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.

GILL Technologies Expands to Toronto

Toronto, ON, Canada: GILL Technologies (http://www.gill-technologies.com) announced today that it added an additional Telecommunications Partner office in Toronto, ON. The office will provide telecom expense management services, cellular cost auditing, client care, consulting and support to clients in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.

The office joins other certified Telecommunications Partner offices in Central Ontario and the US. Each office offers a consistent standard in telecommunications auditing, cost reduction, customer support and procurement. The core GILL Technologies service reduces client telecommunications bills as a self-funded service. Fees come from a portion of the savings so that clients’ total expenses are always lower. In addition, GILL Technologies manages migrations to new carriers, service plans and hardware, and serves as a single point of contact for technical support. Client profiles range from small businesses to enterprise-level clients with complex telecommunications needs.

GILL Technologies Partners are independent business owners that are trained and certified to a common standard. This authorizes them to provide GILL Technologies’ expertise in internet, landline and mobile communications. Partners Marcus Vandenbrink and Richard Carroll manage their Toronto office under the GILL Technologies brand.

“GILL Technologies is very familiar with the Canadian telecommunications industry,” said GILL Technologies president George Gill. “We’ve always wanted more feet on the ground in one of our core markets. There’s a strong demand for our services in the GTA, where many companies need 24/7 mobile communications at competitive prices. Growing our business is all about saving them money, and with a Partner office close at hand we’ll be able to do just that.”

Interested parties can find out more about GILL Technologies’ services by visiting http://www.gill-technologies.com, emailing info@gill-technologies.com or calling 877-507-6988 toll-free. GILL Technologies accepts clients from across Canada and the United States.

About GILL Technologies

Established in 2000, GILL Technologies provides a “Total Communication Solution” for businesses of all sizes. Clients range from small businesses simply looking to save on their communications costs to large enterprises that want comprehensive solutions. Over 3000 clients across North America bear witness to the effectiveness of GILL Technologies’ products and services.

Find out more about GILL Technologies’ communications services through its no-risk, money saving Cost Auditing service at http://www.gill-technologies.com/CostAudit.php

Your Telecom Expense Management New Year’s Resolutions

If your phone bill hasn’t come in already you should probably be prepared to pay more than usual to ring in the New Year. That’s because usage tends to increase in the run up to the holidays. But should your phone bill really by that big? Just saying “It doesn’t look right” isn’t a good enough analysis to save you money. Instead, follow these resolutions to get to know your cellular phone and landline bills.

Shop for Plans Based on Your Usage History

If you’re not texting like crazy, maybe an unlimited texting plan is a waste of your money. If you’re constantly uploading pictures, checking email or moving business documents from your phone, upgrade your package for improved data. Look at multiple providers. There’s enough competition in the industry to ensure that at any given time, someone’s offering a deal that fits the way you use your phone.

Look for VoIP Plans near You

There are very few reasons why the average person shouldn’t switch to VoIP. If you live in a smaller community, outsourced 911 services and unreliable broadband connectivity are fine reasons to think twice. If you’re a business with complicated service needs you’ll have to study your options carefully as well. Otherwise, the savings speak for themselves, particularly if you have relatives on the other side of the country, which for VoIP users, costs them same as ringing the next door neighbor.

See If You’re Tripping over Internet Bandwidth Caps

One of the biggest unanticipated communications expenses is internet usage in excess of the cap on your broadband plan. This is an issue where tracking bills over multiple months is extremely useful, since bandwidth usage can vary tremendously. If your work needs lead to odd periods of huge data transfers you can tally an average across a period to see if switching to another plan would help.

Use a Telecom Expense Management Expert for Complex Business Needs

If you’re running a business and juggling multiple phones or telecom services don’t waste time you could be using to grow your business fretting over your bills. Hire us for telecom expense management for every service, including Internet and mobile phones. Our no-risk service never costs you more than you’d pay on your own. Best of all, our client care staff makes sure it works without you having to waste time on the phone with telecom providers.

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.

Beyond North America

North American cellular telecom expense management is the heart of our business. Nevertheless, we keep abreast of trends beyond our primary market. There are compelling reasons for doing so – three “Ps.”

1) Products

One of the simplest reasons is that other markets are testing grounds for phones and devices that could be bound for the North American market. As I mentioned in our last article, the Blackberry Bold rolled out in test markets first – including Chile. You have to do more than just observe whether or not a product is hot in one country or another. Look at the relationship between the product, consumer and infrastructure.

Example: Developing nations’ explosive wireless growth and need for inexpensive handsets is a function of wireless infrastructures being simpler to install, and carriers’ commitments to volume sales that overcome low margins. Lesson: Economy handset fleets should be more attractive in rural areas here, too, especially in businesses that rely on personal mobility (on site technicians, for example). Low land line density for phone and internet makes it easier to get things done through a handset, and while carriers have no motivation to make handsets cheaper here, high market penetration in North America means they have to offer them if they want to compete.

2) Policies

Foreign markets provide an array of “What if?” scenarios that tell us what might happen if policies or government regulations change. Mobile communications is probably the most varied field in telecom. Every market has its own government-mandated quirks and unique carrier policies.You could write (and analysts have written) giant volumes about SIM card policies alone.

Example: In the UK, “box breaking” occurs when a consumer unlocks the SIM cards of phones and resells them at a profit in another market. Carriers dislike the practice, but it’s legal. Lesson: Thanks to box breaking, UK dealers are conservative with subsidies and have begun incorporating various policies to limit the practice, including mandatory minutes and detailed tracking procedures to follow the phone’s status. If unlocking SIM cards becomes a mainstream North American practice, carriers here will have to use the same methods.

3) Penetration

Other markets are an excellent way to look at various penetration levels. Europe and Asia are the primary focus here because they include regions with higher penetration levels than North America. Parts of Europe are saturated to over 100% market because many consumers own more than one active handset.

Example: Some European markets have reached the apex of linear growth, so carriers increasingly emphasize new features and higher-end hardware. Mobile banking and purchases are just the tip of the iceberg; converged multifunction devices will be the rule, and not status symbols. Lesson:Â North American providers will have to follow their European counterparts when it comes to attracting business from people who mostly already own cell phones and need a further inducement to switch carriers.

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.

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.