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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom
Doing the Budget Boogie?

Recently, I was talking to a friend and colleague who was stressed out because he was working on budgets for next year.He’s an IT/Telecom executive at a large corporation, and he was under pressure to reduce expenses but didn’t know where he could realistically make cuts without compromising vital services or projects.As we talked, it became clear that he felt he had no choice but to simply show projected reductions in hardware, software and ongoing telecom expenses that may or may not happen and then simply hope for the best outcome next year.

We joked about him doing the “Budget Boogie” as I told him that his approach reminded me of the lyric to a song by a band we both like named Little Feat.The song’s title is “Old Folks Boogie,” and the lyric goes like this, “And you know that you're over the hill when your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill.” 

Normally, I would have offered to help since my company specializes in reducing Telecom spending, but we had recently completed a project for his firm and knew there wasn't much room for further reductions. I did give him some “pointers” that would help to further manage the company's wireless expenses, but I knew these would result in relatively small additional savings.

Now, with this being that time of year for finalizing annual budgets, I'm wondering how many other managers and executives are out there dealing with the same type of concerns and pressures and doing their own version of the “Budget Boogie?”  I’d like to know if you or others you know have found yourselves in this situation.  Of course, my firm would be “Willin” to help in any way possible.

 

 

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom
A Horror Story

THE PERFECT STORM

We recently worked on a Telecom Expense Management and cost reduction project for a client that was having significant problems with one of the major carriers.  The problems centered on billing and implementation issues that, frustratingly for the client, had been going on for over 2 years.  They were at their wits end and asked if we could help.  As we dug into the background of this situation here’s what we found:

  • The original contract was poorly written and even more poorly negotiated by someone inexperienced in the details and nuances of telecom carrier agreements.  As an example, it included a Minimum Annual Revenue Commitment that was almost 100% of the then current spending.  Also, the rates were significantly above market for that point in time.  While it looked like they would be saving money because the new rates were lower than their previous rates, they left a lot of money “on the table”.
  • Implementation of the contract required a migration of services from other carriers.  No ramp up provisions were included and there were no meaningful (i.e. with remedies) implementation SLA’s. 
  • The carrier Account Team was inexperienced and either inept, indifferent or both.  As a result, the client got little or no helpful support or problem resolution.
  • This “The Perfect Storm” of bad circumstances for the customer led to the following results:
  • Because the spending commitment was too high and the implementation took too long they were in underutilization default within the first 6 months of the agreement.  Rather than the carrier admitting that they had knowingly over-committed this customer, the carrier’s solution was to reduce the underutilization penalty and add a year to the contract term! This is almost never the right solution in this type of situation as it merely extends and compounds the problems.
  • The migration nightmare not only meant interruptions in service but also resulted in almost all of the services being put on the wrong contract rates or wrong billing platform i.e. rates were  higher than those that were agreed to in the new contract.  The client expended a great deal of time and resources to try and straighten out the billing mess but was having very little success.
  • After 12 months of problems, the only thing that changed on the account team was that a new (even less experienced) account rep was brought on board and she had to try and understand all that had happened previously.

We dug into the billing and the contract in great detail while also establishing communications with the account team.  We advised the client of the “good news/bad news” scenario. 

The bad news was that they had hit the “trifecta” (bad contract, bad implementation and bad account team) of carrier service elements resulting in their own “Perfect Storm” of troubles.  In our experience, if any one of these items is a problem they can usually be overcome by the other two.  For example, a bad contract can be overcome by a strong account team that works to ensure a smooth implementation.  But when all three aspects go bad, the customer is in for a rough ride!

The good news is that we knew how to address and fix their problems.  Here’s what we did:

  • We set up weekly calls with the account team to track issues, progress and resolution.In addition, because of our carrier contacts, we were able to escalate the issues to a Senior Executive at the carrier to cut through red tape and get things done quickly.

  • We migrated all of the accounts (over 1100 voice accounts alone!) to a new account on the proper billing platform.

  • Our detailed audit found over $126,000 in both one-time and monthly recurring billing errors that are being credited and corrected.

  • We’ve positioned the customer to conduct a sourcing RFP for these services in the near future.With our sourcing and negotiation help, they’ll be assured of getting market leading edge rates terms and conditions.

The moral of the story is that customers can avoid the danger, disaster and drama of their own “Perfect Storm” by making sure they do the following:

Be well prepared for contract negotiations by fully understanding your detailed demand set and having an in-depth understanding of the current market.It is almost impossible to have this knowledge in-house.Third-party consulting firms like Silver Lining Telecom will perform a current market benchmarking analysis for you at no cost and with no obligation. Why not take advantage of them?

