Slaying the mobile telecom expense monster

IT passions run high about roping in roaming fees and other cellular charges for employees' smartphones and tablets

Yikes! When I detailed the many ways that vendors were trying to scare IT into wasting time and money on dubious BYOD "solutions" or treating all users as if they were (expensive) edge cases, I expected some pushback. And I got some, as well as some "thanks for calling these carpetbagggers" responses. But what surprised me was where the pushback was focused: on TEM (telecom expense management), which is really a purchasing issue, not an IT one.

I get that IT may be asked to implement the systems to implement TEM tools, especially as several MDM (mobile device management) vendors include some TEM capabilities in their wares. In many cases, the job is simply dumped on IT, rather than being driven from the CFO's office, where the buck should stop when it comes to spend management. I suspect some in IT like to own TEM because they can show a hard dollar savings from their work, unless in the cases of better management, support, or security.

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Most of the pushback came from the vendors trying to tell IT to buy expensive technology to monitor employees' smartphone and tablet use to detect when they left the country and would incur international roaming charges by not turning off their cellular radios. I had suggested that the cost of the prevention was usually worse than the cost of the overruns, and that other methods were cheaper and more effective in a BYOD scenario.

So let's get into the issues.

First, my context was BYOD usage, but most of the critiques came from vendors relating the roaming-charge horror stories of corporate-managed devices (that is, not BYOD scenarios) where the company provisioned not only the devices but the voice and data plans. Of course it makes sense for a company to manage the expenses it incurs, and if you have a lot of corporate-provisioned cellular devices, you'll want to explore whether you can get better savings from standardizing on a single carrier and implementing tools that enforce policies around international roaming and monitor when devices aren't being used but stll rack up monthly service fees.

But whether the employee buys the device, chooses the device, or is issued a predetermined device doesn't matter. The real question is what telecom charges need to be managed and by whom. So let's put BYOD aside and figure out just what IT needs to do in regards to TEM. As in most issues IT has to address, context is critical.

If you have a large number of mobile employees....
Let's say you have thousands of people who need to use a smartphone or tablet as part of their jobs: beer distributors, on-site repair staff, pharmaceutical sales, management consultants, auditors, and so on. Chances are you're not doing BYOD for these folks, even if you let them choose the type of smartphone they prefer. You pay for and provision the devices, and you set up the cellular plans.

In that case, you certainly need a way of managing your cellular contracts and tracking the devices whose plans you're paying for to make sure service is discontinued when employees leave, as the carriers are notorious for mistaken billing that works out to their advantage. That's why the TEM business has existed with so many providers for more than a decade. It's a purchasing management issue, fundamentally, that may need IT support.

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