Wireless Communication Management Rhyme – “Scrooge is in the house”

So another year has passed and a new one just begun filled with new opportunities, but survival is the one we focus on. We must justify our roles and the easy target is our communications – for with no communications – there is no business. Present day communications management has become far more complex, the costs have escalated, and day to day management is potentially the most painful part of all. As we sit around the data room, we wonder if there will be a day again where we can be the heroes we once were – in charge of all that RAM, Routers, and terminals. Enjoying our superiority of technology; however, before we get too lost in all our memory bliss, tonight is a special night– a new decade and a new fiscal year is upon us. Budgets, efficiencies, new technology, and growth all in front of us but unlike other decades past we wonder exactly what the future holds. Fear not for tonight is a special night; tonight your IT Departments will be visited by three ghosts. The first, the ghost of technology past, followed by the ghost of financial reality preparing us for the ghost of leadership tomorrow.

GhostThe First Ghost

At the stroke of midnight Johnny Menclub our old IT Manager clatters through the walls with chains dangling.

[Johnny] “Hello gentleman – and gentle ladies, it’s been a long time. I miss those old days of camaraderie and cheer. You know the ones where all the technology was so complex it took engineers to keep us on track.”

[IT Department] “Yeah Johnny, you were the best. We had awesome jobs. We baffle everyone with gigabytes, and microwave transmissions. We were gods. We could do no wrong. “

[Johnny] “Yeah boys, those were the good days – ‘they’ needed us. We were indispensible. But I’m here to warn you, be careful gentleman – the times have changed and its rough out there – I don’t want you to end up like me – you need to re-invent your place…..”

Johnny is sucked back from the matrix he came from.

[IT Department] That was creepy – poor Johnny he was a good lad. But he’s right. Technology has changed. User friendly applications are standard and that damn mouse can help solve anything.

The Second Ghost

With little time to recover Stacy Query appears our current CFO as if in a bad dream. She is the one who changed everything – now all we hear is how we must drive costs down, yet management keeps adding feature rich functionality and data costs are climbing. Somehow Stacy thinks it our fault!

[Stacy] “I can hear you, she bellows. Of course it’s your fault, you’re responsible for technology and wireless cost management is technology. You should be keeping costs in check”

[IT Department] “Our fault?!?!? How can it be our fault? We’re not accountants. We keep the technology of this company advancing giving us cutting edge solutions and keeping us ahead of the competition. How were we suppose to know your sales and marketing team would start utilizing data and cellular devices to drive growth in the company”

[Stacy] “Well if you were giving me the data I needed to know where costs were increasing, what was valid and what was abuseareas, we could curb costs while keeping your gadgets running – then I could use that information to empower our organization for growth”

[IT Department] “Wait a second since when is it our job to fill out spreadsheets – and who has the time – we’re busy supporting all the users who can’t seem to read manuals. If we had implemented some Cellular Procurement Policies in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

[Stacy] “Well all I know is I’m not taking the blame for these rising costs. The carrier’s will just have to help us.”

Stacy melts in a pool of red ink.

[IT Department] “Anyone know why the carrier would help us reduce costs and in turn their revenue, huh! So now we’re suppose to implement new hardware, manage costs, negotiate contracts, complete spreadsheets, discover abandoned assets…..who’s getting dinner”

The Third Ghost

With a ray of light and warmth filling the room – Dave Ceokata appears…

[Dave] “Fear not my team there is a better way, a way accounting can get their wish of tighter costs, Operations getting improved efficiencies, and IT smoother day to day operations allowing for the time needed to ensure our company stays on the technology cutting edge.”

[IT Department] “But how is this possible Dave? We have tried to manage but things are changing so fast, carrier plans seem to change every month, user device application and adoption is growing weekly, hardware is getting more costly and gosh dangit – Communications is the lifeline.”