  • Perform periodic billing audits to ensure accuracy and contract compliance.Carrier billing systems are extremely complex and even if billing starts out correctly new orders, software updates and human error can all contribute to incorrect invoices.
  • Demand accountability from you carrier account teams.Also, establish and maintain communications not just with your Account Manager but also with Senior Execs several levels above the account team. There’s typically a lot of management involvement when the carrier is trying to win your business but it frequently disappears once the contract is signed.Don’t let this happen.

If you take these steps before there are problems, you will avoid a lot of headaches and have a better chance to ensure “smooth sailing”

Tagged in: telecome expense
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Lead Generation - Partners or Pests?

Like many executives and business owners, several lead generation businesses approach me on a weekly basis. It seems they run the gamut from those simply selling data lists to those who provide a complete marketing automation approach.  Recently, as part of our expanded marketing efforts, I’ve responded to some of these overtures.  I always start the dialogue by asking the following questions:

1.     How confident are you that your efforts will provide us with results, i.e. at least some demographically qualified leads? (They always respond that they are very confident in their services)

Then the acid test…..

2.     Are you willing to share in the risks as well as the rewards?

I should explain that in our business, telecom cost reduction, we are paid on a contingency fee basis for results.  If we don’t deliver, we don’t get paid.  Based on our track record of success, we are highly confident that once given the opportunity to address a client’s telecom spending, we can produce significant savings for them.  At no cost to the prospective client, we will travel to meet with them, gather data from their service providers’ bills and contracts and then perform a detailed current market benchmarking analysis, which we share with the prospective customer.  Nearly 70% of the time, if we are given the initial opportunity to speak with a prospect and analyze their situation, the effort results in an engagement.  In other words, we take the up-front risk to invest the time, money and resources because we are highly confident in the rewards to our customers and us.

Silver Lining Telecom is looking for a quality lead generation company that is just as confident in their abilities and is willing to truly partner with us to share the in those risks and rewards.  Time and again when I bring up this concept, the response is that they have internal expenses such as the costs to buy/develop contact information as well as personnel costs.  Guess what?  So do we!  Call it “putting you money where your mouth is.”  That’s our business model, and we do it every day!

I’ve even tried to get creative and offer a significantly higher fee than originally proposed, with no success.  In fact, in one recent call with a lead generation company that had impressed me, I offered to literally double their fixed fee and to give them a share of our contingency fee as well, but they would not accept.  Makes me wonder just how good or sure of their service they really are?

So, unless or until we find a lead generation firm that is as confident in what they do as we are and willing to truly be a partner, I guess they’ll continue to be pests.

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom

 

The enterprise wireless population has between 5 - 15% zero users!According to a new report authored by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, the space agency's mismanagement of its 16,900 agency-issued tablets, smartphones, cell phones and AirCards came with a hefty price tag for taxpayers in 2013. About 2,300, or 14 percent of all agency-issued devices, went unused for seven months while costing taxpayers $679,000!

Now it’s not unusual to have some valid zero-users in your wireless population – we routinely see a few devices assigned to someone on maternity leave or used as standby/emergency devices. In fact, we have never seen an enterprise organization with absolutely no zero users; however, 14% is unacceptable but unfortunately not that unusual!  

We frequently see enterprise wireless populations with anywhere from 5% to 15% zero-users!  Poor visibility into wireless billing, lack of interface with HR systems and decentralized ordering/decision-making all contribute to this needless waste of money. Many companies just don’t have the skills or resources to effectively control (and keep under control) this aspect of their wireless spending.

Stop paying for nothing! We can show you how to effectively eliminate the costs of zero users and to eliminate them from happening again. In addition, we can help reduce your rates and overall spending as well. Best of all, if we don’t save you money, it doesn’t cost you a thing.

Call us today, and we’ll share our experience and knowledge with you.

After all, it’s NOT rocket science!

 

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom

 

SilverLiningWEBdreamstime_xs_30962257.jpgSo, you thought that market competition would hold down your wireless bills? – Wrong!

Maybe you thought that Corporate Agreement your company negotiated would drive savings – Think Again!

According to New Street Research data cited by the Wall Street Journal, the average monthly revenue per postpaid customer across the industry increased in the fourth quarter of 2013, and is up more than $5 per user from the first quarter of 2010. 

Why?there are several reasons including industry consolidation, the elimination of phone equipment subsidies and the high cost (and increased use) of costly data plans.

What Can We Do?  - The only way to truly reduce wireless costs is to break free of “off the shelf” pricing and negotiate customized rate plans with discounts and credits into your carrier agreement.  Carriers won’t tell you this, but they will create and customize rate plans and discounts that are tailored to the unique needs and usage profile of your user base.  Don’t keep looking (or hoping) for savings that aren’t there – negotiate or renegotiate your agreement now to change the process, change the “rules” and change the outcome!

