Stop the bleeding

Written by Robert Maurin

You’d rather lose a limb than give up your BlackBerry, but the odds are you’re paying way more than you should for wireless service. How about $4,000 a year in unnecessary costs if your firm has just four cellphones? Or $250,000 a year if it has 200 wireless devices?

These are just two examples of the waste encountered regularly by Avema Corp., a Toronto-based telecom expense management (TEM) firm. Fortunately, there are easy ways to pay less for the same—or better—service. Here are the five best.

1. BRING YOUR STAFF ONSIDE: Your employees likely have no idea how much their wireless usage costs, so they don’t think about ways to save. “Sometimes we find that just the communication that these costs are being monitored has an effect,” says Avema’s CEO, Roger Yang. Let your staff see and sign off on their own usage. And be clear about what’s allowed (such as local personal calls, which seldom cost much) and what’s not (such as downloading music, games or ring tones). John Tyl, president of SmartThought Technologies, a TEM based in Burlington, Ont., says showing your people what they’re spending usually stops flagrant abuse, and savings of 15% to 20% are common.

2. MAKE A MOVE ON MARCH 14: That’s when number portability—letting cellphone users switch carriers without giving up their phone numbers—takes effect at most carriers (it’s September 12 at the rest). Many SMEs have, over the years, accumulated a mishmash of services and devices from rival carriers, but are reluctant to give up their phone numbers for a better rate elsewhere. All that changes March 14. The leverage is in your hands if you shop around—although you might run into devices that won’t work with a new carrier or penalties for escaping a contract. “If you’ve got three phones here, five phones there, it can be very useful to put them all [with one carrier],” says Tyl. Most carriers will set up a corporate account for as few as 10 devices, says Yang, although they are likely to be more responsive if you submit a request for proposals instead of just calling your account manager. A brand-new option worth exploring is Call Manager from Rogers Wireless (a sister company of PROFIT). Businesses can use this service, so far unique among national carriers, to monitor and set rules on individual usage for $5 per device per month.

3. BRING FINANCE AND IT TOGETHER: “Finance people don’t know enough about the technology, and the technology people don’t really care about the money,” says Henry Dortmans, a principal at Angus Dortmans Associates Inc., a telecom consultancy in Oakville, Ont. “So, corporate wireless starts being an unmanaged area.” Common waste centres include unused devices with active service plans, or individuals with multiple devices. Have accounting and IT review all bills to ensure you pay only for the things you use, and cancel the rest.

4. DO THE DULL STUFF: A little drudge work will allow you to ballpark your spending on voice, data and long distance. Armed with this information, consider asking your carrier for: unlimited data plans, if, say, your staff use BlackBerrys to access your databases; flat-rate billing for frequently called numbers (such as your office); free incoming calls; and/or reduced roaming charges for frequent travellers. If applicable, customize plans to the needs of individuals or departments. And review your usage periodically to keep up with your changing needs and carriers’ changing offerings. “If someone hasn’t looked at telecom for a year,” says Dortmans, “it’s guaranteed you’ll find waste, you’ll find errors and you’ll find ways to save money.”

5. OUTSOURCE THE HEADACHE: If you’re big enough, hand off the analysis, haggling and maintenance of your wireless devices to one of the handful of TEMs based in Canada. The cost? SmartThought, for instance, has a flat rate of $1.50 per month per device, with a 100-device minimum; it estimates you’ll save at least 10%. Avema’s usual mimimum is 150 devices, at $7 to $11 per device. It also offers a one-time audit for 50% of the first year’s savings, plus 50% of refunds, such as for past billing errors. Individual consultants may take on smaller businesses. Aside from saving you money, a TEM will take a chore off your plate. As Yang points out, no one on your staff wants to deal with the “I dropped my phone in a toilet and need a new one” requests, and firms like his can negotiate with carriers more effectively that you can on your own.

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