[Dave] “Your right team, communications is the lifeline, and it’s why we have to ensure our team is over seeing it. But not buried by it. We need to find the professionals who can produce monthly wireless cost audits keeping the cost under control and are independent from our carriers – thus who will work for our benefit – I know there is savings to be had! We need a support team, who can handle the day to day user queries, and get you guys off hold with the carriers. Finally we need communication management software that can provide us the Intel, to ensure corporate compliance to policies, eliminate defunct units, and produce quality feedback helping us grow maximizing our communications as the tools they were meant to be.

[IT Department] Does this dream exist?

[Dave] Ah yes the dream exists team. In fact in less than 30 days we could be saving money, have superior visibility, and user bliss with single point of contact support and procurement. Go now team, implement the solution, over see it and create bliss through our organization. Be the heroes I know you can be!

Why Offer a Communication Management Free Trial?

Why has a communications management firm that has offered telecom solutions for a decade decided to offer its proprietary management software on a free trial? It’s hard for me to write the answer without sounding like an advertisement, especially since as I write the reasons, it sounds like an ad to me – but that’s not the case. It all has to do with the evolving business climate in the US and Canada. We’ve adapted to it and want to help other firms do the same.

North American business has changed over the last year. At GILL Technologies, we’ve been very fortunate to have a loyal client base. Over the years, we’ve changed to respond to its requests for additional features and services and to keep GILL Technologies focused on best practices. In fact, what began as a cost audit company some 10 years ago has developed into much more. For example,  ClientCare (a component of our service) has become one of our most sought after services. Today, it’s one of the pillars of our business even though it really has little to do with the concept of cost auditing. By listening to our clients we discovered the value in being able to be their single point of contact for a technical support and services.

Tele-Watch evolved in much the same way. Companies need better control over their communications, period; most businesses will openly admit this. One crucial step to improve control is by acquiring timely, superior access to usage and spending information. This visibility gets crucial data to the right people in a timely fashion (not six months later). It drives accountability through the organization, because they know the nature of on what may be the largest business expense they face, as communications is quickly becoming one of the largest expenses possible for any company.

GILL Technologies responded with Tele-Watch: a proprietary software application hosted on the cloud and available from any web enabled device on a secure platform. Tele-Watch is absolutely amazing in how it presents important communications information. We developed it to let clients view their communications usage, expenses and services just the way they need to. Again, we improved a component of the service that really had little to do with the cost audit concept,  but again through our clients’ guidance we developed reporting tools that change the way a company manages communications.

So now, our challenge is to utilize what we created to grow our business. Bear in mind that our primary focus is to save companies money, however. We never want to lose sight of that mission. Tele-Watch is a software solution, but rather than take the typical approach of, “Let’s sell our software,” we made what I consider the bold statement of saying: “Lets give Tele-Watch to our prospective clients, let them feel the difference in single point of contact with ClientCare, and while this is occurring, show them how we can save them money. It’s a Win-Win-Win!”

OK, now I really sound like an advertisement! But when you think about our philosophy, it really makes sense beyond its raw promotional value. We save companies money. It’s our core mission. That’s why clients establish a relationship with us. Tele-Watch and ClientCare build relationships that last for years, if not indefinitely. So why not introduce people to the whole concept while we evaluate the benefit of the relationship in hard numbers?

That’s why we offer a Communication Management Free Trial, giving you the chance to sample our range of services as a prelude to securing long term savings and excellent service. I hope you can see beyond the sales pitch and appreciate the concept. I don’t know – did I fluff it up too much?

Like I said, North American business has changed, and you need the chance to make informed decisions, and today’s technology should allow it. Shouldn’t you able to test drive a service even at the enterprise level? What do you think?

The Palm Pre at Bell: Can It Take a Bite Out of the iPhone in Canada?

After debuting June 6th, 2009 in the US, anticipation for the Palm Pre in Canada has slowly built, but it’s still a modest level interest – nothing like the frenzy that accompanied the iPhone’s arrival. Palm has a lot riding on the Pre; the company lost ground when PDAs effectively went extinct in favor of smartphones, so the Pre is a last ditch grasp at relevancy. Early indications are that it’s a good phone – maybe even a great one – but in many ways it’s adding its own spin to features that are now so heavily identified with the iPhone that looking at a Pre’s touchscreen is almost an ad for the competition.

