Quocirca's Straight Talking: Belts tighten in 2009
Phones, mobiles and email are essential to running any business. So how can you reduce telecoms costs? Quocirca's Rob Bamforth offers some advice.
There is no doubt that many companies as well as individuals will look to keep budgets under control throughout 2009 - and Quocirca research frequently shows that telecommunications is regarded as one of the more difficult cost areas to constrain.
While many organisations and individuals have gained value and flexibility from their remote network access, internet connectivity and mobile phones, many companies have seen their telecoms costs rise, even as tariffs have come down.
Telecoms services are not something organisations can simply give up but perhaps IT leaders can learn to better understand and control them. During a recession, even apparently invaluable services will need to justify themselves.
Some services may benefit from increased investment but many will need their value to be measured and demonstrated in order to keep existing budgets. Those responsible for telecoms budgets will have a choice - do this themselves or have it done for them. After all, where budgets go, headcounts follow.
So here are some suggestions for New Year's resolutions for embattled managers trying to reign in telecoms spending.
Assess the current communications estate - what services are currently in use and how will that change? Look to rationalise and consolidate. Do not blindly cut back on items bringing in value or that are saving costs elsewhere but make sure the value is being measured and most importantly clearly visible elsewhere in the business.
Make ongoing assessments; the portfolio of assets shifts as employees come and go, or new services and suppliers are used. Mind the gaps and do not pay for unnecessary services or for leavers who have not been replaced.
If necessary, bring in outside help, and pay for it out of the savings - there are companies whose raison d'être is managing telecoms expenses.
This is particularly important for shared or limited resources, such as the internet or wide area data connections that often run many services. First, identify and protect the business critical ones - this is no time or place for net neutrality.
Does the available capacity and network performance criteria meet the needs of applications? Are service level agreements (SLAs) being measured and met? Poor quality connectivity is a false economy, especially when applications such as e-commerce and conferencing can save other costs such as transport, energy and rent.
Ensure that SLA commitments reflect business needs. There is no point in meeting technical SLAs if the quality of the experience felt in the business is sub-standard.
3. Shop around
Investigate supplier alternatives to ensure you are getting the best deal. Could an existing supplier offer a better discount or a new supplier with more communications options offer a bundled service to reduce overall costs?
Short term discounts, while welcome, do little to address underlying problems. Take a broader view of total communications needs and potential solutions rather than trying to make item-by-item savings.
Staffing or skilling up to run the wide range of communication technologies required for even the smallest business is expensive. Can you incrementally outsource elements - e.g. device management, security or billing - to avoid needing in-house support? Or keep costs predictable by exploiting flat rate tariffs and per-user per-month services like software as a service (SaaS) and voice over IP telephony?
4. Exploit convergence
We're talking about combining budgets, not reaching some 'tech-nirvana' touted by vendor marketers. Convergence makes sense when different aspects of IT and communications - mobile phones, fixed lines, laptops, data cards - are the responsibility of different groups or individuals in IT, procurement, finance and facilities. Move them all into one budget so that decisions are more strategic and less territorial.
Next, assess need and use the 'shadow IT' effect of consumer technology entering the workplace to your own advantage. Not everyone needs the business to supply a laptop, smart phone or mobile phone, and mobile email service. Work out who needs what and match the business-supplied technology to that need, then support employees' personal technology choices where it benefits the business.
Take active control of network access and use, as well as end point devices. This is not only for security and consistency but also to avoid unexpected costs - such as from former employees continuing to use business services.
As part of this it is necessary to face up to employees' personal usage of business telecoms services. Phone systems, home broadband, business-supplied mobile phones and wi-fi access are rarely exclusively for business use. This does not necessarily need to be curtailed but must be recognised as the perk it really is.
Employees need to be aware of their personal usage and commitments to their employer, and managers must responsibly enforce controls based on a well-communicated company policy.
For many businesses cost concerns will continue to be vital throughout 2009. Resolving to tackle them head on will benefit the whole organisation - as well as individuals with the personal resolution is to keep their job.