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March 1, 2006
By Khali Henderson
WHILE MOBILE OPERATORS ARE beginning to create more attractive rate packages for volume enterprise buyers, by and large wireless services are an expensive proposition for most companies. And even if the company starts out with a cost-effective plan, it isnt long before they are paying more than they should.
Over time, buying policies change, phones are added or moved, a new promotion comes in that only affects a few people most companies end up with a hodgepodge of plans, says Mitch McCoy, senior director of marketing at master agent American Wireless. With hundreds, or even thousands, of devices, a company can have subscriptions on many carriers and many rate plans. Keeping track, nevermind getting the best deal, can be difficult.
If a partner wants to help get people on a consistent, optimized rate plan, they can save enterprises $50,000 or more per year in many cases. But, it takes work, says McCoy. There are a number of companies established and emerging that want to make wireless expense management easier for agents and their customers.
One of these companies is startup Integrexx Inc., which is seeking channel partners for its new subscription-based telecom expense management (TEM) service targeted uniquely at midmarket companies that spend a minimum of $250,000 per year and up to $4 million. Agents will earn 20 percent commission on all recurring and nonrecurring revenue from their accounts. Integrexx will be using the channel exclusively for its sales of its hosted TEM system.
TeleBright Corp. also is introducing new licensing options for its Manage-Right program that will enable an agent to purchase a super-user license through which it can manage multiple enterprise accounts. Agents also can buy subuser licenses for their end users at a discount and mark them up. This is in contrast to most TEM services, which are priced based on a percentage of spend.
Vercuity Solutions Inc. also targets wireless spend with its Web-based Mobile Manager solution. While Vercuity normally targets Fortune 500 accounts with its TEM services, Mobile Manager can be cost-effective for companies with as few as 400-500 devices, says Al Loges, Vercuitys vice president of channel sales.
Outsourced wireless expense management, says Integrexx President Rob Fortino, is one of two services that can help partners convince enterprises to move to a centrally managed corporate-liable wireless plan (see related story on Page W+6). The other is mobile device management (see related story on Page W+10).
If a partner wants to help get people on a consistent, optimized rate plan, they can save enterprises $50,000 or more per year in many cases.
A wireless expense management program includes three primary areas plan management, invoice processing and inventory tracking.
Invoice processing is the centerpiece of any expense management program. This service loads all carrier bills received by an enterprise into a software program that allocates spend to predetermined cost centers. Data can be expressed typically by departments, individuals, carriers, markets, accounts or pools of shared minutes.
Expense management programs also are finding allies in accounting departments facing ever-stricter rules. With Sarbanes-Oxley, there is a need to differentiate company-provided personal perks and corporate expenses, says Lynda Stadtmueller, vice president of marketing communications for Vercuity, citing personal wireless usage charges on a corporate-liable phone bill as one example. Youve got to show a good faith effort to identify and collect taxes for the value of the benefits. Most companies have absolutely no way to do it. Our product allows them to do that.
Expense management services differ from invoice auditing, which pinpoints anomalies and seeks to correct them with the carrier and recover savings, says Fortino. He says Integrexx also does this type of work on a contingency basis at the beginning of an engagement and periodically thereafter to make sure the bills are accurate But, he says, this task is better done manually as it is very difficult to anticipate errors and program business rules for them in software code.
This is not the case, however, for exceptions outside authorized use parameters, which can be anticipated, flagged and alerted. We look for top talkers and zero-minute devices, says Dan Hannah, director of sales and marketing for TeleBright, citing a few common examples of abnormal usage scenarios that can trigger alerts and recommendations for behavior changes that will save money. Were treasure hunters.
Just having an expense management system in place can drive behavioral change, says Loges. Once employees know someone is monitoring not only what phones they are getting, but how long they are on the phone and who they are calling, there tend to be fewer abuses.
Companies like TeleBright and Vercuity also maintain current libraries of all available carrier calling plans as well as those subscribed by the enterprise in order to ensure the company or individuals are using the right plans.
Vercuitys MobileManager performs this function. Our optimization engine rationalizes their usage against all of that and then comes back to them with various recommendations. They can actually select it to be optimized within their current carrier or we can do it across all available carriers within the services areas the devices are in, says Jim Roberts, director of wireless services for Vercuity.
With TeleBrights ManageRight, Hannah says, users also can query the system with their usage parameters to proactively locate a better plan, or rely on automatic alerts to recommend a switch. Plan management systems can be tied to order management systems that control what devices and plans employees are authorized to select and use, which is yet another way to match employee roles with proper equipment in an effort to control costs.
Once ordered, tracking inventory like rate plans is integral to managing expenses. A typical avoidable cost is from abandoned phones when employees turnover. I cant tell you how many times companies pay for mobile devices sometimes hundreds of them for months for employees that have left the business, says Loges.
Reports generated by the expense management systems also can be used in strategic ways to cost-justify investments, plan future budgets and negotiate new carrier contracts.
By helping companies manage their carrier rate plans, track devices and process invoices, agents can engender loyalty among their customers whether they sell wireless services or not. In this capacity they are the trusted third party.
Fortino says some wireless dealers may be fearful that an expense management program will result in lower commissions from the mobile carriers. The more savvy agent says, If I do this for them now, they are not going to look at another low-cost agent, he says. In addition, the commissions or margins from the TEM service can make up for some lost wireless revenue.
Vercuitys Loges concurs. The real value-add for a partner of ours is that its a great tool for retention, he says.
Tara Seals contributed to this article.
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