Nevertheless, business users who focus on function over form have been slower to adopt the iPhone, particularly in Canada, where Rogers’ punishing contract terms make it hard to justify within a company’s telecom expense management regime. Still, there’s a widespread desire for a “next level” phone that’s a cost-effective business tool and after the spotty performance of the Blackberry Storm (which some attribute to suboptimal touchscreen features) there’s still room for a phone to fill that gap.

Basically, it’s all in Bell Mobility’s hands. Canadians want an iPhone/Rogers competitor with a comparable product, but better plans. On the other hand, there are plenty of Canadian iPhone users despite the Rogers contract, and this may tempt Bell to provide less attractive, expensive cell phone plans. If the Pre comes with flexible, competitive pricing it could become a third pillar between the staid functionality of RIM Blackberries and the trendy but extravagant iPhone. If Bell just exploits contracts and SIM locking to the hilt, then it’ll be another also-ran in a smartphone race dominated by two giants.

Bell Mobility Tries to Turn the Screws on Twitter Users

Canada’s cellular oligopoly strikes again! (For those of you new to the word, an oligopoly is like a monopoly, but split between a few big players.) Twitter is the hottest single social networking application online right now. It lets users post 140 character messages – “tweets” – to the web, and read aggregates of other people’s tweets.

Twitter was designed for mobile users from the start; it accepts SMS content. You can tweet something from your phone and read it from your browser when you get home, or read an SMS version of something somebody else tweets you from the Web. It’s a very handy tool for anyone who wants to send messages across platforms, particularly if they have an unlimited texting plan – but not if they have a Canadian cell phone plan.

Twitter and Canadian providers don’t mix, it seems. First, Twitter cut Canadian SMS users off because receiving their texts was just too expensive. Then Bell and Twitter announced that they’d come to an agreement, where Bell users could once again SMS to and from Twitter.

Ah, but there was a catch.

By February 25th 2009, Bell decided that as a “premium service” Twitter SMS feeds aren’t covered by unlimited texting plans. That means that sending a tweet costs 15 cents. That’s bad. Furthermore, receiving each tweet also costs 15 cents. Considering that popular Twitter users can get dozens of messages in an hour, you’d be looking at huge charges.

Fortunately, there was such a huge outcry at this blatant cash grab (and probably some irritation on Twitter’s part, as they naturally want to reduce barriers to using the service) that two days later, Bell reversed its position.

Between this, charges on receiving text messages and iPhone plan price hikes, we have plenty of answers when people ask us: “Why should I choose telecom expense management instead of dealing with telecom companies myself?” Situations like this and charges for incoming texts show that providers will grab extra revenue any way they can – and you can’t always rely on an angry mob to fix things.

Cost Reduction for the Blackberry: Three Tips

One of the critical issues facing many companies is how to control costs on Blackberries and other smartphones. The basic dilemma arises when you need employees to be able to get business email at unpredictable times and places. Employees in turn want to be able to use it for personal calls and email. This makes sense; after all, why would they want to carry two phones?

Unfortunately, if the device is on your company’s tab you can incur unreasonable costs when an employee overuses the Blackberry for personal email. You may similarly face excessive charges for personal voice and data as employees browse the web and make personal calls. Employees often view personal use as an implicit perk – the upside of being constantly available for work communications.

How do you strike a balance between personal use and business expenses? The most practical solution is to keep your Blackberry fleet on a sensible telecom expense management plan, and use communications management software to track individual expenses. The key to a good plan is to understand what your business needs are, what employee usage is, and how the former relates to the latter. It’s good for moral to allow use and in any event, it’s so reflexive to reach for the phone on hand that it will save confusion to allow mixed use (though there are exceptions, such as high-security fields). Here are three basic cost reduction principles that make things easy for both staff and management:

Unlimited Plans for Mixed Use Functions: One of the first things you should do is identify smartphone functions that have both business and personal applications. When you pick a plan, these are the areas where you want to pay for high capacity. For the Blackberry, that means voice and email. Some companies also need employees to browse the web on the job, but this is usually less common.

