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Cellular bill management: Setting attainable objectives

Daniel Taylor discusses some realistic internal objectives for those charged with getting corporate cellular purchasing under control by offering five simple internal objectives.

Have you ever had a bill that you've been afraid to open? Perhaps you spent a lot of money while on vacation. Maybe you talked more than 900 minutes on your cell phone last month and your overage costs 35 cents a minute. Whatever it is, we all know the feeling of approach avoidance that comes with a bill that's just a little too big.

That's exactly how most corporate telecom managers feel every month when the time comes to assemble the basic accounting for their companies' cellular spending. The corporate bills come in, workers submit their expense reports, and then comes the arduous task of figuring out how much the company has spent on cellular telephony. This can be a time-consuming and costly activity, and many companies find it difficult to scale the cost of managing cellular because of a lack of consistent policies, distributed purchasing decisions, and multiple bills from multiple carriers.

In this first of a two-part series on cellular bill management, we'll discuss some realistic internal objectives for individuals charged with getting cellular purchasing under control. In Part 2, we'll go in greater depth into techniques for "wrestling" the proverbial alligator.

Today, there are multiple, inconsistent and overlapping policies for cellular purchasing.
Daniel Taylor
Mobile Enterprise Alliance Inc.

Accepting our fate
Part of dealing with corporate cellular purchasing is acceptance of the situation at hand. We are where we are because of the decisions that were -- or were not -- made in the past. Back when there was no policy about who could have a cell phone, workers went to the local wireless store, pulled out a credit card, and bought whatever phone and plan they wanted at the time. Some of these purchases were made on a corporate credit card, and others have been expensed every month for years.

Today, there are multiple, inconsistent and overlapping policies for cellular purchasing. Field service technicians have a plan of pooled minutes purchased centrally by IT. Mid-level managers make their own purchasing decisions and expense their services each month. Corporate executives are issued BlackBerry devices but prefer to have separate cell phones, expenses that they put onto their corporate cards. It seems that every department has its own policies concerning cellular.

Steps forward
For those individuals given the impossible task of cellular bill management, the focus should be on taking steps forward in the process of managing cellular purchasing. We have all learned our lessons, and we know that there are some things that are worth the battle and other things that we simply cannot fix. What we can do is to put some structure around the money that our companies spend.

The best way to do this is with well-defined and incremental forward motion. Call it "baby steps" or "moving the ball forward" – the goal should be to define small but attainable objectives. Most important in this process is the idea of addressing challenges within your realm of control. In other words, the focus should be on the way that IT manages cellular, not on the ways in which the rest of the organization uses cellular.

Measurable objectives
Instead of saying that there is no corporate policy for cellular and that's a bad thing, we can restructure the objectives by saying that the cost of supporting cellular is difficult to scale. We can expand further with hard data showing that internal administrative and support costs for cellular are rising faster than the cellular expenditures themselves. And so the process of developing a set of corporate policies for cellular can be framed within the context of improving the efficiency of IT.

This is simple realism, because IT and telecom managers know they can't be everywhere all the time. When someone buys a Motorola Q and downloads some music or video, will a telecom manager be there to stop him? The answer clearly is no, because IT will be focused on the big picture and won't be getting bent out of shape over every ring tone or game download.

Five simple objectives
Framed within the context of IT efficiency, here are five simple internal objectives for managers tasked with getting cellular "under control."

  1. Minimizing the number and type of bills: There are simply too many ways for cellular bills to make their way into the system. In the ideal scenario, purchasing is centralized and individuals never actually see their bills. The second-best scenario involves corporate credit cards, where the credit card company can provide up-to-date expense information every month. Finally, there are expense reports, which often reduce the expenditure to a line item -- IT has no idea how many minutes are used, how many are unused, or how to improve the efficiency of purchasing. By reducing the number and type of cellular bills, IT management can lower administrative costs and focus more resources on audit, accounting and service improvement.

  2. Identifying "dead accounts": How many cellular accounts does your company have that are unused? How many times has a worker left the company, leaving a two-year service contract that goes unused for 18 months? Finding accounts with zero usage can be an effort that easily pays for itself.

  3. Electronic billing: Getting bills in electronic format can reduce the labor overhead for scanning, OCR and data entry. Having the information available electronically can speed audit and accounting processes.

  4. Audit and accounting: Finding such things as "dead accounts" is part of audit – a series of processes that look for outliers, aberrations and unusual usage patterns. As with any telecom billing situation, investments in bill audit generally yield significant, measurable results both in terms of cost savings and policy enforcement.

  5. Enforcing policies: There are several ways to think about policy enforcement. The first is to keep users from spending the company's money in the wrong way. The second is to make sure that workers are getting the right kinds of resources for the job. In an audit process, IT might find a worker who is exceeding his monthly cellular budget as defined in a policy. Further investigation finds that the worker is spending his money on overage. The remedy is to shift him to a more appropriate plan with more minutes, lowering expenses and enforcing both the policy and the budget.

It's easy to think that mobility is something completely new, but just like the personal computer that came a generation earlier, cellular telephony is ultimately an IT expense. As managers set out to make sense of years of unmanaged policies, it's important to remember that the best way to "wrestle the alligator" is to focus on the attainable and to define very specific internal objectives for policy improvement.

Part 2: Getting policies under control

Daniel Taylor
About the author: Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.

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