IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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Sat, 1st Aug 2009
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Whether your company has five extensions or 1000, telecomms bills can be taxing to comprehend, or even reconcile. Discover how to manage telecommunication costs and in so doing reduce your monthly spend. Breaking down data, mobile and fixed line usage per user in a company with hundreds of workers can be a nightmare for those responsible for ICT. IT teams can be reasonably small and in many cases, too busy to reconcile telecomms bills with a magnifying glass. Telcos have hundreds of customers in the business space and mistakes can be made during the billing process. If your company fails to notice errors, which intermittently occur, then your business may be leaking money unnecessarily.Many telcos provide an online billing service, which is very handy, but most won’t provide detailed reports on individual extensions or lines. Companies such as Zici, Teleconsultants and others offer a range of telecomms billing tools for customers around the country.Some individuals and companies may suggest that you should simply cut down on telecommunications services as a way to consolidate costs. This isn’t necessarily the best move for many, as you may find that you’ll need those services in the future.In the current environment, many companies are looking at cutting costs in the form of layoffs, procurement and other areas. It may also be worth taking a look at your telecomms spend to make sure you are being charged the correct amounts according to your contract for fixed line, data and mobile services. As has been mentioned, some companies make the mistake of cutting telecomms services as a way to cut costs, rather than obtaining diagnostics on their spend beforehand. Les Whale from Teleconsultants says 85% of companies never examine their telecomms bills, which means that the vast majority of companies don’t even know if they are being overcharged for services. In some cases, companies may be paying for legacy services that they never use, or may even be paying for services that they never even asked for.Whale claims that Teleconsultants can save between 8% and 12% of a company’s communications spend without recommending change of suppliers. “This can equate to a potential $8000 to $12,000 in savings on every $100,000 spent across telecommunications services,” he says. According to telecommunications expense control company Zici, telecommunications spend can be a company’s third largest overhead, yet telco billing can be as much as 10% inaccurate. The company says it saves between 10 to 44% in its clients’ telco spend. Teleconsultants’ Whale warns against taking the knife to telecommunications services as a way to cut costs. He says there are situations where companies cut back on services, often to the detriment of their business long-term. Whale points out that some companies have cut services and have then had to reinstall those services when their business has grown.In many instances, Whale says it is more about finding services that are not being used, rather than being charged incorrectly for services. He refers to one instance when a customer was paying for a number of redundant firewalls. Valerie Fogg, information services director of law firm Simpson Grierson, says telecomms bills are well recognised as being complicated and hard to understand. “It’s inherent within the industry that billing is complicated,” she states. With a telecommunications spend of around $700,000 per year, Simpson Grierson was looking for a solution that could reconcile billing and ensure that costs were in line with actual usage. The firm has around 160 mobiles and around 420 staff with access to landlines and computer hardware. Fogg says the way bills are presented made it difficult for Simpson Grierson to know whether they were being charged correctly for services. The nature of voice rates can be difficult to reconcile, she says. One of the first things the law firm did was “clean up” voice rates with the assistance of Teleconsultants. In one instance, Simpson Grierson discovered that it was being charged for a line from another business altogether. The firm also found that its provider-supplied mobile hardware fund could sometimes be incorrect at the end of the month.  “We can now pick things up really quickly… it means we don’t have too many surprises in terms of anomalies,” says Fogg.The firm also has more clarity in terms of trends for mobile, fixed line and data costs across the company. A simplified reporting method now means that the firm can easily break down spend across the business. Fogg says this also assists with planning for telecommunications spend for the financial year. Zici did a similar job for chicken processor Tegel. Information systems manager Greg Ward says Zici gave the company an “easy way” to look over telecomms costs, its reporting systems allowing Tegel to see where waste and abuse of ICT usage occurs. Tegel has also added Zici’s mobile service because Ward says the company was frustrated by not being able to get any worthwhile reporting from its mobile provider. Using Zici’s reporting system, Tegel has easy access to calling information. “Zici was used so that we could get information that was impossible to get from our phone system and to have a method that enabled us to easily looking at statistics that are out of place,” he says.The solution has assisted with driving down costs. According to Ward, Tegel had already driven down most of the cost of its phones when changing to a new PBX three years ago. Tegel has about 780 handsets and a further 90 at Griffins, its sister company, which shares a building in Auckland and also uses Tegel’s PBX. Tegel also has four contact centres, with more than 25 staff. Zici CEO Jamie Burrows says he has also received three unsolicited requests to quantify personal calls from workplace landlines over the last few weeks. It would appear that a growing number of companies are concerned about the amount of personal calls made from work lines. Burrows says they normally chase the money, but with a new service, Zici will filter mobile calls made through fixed lines and will then list the costs per extension or users. Personal calls have largely been considered an “inherent perk” of employees, but it appears that companies are now seeing this as an area to reduce costs. Burrows says a quick fix would be for companies to implement or change a policy within the workplace that warns against personal calls.The Automobile Association, which is a client of Zici, implemented a solution to reconcile its telecomms billing around four months ago. With over 1000 extensions, including 400 seats in AA’s call centre, keeping track of billing is a huge undertaking for the group.Voice communications manager Dave Francis says the service collects and correlates call data records into easy-to-manage reports. He says he can now view breakdowns of each extension’s voice usage, and can clearly see where money is spent and where else it can be spent to improve the AA’s telecommunications solutions. He says managers and even end users can now see the cost of their calls, allowing all to manage their own spend, which has assisted with time and resources for AA. “From my point of view… we can now see exceptions or things that we don’t need to spend on,” he says. One example of this is the use of premium services such as 018, 083, 0900 calls and conference calling. Francis says premium services have the habit of being billed at unspecific rates outside the service contract. “Zici keeps an eye on what the costs of premium services are each day and than reflects that in the bill… so that we are billed correctly,” he says. Keeping track of premium services can be a very time-consuming, if not complicated process, as charges for premium services can change on a daily basis. An example of this is conference calling. An employee may be invited to a conference call without knowing that they will be charged for the service. Francis can now keep a close eye on conference calling across the company. Another positive outcome from the Zici solution is that it assists with locating billing errors. “We’ve already had one error where our provider was overcharging for fixed line services… the voice rate was wrong compared to the contract,” Francis says. In the case of the AA, Zici has attached a device to the company PBX called a ‘data logger’. The system records the details of every outgoing voice call. Zici takes the data away and then compares and contrasts monthly billing. ”Zici knows the rates that telcos charge before, so it estimates what the bill should be,” explains Francis.