to get back in. In fact, your account information may make the rounds with the fraudster’s associates. Eventually, this activity will show up on your phone bill, but that still gives the crook up to a month to exploit your system. This can result in huge bills – and one thing Bell won’t tell you is that they’re not always willing to refund charges that are obviously fraudulent.

Fortunately, voicemail systems have several protections in place – but you have to know what they are, and use them properly. Here’s what security experts advise:

  • Don’t use the system’s default password or passwords that are easy to guess. Criminals have lists of these.
  • Demand passwords with a minimum of six (and preferably eight) digits.
  • Don’t base the password off of publicly accessible information, such as the phone number or extensions.
  • Change passwords every 90 days.
  • The prime target of fraudsters is the system’s through-dialing system, which allows remote long distance calls through the voicemail account. If you won’t use it, disable it. Otherwise, require password authentication for each and every session. Customer support should be able to guide you through the setup.
  • Use management and reporting tools to track the origins and details of every call. Voicemail systems will have these systems in place.
  • Remove unassigned mailboxes.
  • If you’re not sure how a feature works, consult customer service. Lack of knowledge is one of the most common causes of security programs.

The drawback to best practices in security is that they can be labor intensive. That’s why even though most of these tips are common sense, voicemail fraud will probably be around for a while. One advantage of our services is that we can manage this for you. Instead of wasting time on the phone with a provider you can make a quick call to one of our client care representatives. Our cost audits can also uncover suspicious activity and most importantly, serve as evidence when fraud sparks a billing dispute between your company and the carrier. Contact us to find out more.

Organizing Your Telecom Expenses

To manage your telecom expenses you need to understand them. To understand them, you need to define and classify them. For many businesses, doing this internally entails a great deal of data entry and specialized spreadsheet use. That’s why our communications management software specializes in helping management perform these tasks through an intuitive web interface. The following categories are useful to help any business understand its telecom expenses.

Hardware/Infrastructure Telecom Services: These are services that are categorized by the equipment needed for them to exist. From this approach, the fundamental services are landline Voice, Cellular and Internet, but this is evolving along with the technology. Smartphones currently represent a point of transition, creating a Cellular data category, but this is rapidly vanishing into core cellular service. Similarly, roaming wireless Internet seems to be a category in transition, attached to either static Internet Service or Cellular service depending on the carrier.

Vendor Defined Telecom Services: These services are at heart, line items on your bill. These are often sub-divisions of hardware-defined services. Cellular services include voice, texting and data. Landline services include local and long distance. Expect these to transform over time as the plasticity of data allows services to be divided in any number of ways.

Telecom Service Bundles: One vital part of telecom expense management is the ability to compare service bundles by individual service, so that we can migrate or modify agreements to produce savings. All-in-one bundles may be the right choice for consumers who want to avoid billing hassles, but companies need a more sophisticated approach to improve the bottom line.

Telecom Usage: Finally, to manage your bill you need to find out how the money’s being used. That means identifying patterns in your company’s telecom usage. You can do this by location to compare multiple sites, by department or even by individual, over monthly, quarterly, annual and even lifetime usage. You can’t intelligently save money until you know what you’re already spending it on.

As we said in the beginning, general applications like spreadsheets can help smaller businesses track all of these factors, but enterprise level companies, as well as companies with complex telecommunications needs regardless of size, should consider a professional telecom expense management solution that can define and sort information in these categories, so as to keep billing error-free and optimized for savings in all necessary services.

Telecom Expense Management for the Brilliant Phone

I want one box. I want to use it for pictures, phone calls, email, the web and the odd bit of work: writing, spreadsheets – all that stuff. I want to do it anywhere I go, too.

It’s happening in fits and starts, but it looks like I’m going to get what I want. There are still a few barriers. It’ll take a few years for the industry to figure out how to get me fully portable wireless broadband and there will be a painful period where it foolishly tries to charge me a lot of money for it. People still aren’t comfortable with the idea of converging PCs with true mobile devices either, but ultraportables like the Asus Eee are one third of an evolutionary process. The next third is embodied by the iPhone, and represents smartphones with PC-quality apps and an innovative user interfaces. The final third is 4G: packet-based, high speed wireless communications.

Let’s call the result a “brilliant phone,” though in a decade’s time the word “phone” will be an atavism, since voice won’t be anything special, but just one function out of many. It will do all kinds of cool things, but let’s get back down to earth. We’re a telecom expense management company. What will the brilliant phone’s TEM issues be? Here are some educated guesses:

Data Migration: The brilliant phone will be a consumer’s primary data tool. It will have enough flash memory (or a successor format) to take the place of your laptop, leading to the question of how you’ll move this data around when it’s time to backup or upgrade. Carriers currently encourage users to use expensive internet time to send pictures via email and unless you get a smart data plan, charge you by the megabyte for everything else. This method isn’t sustainable. Besides, in a decade’s time you won’t want to run home to a WLAN every time you want to move a substantial amount of data. Ultimately, carriers will provide a solution – and charge for it, too. It will be our job to get you the best deal on their backup and migration services.