Need help or guidance with collecting your savings? Contact Silver Lining Telecom today.

 

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom
Should the CFO Know?

We recently became aware (via reliable sources) that a company with which we had not previously had contact was paying way too much for their telecom services with their primary carrier.  The information we got was detailed and accurate. When I say way too much, I mean literally 2 or 3 times more than current market rates for key items. 

This means that, conservatively, they could quickly reduce spending by at least 25% per year by renegotiating their agreement.  Their agreement ends in less than 12 months.

We reached out to the Chief Administrative Officer who is responsible for IT/Telecom to offer our services.  The CAO responded by having a lower level person (Director) contact us.  We assured the Director that this situation was not uncommon, not due to any personal deficiency on their part and offered a no-cost detailed benchmarking analysis to document the potential savings.  The Director was somewhat defensive and did not want to pursue the discussion.  We responded back to the CAO to thank them for their attention and let them know how we could help them to reduce costs.   We’ve received no further response.

So, we’re faced with the choice of simply leaving things alone – knowing with 100% certainty that we could help this company to significantly reduce spending and increase net profitability – or, escalating to another C-Level Exec such as the CFO.  We believe the CFO would be interested since we work on a contingency basis i.e.  there’s no risk and a guaranteed first year ROI of at least 200%.  However, we’d clearly be stirring up a potentially difficult internal political situation by escalating directly to the CFO.  Should the CFO know?  What would you do?

 

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom
Telecom Finger Pointing

We’ve been having a lot of problems with e-mail for a few months.  We use MS Outlook and a 3rd party email host and every time we tried to troubleshoot the problems we’d get bounced back and forth between Microsoft and the host service provider.  They both pointed the finger at each other but meanwhile our problems persisted, and we were losing time and productivity.  Since it’s easier to switch hosts than to stop using Outlook, we just switched providers and, so far, couldn’t be happier.

This got me thinking about how many times we’ve all experienced similar situations with our telecom providers and about how to prevent them. Delayed or failed implementations, service outages, account team support and billing issues are all problems that frequently cause finger pointing and tend to drive us crazy! 

According to AOTMP’s research, only half of enterprise telecom carrier contracts contain service level agreements (SLAs) addressing customer care, with 50% containing SLAs addressing customer service response times and 49% containing SLAs addressing customer service issue resolution timeframes. Although billing accuracy was noted as a top frustration for enterprises, only 31% of the enterprises surveyed had SLAs addressing billing accuracy in their telecom carrier contracts….and that an alarming 11% of enterprises reported not having any SLAs in their telecom carrier contracts.

How do you prevent or minimize these situations? Not surprisingly, the standard carrier contract language does little to address, avoid or resolve potential conflicts and the language that does exist is heavily slanted in the carrier’s favor i.e. there’s no “teeth” in them. We’ve found that putting effective customized SLA’s and language into carrier contracts will go a long way toward reducing frustration by providing a real incentive to fix the problem (versus pointing the finger somewhere else) and spelling out real remedies if the problem is not fixed. We have been very successful in getting effective, customized SLA’s inserted into agreements and have seen them pay off time and time again.

One of my favorite stories concerning these situations happened a few years ago at a large global enterprise. There was a recurring problem at a major site. The Local telco and the Long Distance provider had their fingers pointed straight at each other and the problem remained unsolved. After reaching his wit’s end, the enterprise Director responsible for telecom resorted to a creative and somewhat draconian solution. He asked both company’s representatives to join him in the PBX equipment room and to check to see if their cellphones worked. Once they did, he left the room, locked them in and called to tell them that he would let them out when the problem was fixed! They got on their phones to their respective companies and, miraculously, the problem was fixed within an hour!

While the story may be amusing, had there been effective and customized SLA’s in place, the problem likely would have been fixed much sooner and the Director would not have had to incarcerate those poor carrier employees! 

Let us know if you’d like to discuss how to get effective SLA’s into your carrier agreements or if you also have an amusing SLA related war story to tell.

 

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Real Men Tough It Out

I just read a newspaper article about why men avoid health care services like going to the doctor or getting health check ups and it occurred to me that many of the same issues could be appled to why so many of us are reluctant to get help in our business lives.

The article stated that "Sometimes men avoid getting checkups, an annual physical or recommended screening tests for other reasons.  They fear finding out something is wrong.  They think admitting, illness or discomfort makes them appear weak.  They worry that a problem may cause them to be passed over for a job or promotion" 

By the same token, how many of us have avoided asking for help with a problem in our jobs or refused to get outside help for the very same reasons i.e. fear that admitting there might be something wrong may make us look weak or less competent?  If my own experience is any indicator, the answer is that a lot of us (me included) have been in this exact situation.

