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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