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.

Cellular Expense Management for the Best Phone in the Universe

We here at GILL Technologies are excited at performing cellular expense management duties for the new pomegranate phone.* Click through the features (go through all of them!) to see why this phone goes above and beyond any previous high end mobile device on the market.

This is a great challenge for us because of the number of billing items a typical pomegranate phone will use. The average smartphone is all about a mix of minutes, texting, internet access and electronic pay per use features. With the pomegranate phone, we’ll have to be vigilant about additional translation languages, pay per view films and, of course, coffee sachets and shaving gel.

These line items will doubtless generate an epic number of billing errors and a number of extremely complicated plans – opportunities for us to find numerous ways to save our clients money, especially if they really like coffee.

* Yes, we know it’s a viral ad for Nova Scotia. But just imagine if it was real!

Will Windows Azure Fatten Your Telecom Expenses With Thin Client Thinking?

Every few years, software and hardware manufacturers team up to push thin client computing on consumers. Whenever this happens it reminds me of the 90s movie Singles, where one character, pushing his vision for luxury subways for Seattle, ignores the simple truth that keeps getting thrown in his face: “People like their cars.” People like their fat-client, autonomous PCs and devices, too. Now, thanks to the rise of high speed mobile data, Microsoft and others are sounding the call to thin clients again under the guise of “cloud computing.” Windows Azure is one of several such initiatives that promise flexibility and convenience . . . for a price.

The tricky part is the software as a service model built into Azure and other offerings. Do you really want to rent your office productivity software instead of buy it? Do you trust your connection enough to rely on external hosting for any sizable chunk of data? The fact is that you might now, since cell phones and push email have trained us to accept Internet-based services that boost the meager power of mobile devices. On the other hand, it’s yet another item on your bill, and you’ve got to trust that your provider’s giving you a secure, reliable set of services.

From a telecom expense management perspective I think it’ll all come down to a race between hardware and software. If smartphones experience explosive progress in local storage and processing there won’t be much need to rent from the “cloud” (or laptops, for that matter – they’ll probably converge). On the other hand, if software gets big enough or people learn to depend on ubiquitous document sharing they’ll need to plug into the services network. If these start to get hosted over wide-area networks providers will bundle and bill for them. Being telecom companhies, they’ll make billing errors – and we’ll catch them.

Is there any reason not to VoIP?

Voice over IP technology is a mature technology that in many cases offers significant savings compared to conventional telephony. If you’re already paying for broadband, chances are switching to VoIP is a good idea. We routinely recommend it to clients.

Naturally, this begs the question: “Why bother with traditional telephony at all?” VoIP is useful, but it’s not a telecom panacea. There are still situations where traditional phone service has the edge. For some people, this may take the shine off of VoIP. Let’s walk through them.

No outage protection: If your power’s out, your VoIP phone doesn’t work. If you routinely use a cell phone as well this is probably not such a big deal, but it could become a problem in major emergencies, where wireless networks will slow and fail in response to increased call volume.

911 Problems: IP addresses don’t correspond to fixed gegraphical points in the way traditional phone numbers do. There are a workarounds for this, but they aren’t as reliable as traditional phones. Some regions have dedicated E911 for VoIP customers, but in this case the operator relies on billing information to establish the caller’s location. If your provider has out of date or incorrect information, emergency services may go to the wrong address.

Tied to Internet uptime: When your Internet’s down, your phone stops working. If you suffer frequent downtimes your savings might not justify constant service interruptions.

DoS attack and eavesdropping vulnerabilities: VoIP is vulnerable to packet interception and denial of service attacks in just the same way as standard Internet communications. Mass requests to the phone’s associated IP can shut it down. VoIP is usually not encrypted, so anyone with the requisite expertise can eavesdrop on calls. These vulnerabilities don’t matter to most users, but they’re guaranteed dealbreakers in high-security industries.

Quality issues: VoIP works because it uses the same packet-based protocols as other Internet communications. The drawback is that packet loss will interfere with voice communications. Users may experience a temporary interruption of service whenever the network experiences heavy usage. This parallels the slowdown you might get loading web pages at these times, and it happens for the same reasons. There are also problems sending faxes, but developing protocols may eventually resolve these.

To sum up, if your business has the same needs as a typical household (even if the scale is larger), VoIP might be the cost reduction solution you need. If you have other needs, consider the tradeoffs carefully. You might want to stick with traditional phone service for these reasons:

  • Your company has safety issues to consider. Examples include heavy industry and medicine.
  • Security is important to you. Law, some government contractors and defense industry companies should consider the drawbacks.
  • You send a lot of faxes.
  • Â You need total reliability. Emergency services and other industries that need to be on-call should stick to standard phone service for critical lines.

Note, however, that it’s not always an either/or situation. GILL Technologies can manage multiple services for you to save traditional lines for critical services, and VoIP for everything else. Contact us to find out more.

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.