Management and Reporting: Telecom management and reporting services will be as relevant as ever in the age of the brilliant phone. In fact, it will be even more important to track usage since everyone will use multiple functions as a matter of course. The era of voice-only usage, already moribund, will be truly dead and buried. While future cell phone plans will be much more generous with data, user management will transform from a straight savings issue to a matter of productivity. You’ll need to know if staff are using the brilliant phone appropriately.

Telecom and Data Billing Errors: Like death and taxes, carrier billing errors are inescapable. They’ll keep overcharging you and we’ll keep correcting them. The brilliant phone will continuously send and receive data from next-generation networks, so outages will be even more of a problem than they are now. You’ll deserve credit for dealing with them; we’ll make sure you get it.

Uh Oh — Bell and Telus to charge for incoming text messages

Canadians are due for some unhappy developments. Bell and Telus will charge for incoming text messages starting in August (8th for Bell, 24th for Telus). Getting a text message will cost 15 cents a pop unless you have an unlimited texting plan.

How will they keep people from being charged for text spam? Blogger Mark Goldberg also raises the specter of text cyber-bullying — mean kids with plans spamming kids without them. It seems that both companies have placed the burden for recovering charges for unwanted messages on the consumer. The other option: Block messages completely. The move seems designed to discourage occasional texters — and grab wads of cash from less attentive customers. It has aroused such ire that Canada’s Industry Minister has asked Bell and Telus executives to explain themselves.

Things like this underscore the need for cost reduction and cellular expense management services. So far, it looks like if you get unwanted messages, you’ll have to fight the telecom companies to get them taken off your bill. If you need texting for business, it’s time to find a cost-effective plan. Our communications management software can help clients keep their texting under control, and customer service means that you don’t have to fight over unwanted text messages — we’ll do it for you.

More Telecom Expense Management Lingo

Last time around I told you about a bunch of common cell phone plan-related slang and abbreviations. This time around, let’s look at some other terms in general (mobile and landline) telecom expense management. We use some of them as tracking codes for our Management and Reporting Software.

Here goes:

2G: Second generation mobile device that uses digital signals instead of analog signals of earlier, first generation phones.

2.5G: A 2G phone with additional data transfer capabilities like true (instead of mobile format) internet. The first Apple iPhone is an example of a 2.5G phone — the second claims full 3G status.

3G: Third generation mobile devices. These can handle true broadband-rate data transfer, allowing services such as video calling.

ACO: Additional call offering. An ISDN feature that allows calls to one number to be routed to multiple phones. Used to handle incoming calls in an office.

BVM: Basic Voicemail

CDR: Call Detail Recording – an automated database element used to generate billing. CDR errors or CRD interpretation errors will cause billing errors.CID: Caller ID

EVM or AVM: Enhanced Voicemail

EW or E&W: Evenings and Weekends, in the context of long distance or cellular services.

ISDN: Integrated Digital Service Network. A network capable of providing multiple telecom transmission services (including voice, video and internet) simultaneously.

TEXT, TXT: Text messaging.

Mob, Mobi, WWW: Mobile Internet. 2G Internet was limited to specially configured mobile-friendly sites due to screen and bandwidth limitations, but newer phones display Internet content in the same way as standard computers.

DB: Detailed Billing. This is often available on request and is a prerequisite for competent telecom auditing.

EMSG: Email Messaging.

FIM or FIMF: First Incoming Minute Free.

LDS: Long distance savings/saver.

M2M: Free calling between members (of a company/organization) – M2MLD includes free long distance between members.

POTS: Plain Old Telephone Service. Basic phone services.

TV: Television streaming.

VOICENET: Voice to Email.

Telecom Auditing and the Spreadsheet of Doom

Our Communications Management Software is one of the core tools we offer to telecom expense management clients. Let me tell you how we brought a professional cost management tool to the public and why.

We track everything that can be tracked, down to individual cell phones. That means we’ve always needed a way to organize very large amounts of data dynamically. By 2006, commercial tools weren’t cutting it. Excel disintegrated beneath the sheer number of, well, numbers we use. I wasn’t about to solve this problem by skimping on detail.

We’d experimented with in-house reporting software as far back as 2003, before “telecom expense management software” became a well-known category. We revived the idea to supplement our increasingly unwieldy spreadsheets. We just wanted a way to organize all the data we need to provide the best telecom expense management solutions — and to have the best, you need to see as much of the big picture as possible.

We had that up and running in 2007. It worked well — well enough to expand it into an analysis tool, too. The results were so powerful that we decided to share it with out clients. I think this is what really makes our service stand out from other TEM applications. We designed this for professional telecom expense management. Now that it helps us track cellular and telecom figures, I can do a few clicks and tell you this:

  • We’ve proposed approximately 13 million dollars in cost audit savings over the past four years.
  • We’ve managed 19 million cell phone plan minutes this year.
  • Our clients use an average of 230 minutes per phone, per month.

It only took me a few seconds to figure this out. If you sign on with us, you’ll have access to the same tools. Our Telecom Management Software runs on a web interface, so you don’t have to install anything. Anyone can use the easy, single-click interface — and it sure beats a clunky spreadsheet.

About the Author: John Parks is Expense Management Operations Manager for GILL Technologies.