Block Unnecessary Functions: Many enterprise plans are designed for relatively freewheeling executive use, but it’s more and more common for smartphones to be front line employee tools. This means that usage costs are not only multiplied by a larger number of users, but that usage policy reflects on your company as a whole. You should set down a personal use policy relatively early. Check against actual activity and employee feedback to see if it needs to be changed. If there’s no justification for certain functions, block them. Web browsing is one of the most common things that companies limit, since modern, rich content browsing can be an incredible data hog.

Keep Employees Informed – and Keep Informed: Once you have a plan, develop a policy and block unnecessary functions, keep your employees in the loop! The last thing you want to do is end up having an unpleasant confrontation because you didn’t make company policy clear. You in turn should monitor usage scrupulously. Identify heavy users and keep in touch with them. This serves as a friendly reminder that the Blackberry or other smartphone fleet is for responsible use, and heads off lax behaviour and possible disciplinary action down the road.

The Mike Blackberry: Is It For You?

Telus’ Mike brand announced its adoption of the Blackberry Curve 8350i – one of the first new Mike phones in a long time. Telus uses the Mike line to sell phones with two characteristics. First, Mike phones are often more rugged than a standard mobile. Mike’s marketing emphasizes this with a “tough guy” ad campaign. The Curve 8350i isn’t really representative of this aspect. It’s a high end Blackberry, so even though it’s quality hardware we wouldn’t advise you to shove one in your back pocket while you do some heavy construction work.

The Curve does harness the other Mike draw, however, which is Motorola’s iDEN technology. iDEN allows the Curve to function much like a two-way radio over cellular lines. This means that users in the network can talk to each other instantly by pushing a single button – a feature called, appropriately enough, “push to talk.” Does this work with a Blackberry’s role as more of a sit-down tool? That depends on what you use it for. If you need total access to office resources, the Curve is about as good as it gets. It’s a premium item, but if you perform proper telecom cost audit procedures you may find yourself reaping the benefits of a better connected mobile workforce.

If you need to rapidly communicate on the move iDEN is for you. This makes it a great solution if you have a traveling sales force. One thing to watch out for, however, is how support for iDEN may change in the wake of Sprint’s 2004 merger with Nextel. Sprint/Nextel is currently the US’ biggest iDEN provider, but it plans to switch to competing CDMA technology by 2010. This doesn’t affect Canadian Mike customers directly but it might influence future commitment to the technology. In the case of the 8350i loss of iDEN doesn’t completely blunt the advantages, as the phone also features off-network walkie-talkie style communications. Americans interested in iDEN may want to give it a second thought, or ensure that they have a way to easily migrate their plans in a year’s time.

So these are the pros and cons. If you want a more in depth view, contact us and we can discuss it in terms of your own cellular expense management needs.

Data Caps and Cellular Expense Management

Data caps became a hot topic for Canadian iPhone users last year when Rogers announced their plans wouldn’t have the unlimited data privileges US iPhone owners enjoy. This was widely viewed as an abuse of Rogers’ effective monopoly. In response, Rogers rushed out a special, cheap plan for early adopters, but if you want an iPhone now, too bad: You can’t get that plan any more. Currently, the plans advertised on Rogers’ site have a 500 MB cap: paltry for a noted data hog like the iPhone.

Rogers seems to be gradually getting the idea that high end cellular customers know they’re paying more for no good reason, however; non-iPhone data plans have gradually improved, probably because unlike the iPhone, customers can take their business elsewhere. In the end, however, the key to managing cellular data expenses is the user. You need to track your data usage and select a plan accordingly. This is especially important if you go with something like Rogers’ Flex plan, where bumping even a bit over the threshold of one tier leaves you on the hook for a significant chunk of money.

Cellular expense management matters in these cases because an analyst is not only capable of looking at your usage trends, but comparing them to break points in pricing across multiple carriers. A Rogers plan might work for you if you’re regularly getting near, but not exceeding, the cap for a given plan. If you’re constantly bumping just over the threshold, however, it’s time to look elsewhere.When GILL Technologies gets involved, this is where we would manage a service migration in the background, ensuring continuity of service while we move you to a better plan (though sadly, we can’t migrate the iPhone to another carrier).

