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Managing mobile operators: Giving a passing grade

Everyone likes to gripe about their wireless operators, complaining that they pay too much for services that aren't quite what they want. Many a corporate telecom department has weighed in with its own set of opinions about the things that are wrong with the carriers, but the question remains – what are you going to do about it?

Everyone likes to gripe about their wireless operators, complaining that they pay too much for services that aren't quite what they want. Many a corporate telecom department has weighed in with its own set of opinions about the things that are wrong with the carriers, but the question remains – what are you going to do about it?

The answer is that you're going to start giving out grades. Of course, giving grades isn't the only thing you can do, but it's a start. And giving grades doesn't excuse your department from responsibility. If you have a vendor that is failing to meet your needs, then it's your responsibility to try to get it back on track. Also, there are things that only you and your team will be able to identify, such as service plans and pricing structures that work best for your company – those things are your responsibility as well.

Grading criteria
In order to give a vendor a grade, you must first decide on the criteria that you will use. For example, is there a contractual service level agreement? Or do you measure a wireless carrier's performance according to dropped calls, billing mistakes, or calls that end up at your internal help desk? Whatever the criteria are, it's best to agree on them and write them down.

I know – this is Supplier Management 101 stuff, but it's important because we often lose sight of the things that are important to us. If we don't manage to those objectives, we end up with some other company's priorities determining the types of services we receive. And once we lose sight of our own objectives, it's difficult to communicate them to others.

Recourse for failing carriers
How frequently do you meet with your suppliers? Do you differentiate between performance and operational service? And how often do you discuss these items with your vendors?

Hopefully, the answer is at least quarterly for the performance review and more frequently for the operational discussion. For example, the operational service discussion will address day-to-day issues and challenges. The quarterly performance review will measure – according to the aforementioned criteria – vendor performance as well as future vendor plans, including cost, network availability, upcoming product introductions and a longer-term technology roadmap.

If all goes well, the operational meetings will resolve the immediate challenges, and the performance review will assess the vendor at a high level. But what if things aren't going well? How will you resolve these issues? Will it be weekly meetings to address operational challenges? And at what point will those weekly meetings become monthly meetings?

Having a process in place will make it easier, and having faith in the process will make things happen far more easily than trying to re-invent the wheel each time a vendor fails to deliver. For the same reason, these processes make it easier to communicate policy and get vendors back on track when operational issues cloud the discussion.

Optimizing internal spend
Once you've given your vendors a grade, then it's time to start looking at your own users. Do you have people who routinely exceed the capacity of their mobile telephony plan? Do you have a way to place high-spend users onto more appropriate plans? Do you have a way to identify individuals with under-utilized cellular plans?

You will, because with an appropriate vendor management program in place, you'll be able to blame your wireless operators only so much. At which point, hopefully everyone will get a passing grade.

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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