Who’s that calling?

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As mobile phones become more complex and data-hungry, the security and cost management implications for companies with a field sales force become more serious. David Rosenthal explains how you can health-check your telecoms costs.

More and more employers are providing their staff with Blackberries, iPhones and other mobile broadband devices that can generate significant amounts of data usage and be used as mobile phones. For sales professionals who are frequently travelling, away from the office or regularly working from home, that makes complete sense. But with many companies now having a vast inventory of company mobile phones, it’s easy to lose track of where they all are – all the more so when an employee leaves the company and inadvertently (or intentionally) forgets to return their phone.

Missing mobiles

Working with some of the UK’s largest employers over the last year, telecom cost management specialist Efftel has uncovered a number of serious issues – and worryingly high costs – associated with company mobiles that have gone missing. Actual examples we have encountered include:

• Employees who carry on using their company mobile after they have left the company.

• Staff who leave mobiles in desks after they have left – still clocking up rental bills for months at a time.

• An employee with a voice-enabled Blackberry and a mobile who thought the mobile was in a desk drawer when it had actually been stolen and was generating £2,000 worth of calls a month.

• A ‘pool’ mobile stolen from a drawer in an office that generated £5,000 worth of calls before being stopped.

• Mobiles being stolen but not reported that then generated high costs.

• Mobiles not returned to a ‘pool’ that carried on incurring rental charges.

Apart from the serious problems of missing company mobiles, we regularly uncover other problems that can mean escalating telecom charges for employers: in our experience it’s quite common for up to 30% of calls on a business mobile to be personal; for employees to call premium rate numbers at £1.50 per minute; and for employees to lend their business phones to friends and relatives.

Apples and Blackberries

Recent research undertaken by Efftel revealed the cost implications for companies that provide their staff with iPhones and other ‘smart phones’. Efftel analysed usage among 1800 UK corporate users, of which 1430 were on Blackberry and 370 on iPhone or other data-driven mobile devices. The average data use over a month of each Blackberry user was 15Mb, while for the iPhone (and similar devices) it was 96Mb. The average data ‘call’ was only 0.38Mb for Blackberries against 5.5Mb for iPhones. The lower Blackberry figures result from it being more efficient than the iPhone in compressing and transferring data, and also because the iPhone makes it easier to use data ‘apps’ and other forms of data transfer.

With employers encouraging staff to always be in touch when travelling or working from home, the number of company mobile phones in use has seen a huge rise in recent years. Increasingly staff are being supplied with Blackberries, iPhones and other ‘smart phones’ – but what many employers may not realise is that while national traffic is generally included within the fixed cost of the contract, roamed usage is not and the average iPhone user is likely to cost significantly more than a Blackberry user when roaming.

While the Blackberry still dominates the corporate sector, we are seeing a rapid expansion in iPhones, iPads and other smart devices as the latest executive ‘must-have’. However, these devices are much more data-hungry than the Blackberry. Companies need to be aware that the more they equip staff with data-hungry smart phones, the more likely it is that they will incur soaring mobile phone bills – so it is important to have adequate controls in place to monitor this.

Out of sight

For many employers, the real worry of providing staff with smart phones and other mobile broadband devices that can generate significant amounts of data usage is that it can become a ‘runaway’ item of expenditure that’s very difficult to control. Most telecom cost management providers now offer specialist expertise in this area. Some network operators now offer to analyse your costs – but beware: that could be viewed as ‘marking their own homework’, as it is rarely in their interests to help customers spend less money with them.

That’s why it is best to get independent expert help. Such help will aim to achieve significant cost savings by checking whether the network operator is applying the correct rates; switching high-spending users to a better roaming or data tariff; ensuring that all phones are properly accounted for and that unused services are not charged for; identifying any unused SIMs; highlighting potential misuse by employees; and suggesting ways to cut down on unproductive or unnecessary calls.

In recent years, a number of companies have started to offer specialist telecom cost management services. Some charge a fee for this work and others accept a share of the savings delivered as result of their work. Even if a fee is charged, it is rare for the cost savings not to offset this. If the company is prepared to work for a share of the cost savings, that would be a ‘no-brainer’ for the client.

Counting the cost

The approach that such specialist service providers take is usually to conduct a comprehensive audit of mobile usage, and then to renegotiate the mobile contracts with the providers. The completion of these two stages will usually lead to substantial savings: as much as a 40% reduction in costs.

The first phase, a thorough telecoms audit, should provide business owners with a complete and transparent account of all usage by employees of company mobiles. It should also achieve three things:

• Highlight exceptional or incorrect usage patterns, enabling the company to correct them.

• Provide the company with a clear picture of the overall costs.

• Allow for further cleaning of the mobile ‘inventory’, e.g. where staff have left but their mobile contracts have not been cancelled.

This type of specialist service offers companies measurable benefits. It drives down usage costs by reducing incorrect and unnecessary usage. It enables the employer to apportion its mobile costs to the correct cost centres, and to ensure that all mobiles are accounted for. It ensures that users are placed on an appropriate tariff for their usage profile. It highlights areas of potential savings, which it is not in the interests of a network provider to do. Finally, it can deliver savings with no disruption of the company’s day-to-day operations.

No company with a field sales force can afford not to ensure the security and cost management of its telecommunications. One well-directed call could save you paying for many more that contribute nothing to your business.

 

David Rosenthal is Managing Director at Effective Telecoms Ltd (Efftel).