The iPhone Lands Like a Canada Goose — In Canada, That Is

So, it’s in Canada now. After much speculation, wailing and gnashing of teeth, Canadians can finally get their own iPhones. How did things work out for folks north of the 49th Parallel? Let’s look at the Good, the Not So Good, and the Telecom Expense Management Angle.

The Good: Canadians got hardware price parity — the Canadian 8 GB iPhone is $199. Fueled by rising fuel prices and a downturn in US currency, the Canadian dollar has floated at near parity with the US dollar for a while now, but prices have been slow to change in response. Canadians are used to paying more, but by now they shouldn’t really have to. When it comes to buying the iPhone, they enjoy the same discount as American customers. Canadians should hope that this new parity eventually extends to other products and services but they might have some additional hurdles to jump because . . .

The Not So Good:Â . . . while the base prices are at parity, Canadians have to pay more — sometimes a lot more — to use the same features. Originally, Rogers’ announced plans were . . . insane. The cheapest package for Rogers was CAN$60 for 400 megs and it went up, up, up from there. After widespread consumer outrage, Rogers offered a 6 GB plan for CAN$30 instead — for now. If you don’t get an iPhone by August 31st, Rogers will revert to its previous, cringe worthy pricing scheme.

Worse, Rogers doesn’t exactly want you to know that there’s a deal afoot. Go to the iPhone plans page. Notice how you have to scroll down to see the new plan? How the price isn’t mentioned, and you need to click on an additional link to find it? How, in fact, you could miss it completely if you followed the site’s guidance?

Nice going. And remember: If you buy one, you’re on the hook for three years: the longest iPhone plan commitment in the world.

The Telecom Expense Management Angle: You want to save money buying a phone from a monopoly that only offered a decent plan under duress, seems to be hoping you’ll miss the chance, and reserves the right to eliminate it at any time? What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a pity, really. The 3G iPhone is probably the first iteration of the device that has more than hype and sleek design going for it. It has formidable data capabilities and could be a legitimate business tool, but at post-August 31st rates it’ll be more of a status symbol than anything else. Plus, being locked into Rogers means you don’t benefit from carrier competition.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do for an iPhone user. We can still monitor usage and billing errors to save Canadian iPhone users money. Better yet, if you discount the branding angle, the iPhone does help you indirectly, because other manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with exciting mobile devices aimed squarely at iPhone’s niche. Once they mature, you’ll be able to get a cool equivalent without hooking up with a questionable plan.

A Telecom Auditing Eye for the 3G iPhone Guy

Let’s face it: As it currently stands, Apple’s iPhone gets by on being a stylish status symbol as much as it does on actual features. You can’t beat Apple’s aesthetics or interface design. But behind the hype, the iPhone’s appeal has been limited by its high price and the US’ chaotic business models and wireless network standards, which make some features frustratingly slow or expensive. Even though iPhones are a hot consumer product, few businesses opted for fleets of them. One might sneak into a corporate plan as an executive toy, but that’s about it.

At least, that was before the 3G iPhone was announced, promising twice the capacity at half the up-front price.

The 3G has lots of toys too, but where it gets interesting from the telecom expense management perspective is how it affects a mobile data market that was virtually synonymous with the Blackberry. AT&T promises “business-class” email and data capabilities for iPhone customers. This refers to “push” email technology that maintains a constant connection to facilitate faster updates. As the old .Mac service transforms into MobileMe, clients will benefit from cross-platform, synchronized push services that give you access to up to date email and other info from your computer, phone and anything else in your data “cloud.”

This PDF represents AT&T’s hard sell to business clients. Between the new services, subsidized price drop and the unlimited data plan Apple arranges for iPhone subscribers, it might be time to reconsider the iPhone as a cost effective (if easily distracting, thanks to iTunes and true web browsing) business device. There’s one big catch, though: Exclusivity.

Any telecom audit professional will tell you that inflexibility equals higher expenses. It’s always been a big cellular expense management challenge in SIM-locked North America. The 3G iPhone’s exclusive tie to AT&T in the US (and Rogers in Canada) means that beyond Apple’s demands for an unlimited data package, providers can put a little extra fat on their fees, like the $10/month increase that AT&T seems they’ll be adding to data costs. You might want to hold on to your less-glamorous Blackberries after all.

Telecom Expense Management Begins with You

At GILL Technologies we always emphasize custom solutions for telecom cost audits and expense management. As Ted mentioned earlier this month, we typically submit multiple proposals so that clients can choose the option for their needs.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in this industry is when telecom expense management firms force companies to change their working communications strategies just to save a few bucks. They get businesses to reduce or increase the number of phones in play, encourage everyone to switch to VoIP and so on. While every business should explore alternatives to their current habits, why throw away a working communications style?

I was reminded of how important a customized, working process is just the other day, when I got on the phone with an overseas partner. We have many, many different communications avenues at our disposal, including teleconferencing, web conferencing and all kinds of telephony. Me? I made a standard phone call. I wanted a simple, direct medium where I could issue verbal instructions. Conferencing is great, but I wasn’t calling to brainstorm and collaborate — I was here to lead. VoIP saves money, but I didn’t want technical issues interrupting me.

