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.

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.

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.

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.

How Telecom Audits and Telecom Expense Management Work

Everyone can take simple steps to reduce their personal phone expenses but when it comes to business telecommunications you need expert help. I perform telecom audits according to a procedure GILL Technologies has perfected over years of analysis. Telecom expense management is a multifaceted process, but to give you a look at how we do things in the office I’ll break it down to three primary steps:

Telecom Audit

The first rule of an audit is “get the data.” We keep an up to date record of available telecom service packages from all major carriers. Core telecom expense management focuses on these services (and more – like I said, it’s complicated!):

Landlines: What are the client’s basic service options? Is it in his best interest to go VoIP? We don’t just blindly choose the cheaper option because every client has particular service needs. At the same time, once we do know those needs, it helps us zero in on the most cost-effective solution.

Long Distance: There are so many long distance packages around that it’s hard to find the right choice for even basic consumer needs, much less those of a busy corporation. Once again, the answer lies in the client’s usage patterns. (This aspect of our process is so important that we developed proprietary software to master it — but that’s a story for another post.)

International: Don’t confuse this with ordinary long distance! Businesses’ international usage patterns aren’t the same as their continental long distance habits, and the fees are quite different, too. For some companies, international service is a non-issue; others call the other side of the world more often than locations in their home city.

Internet: Once again, usage and available services determine the best strategy. Some companies are web-centric enough to make this an entirely separate communications item — even the biggest communications expense of all.

Telecom Expense Management Proposal

After we compare available services with the clients needs and usage patterns, it’s time to formulate a plan. I create at least two proposals for every client. One of these is typically a conservative plan that sticks with the existing carrier. The others are a bit more adventurous. Even a basic plan can include room for improvement, however. We might tweak an agreement slightly or discover billing errors.

(Actually, I find a lot of billing errors on the job. To err is human, but to really screw things up, you need a phone company. Since 2006 we’ve discovered over $170,000 in erroneous charges. Strangely, the phone companies rarely make the mistake of charging too little . . . )

Telecom Customer Service Presentation

At some point, somebody has to turn my gigantic spreadsheet, a sheaf of printouts and a collection of research notes into a something that keeps our clients informed about their options. That’s where our telecom customer service experts come in. They distill the telecom expense management audit into a strategy proposal everyone can understand. Once the client knows his options and picks the one that fits his business best, we move to the ongoing management phase.

Hey! What about Cellular?

Cellular expense management is actually our specialty, so next week, I’m going to give it its own article. Stay tuned!

About the Author: Ted Washburn is a telecom expense management analyst at GILL Technologies.

GILL Technologies Unveils Its New Web Presence

Website emphasizes Visibility, Accountability and Simplicity in Communications Management

Peterborough, Canada, Tampa, FL and Auburn, CA: GILL Technologies’ new website went live today. The site significantly expands and reorganizes information to help current and potential clients explore the company’s services.

The new site sorts information according to GILL Technologies’ overall mission. The “Visibility” browsing stream explores the company’s telecommunications expense management and auditing services, explaining how the company saves clients up to 50% on their telecom, cellular and IT expenses. The “Accountability” category presents GILL Technologies’ proprietary Communications Management software, which allows clients to trace telecommunications expenses through a simple, web-based interface. The “Simplicity” stream takes browsers through the company’s Customer Service program. They can learn how GILL Technologies provides client care and procurement services for every major brand and carrier.

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