The article featured a 37 year old man who, despite various persistent sypmtoms, put off getting a check up for several years.  When he finally did go to the doctor he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and faced long, painful, expensive and life-threatening treatment.  Of course, the irony is that had he gone for a checkup a few years earlier the doctors would have lkely found a small benign growth (polyp), reomoved it and sent him on his way with a clean bill of health.

Think about it - how many problems in our businesses go undetected because we take that same "fear of looking or finding out something bad" approach?  Keep in mind, I'm not just talking about negative or crisis situations but also those things that could be made better i.e. process improvements, cost reductions and quality of product or service improvements that could be implemented if they were viewed with an unflinching eye or, better yet, several sets of eyes!

The solution?  Stop trying to "tough it out" and don't be afraid to get a check-up now and then.  This could be through the use of independent 3rd party consultants that have expertise or intellectual property that you don't have or it could be as simple as asking a colleague or co-worker for their input and "another set of eyes" on some aspect of your work.

The reward?  Much like medical problems, I've never seen a real business problem or opportunity that gets better by being ignored. So, the payoff for seeking help is a far less painful "treatment" and typically a better overall solution.  In the end, you'll be viewed not as weak or less competent but as a smart, pro-active problem solver who knows how to ensure a "clean bill of health" for your business.

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Good summary of some of the things we run into. Why Some Companies Are Reluctant to Embrace Consultants

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom
SeriousFun Network

Proud to be a contributor  - great people doing great work!

CLICK HERE to view.

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Wireless Taxes - Hidden Dangers & Hidden Costs

We have found that over half of the companies we talk to are in violation of the Federal Sourcing Act’s PPU (Place of Primary Use) requirements and don’t even realize it!

In addition, with wireless tax rates ranging as high as 26.29% the amount of spending related to wireless taxes is significant. 

We've found that by using the Wireless Tax Optimizer tool we can cut spending on wireless taxes by 20%-30%.

To get more in-depth details, download the White Paper from our website but here are some key features of the unique and exclusive tool we utilize to address these concerns:

  1. No other TEM provider has this Wireless Tax Optimizer tool – it is a unique, proprietary and patented capability.
  2. We can audit and address tax compliance issues with this tool – again nobody else can do this.
  3. Using this tool’s unique chargeback features, we can provide financial management/ chargeback ability that nobody else can offer.

We are advising companies to get out in front of this issue before it’s too late. 

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The developing role of the CIO as viewed by other top CIO's.  Interesting article about how successful CIO's will help to create value and manage their business by being pro-active, visionary and creative.

 http://www.cio.com/article/704050/Top_CIOs_Predict_the_Five_Year_Future_of_the_CIO?page=1&taxonomyId=3174

 

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Posted by on in Silver Lining Telecom

Believe it or not, we've actually come to sometimes sympathize with the plight of many of the carrier account teams.  More and more we are hearing account reps complain about the lack of resources and support from within their own organizations.  Headcount reductions, removal of field service roles and centralization of billing, ordering and implementation functions have all contributed to making it harder for the account reps to get things done and get issues resolved.

So, the reps are between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" because they either spend a lot of extra time resolving customer problems and chasing down answers internally or they get complaints from customers about lack of responsiveness.  Meanwhile their management wants them spending their time growing accounts and getting new business - which they could do if they didn't have to spend so much time putting out fires!

Unfortunately, this will not change unless or until the carriers start losing significant customers due to service and support issues.  As long as the carriers are growing and recording record profits there's really no reason for them to change.

What does this mean for customers?  It does not mean that you should accept or resign yourself to the situation. It means that it is more critical than ever to pay attention to your contract terms and conditions and to negotiate specific performance clauses around things like billing, implementation, account team support and other SLA's.  The key to addressing these issues is to make sure there are specific parameters in place and specific remedies with "teeth". Even if you are in the middle of a current contract it is still possible to amend and add terms to help address these issues. 

Also, we frequently find that communication channels have been pushed down to the lowest level and customers don't really know who to talk to beyond their direct account team.  We recommend, as a best practice, that clients establish (or re-establish) and maintain direct lines of communication with the Regional and Area carrier executives that oversee their account team.  Talk to them on a regular basis - not just when there's a problem.

So, next time you have an issue, do be a little sypathetic to your account rep - it's not always all their fault but don't fail to the address the underlying contractual and communication causes of the problem.

 

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We are not an agent for any carriers and get no fees from any vendors. While we develop custom tailored solutions by working closely with clients as an extension of their team, all final decisions are at the sole discretion of our clients.

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