I’m sure a lot of you can think of similar situations, where the right communications tool makes all the difference. For example, would you set up your “batphone” on a VoIP service? Cellular? Would you use IM instead? In fact, you probably want basic telephony: the most reliable medium. You might set up forwarding to other services, but you want the basic batphone to work every time, without any flashy features.

That’s why we talk about GILL Technologies as a “Total Communications Solution.” Every company has distinct needs. A comprehensive telecom expense management plan takes those into account so that communications cost efficiencies don’t make you change business operations. If saving money is giving you a headache, you’re not saving money. All the extra time and aggravation will eventually hit your bottom line. We want you to save money whenever you need a complex mobile communications plan — and we want you to save when it’s time to make a simple phone call, too. It’s your choice.

About the Author: George Gill is the President of GILL Technologies.

Telecom Expense Management for Regular Folks

At GILL Technologies, we handle large telecom expense management accounts from major corporations but our experience includes small departments and local businesses, too – and we all like to save money on our home phone bills. You can still use corporate techniques to rein in cell phone plans and long distance fees, provided you’re willing to do the legwork. Here’s what you do:

Don’t Believe the Hype – Put Your Trust in CPM: Cost per minute (CPM) is the greatest, if not the only thing to measure – period! Every major carrier works hard to convince you that if you go with them, your phone will have better coverage, load web pages faster, sound nicer, and give your phone more features. We don’t want to call anyone a liar¸ so let’s just say that these are very, very naughty things to foist on the public. In most cases, carrier choice has no effect on quality of service. A lot of ads try to take credit for features that are either hardware-based or depend on the telecom infrastructure. The carrier doesn’t matter.

When it comes to landlines, every carrier offers virtually identical services at the same quality. For example, no carrier can really guarantee superior long distance voice quality. (Think about it: Do North American carriers have any way of controlling what the lines are like in China?)

As consumers, you’ve got to be cold blooded about counting CPM and nothing else. After all, the phone companies are pretty ruthless about seeing how much money they can extract from your bank account. Good service or bad, they are not your buddies – even if their ads have lots of cute, funny animals.

. . . Except for Internet (Sort of): There is one exception to the “don’t believe the hype” rule: Internet and data. Here, proprietary networks do matter. You can’t get third generation (3G) services from everyone, anywhere. IPhones (older ones are kind of “2.5G phones” in many respects, newer ones are true 3G) aren’t supported by every carrier, either. When it comes to home Internet, you’ve got to balance costs with your household’s needs – and make do with the options available in your area.

That’s why home Internet is a pretty complicated topic – and why providers try to “dumb it down” and “help” you choose their service, when there may be better options around. For instance, if you live in a rural area your local phone company might offer you dialup for no other reason than this is what they can give you, even though wireless high-speed or satellite providers could get you better service. If you have landline broadband service, weigh the benefits of ADSL versus cable Internet. The “A” in ADSL stands for “asynchronous,” which is a fancy way of saying that uploads are going to be slower than downloads. Cable uploads are still slower than downloads, but this is usually less onerous – until you hit the bandwidth cap for your package. Plus, some networks have better tech support and less frequent downtimes.

If you’re considering Voice over IP (VoIP), your Internet connection’s reliability is a big deal. If the Net’s down, your phone down – and that includes 911.

Handshakes Won’t Save Money – Discipline Will: Buying telecom service isn’t like grabbing a couch or a DVD player from a commissioned sales agent. In department stores, salespeople might have some wiggle room to get you a better deal, but at a cell phone kiosk, agents usually can’t try to save you extra cash. One of the reasons telecom expense management is so important for companies is that telecom agents usually sign agreements promising not to optimize your expenses. They stick to standard plans and won’t take the initiative to investigate billing errors or new service bundles. Don’t blame them for it though. Their hands are tied. If you’re running a business it’s time to call us so that we can perform a telecom audit, research new agreements and plan you a better deal, but individuals need to take matters into their own hands. If you’ve got the discipline, you’ll save money.

Your main advantage here is that you’re a consumer in a competitive market. Companies flood the market with introductory offers for every service under the sun. These often rely on poor consumer discipline. They hook people in with six months of savings and hope they won’t bother canceling after prices go up.

Want to save money? First of all, make sure to look over offers from all carriers. You might even have to double check exactly who services your region, as carriers don’t like to talk about who covers where. Secondly, filter introductory offers by the expected commitment. If you get a few months of cheap cellular or internet service at the price of a locked-in, multi-year contract, don’t take the deal. Finally, read the fine print to ward off possible complications.

Once you’ve used these criteria to grab a set of likely deals, sign up for one – and get out as soon as the savings run out. Cancel preauthorized payments and generate a paper trail to keep your provider from chasing you. Somebody may grumble at you over the phone, but remember: It’s a consumer/provider relationship! They’re out to maximize profits, so you need to minimize expenses. That’s common sense – and the foundation of good telecom expense management at any scale.

About the Author: Malcolm Sheppard is a researcher for GILL Technologies.

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.