Remember: The best deal is no deal at all if you’re mostly paying for things you never use.

Talking Email on the Go: What’s the Best Option for Telecom Expense Management?

Speech recognition and text to speech applications have had a bad rap in the past because the technology was rushed out the door, before it was really ready. If you’ve been disappointed in the past, fear not: New applications work pretty well. The main challenge now lies in choosing the apps and hardware that work best for you. This is just one example of the everyday issues that telecom expense management professionals like us deal with.

Speech apps are a big deal nowadays because of the convergence of two things: email on smartphones and new restrictions against using your cell phone while driving. Getting on the phone while driving was always a bad idea, but in many jurisdictions it’s now illegal – but now, your phone is a business tool that if anything demands more attention, especially when you’re counting on real time email alerts to keep you posted on company events.

Let’s look at two ways Canadian customers can deal with this. The first is a new piece of hardware: the iLane. It’s a dashboard device that not only verbally alerts you when you have email and reads the email to you, but it can also be fully controlled with voice commands. You can even compose replies with your voice and verbally control other smartphone functions. iLane is currently compatible with the Blackberry OS, but the manufacturer promises support for other mobile email formats in the near future.

The iLane has some notable drawbacks – namely, its $599 price tag and $7.99 per month subscription fee. There are alternatives for more modest budgets, however. Rogers Nuance offers an impressive selection of voice command and text to speech features delivered entirely through software and network resources. Nuance allows you to perform 411 searches, send email add appointments and more with voice commands, and your phone will use its speaker to verbally reply. Like iLane, Nuance is compatible with Blackberry devices.

Nuance has limits; your phone’s speaker, microphone and other performance specs are limits to functionality, but the price wins, hands down. It only costs $6per month. Its service suite is probably not as complete as iLane’s, and you’ll want to play with it a bit to determine its range, volume and whether you want to use a headset for comfortable performance.

Ultimately, your choice would depend on what you need personnel to be able to do, how often, and the social role of the device in your office. Nuance may be the solution for most management staff, for example, while iLane might be the tool for executives on the move, all in the same firm. The choice is yours; the essence of telecom expense management is the ability to make that choice with superior information at your fingertips.

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.

iPhone Madness in Canada!

Well, we got the iPhone in. To use a technical cellular expense management term, it’s getting all crazy in Canada.

Despite my initial skepticism from a telecom expense management perspective it looks like it’s a hit on both the corporate and consumer side of things. Certainly, the iPhone’s capabilities mean the right plan will let it do your Blackberry’s job and give you a bunch of stylish tools, but I was curious to see whether corporate users in particular would tolerate the drawbacks of Rogers’ monopoly. It probably helped that last month, consumer outrage drove Rogers to change its iPhone plans. It looks like the company successfully headed off objections and tapped into the runaway hype.

As you can probably guess, demand is one of the chief issues right now. It’s just plain hard to get an iPhone – estimates put sales at over 90 units per Apple store, per day, leading to chronically low stock. Thanks to our cellular customer service and procurement focus we were able to get them but many others haven’t been so lucky. I have to admit though: Once you see it up close it’s very, very pretty.

Now as I did predict, cellular expense management for the iPhone is tricky business. Rogers has a “one size fits all” philosophy that makes migrating services difficult, though not impossible. You can negotiate plenty of changes if you want to pay $700 per unit, but most customers are in it for the subsidy. If you’re willing to pay for the whole phone though, you can simply add a $30 per month data plan – if you order before August 31st. If you want to pay $199 ($299 for the 16 GB) for the unit you’ll have to get a bundled voice and data plan that costs $60 and up. The bundles include unlimited WiFi access at Fido hotspots, too. When it comes to data usage, that definitely softens the blow.

This is a very general overview of iPhone pricing. The devil really is in the details here, and they include all kinds of fiddly bits around activation, rebates and service migration – but that’s what we do, so we’ll deal with it. The iPhone isn’t the only smartphone game in town by any means, but sure is the most stylish one.