The Right Tool for The Job
As with all things, work gets easier if you have the right tools. Hanging up a picture is a snap with a hammer and a nail, but if you have a paperclip and a banana, it’s gonna be a long night. So why work with poorly designed or non-existent tools when managing your telecom? With the rollout of subscription-based, web-delivered telecom expense management software that allow you to enter, track, manage and report on your costs, there isn’t an excuse anymore. In other words, put down the banana, and let’s get serious.
Getting Sassy with SaaS
First things first, what the heck is SaaS…It’s just an acronym for “software as a service”, which is a fancy way to say “software that you log into via the internet, versus having to download and install it on a computer or server.” In other words, software when and where you need it.
Why do you care? Go ask your IT guy why. Quite simply, if it isn’t on your machine, it isn’t your problem. Security, updates, upgrades, patches, enhancements, anything and everything that software geeks like to do to software are all handled remotely, and it is transparent to you. No added expenses, no downtime, no worries.
Add to that the fact that you can just buy a subscription to the tool, versus buying it outright. That keeps the price down, which keeps your CFO happy. A happy CFO and a happy IT guy leads to workplace bliss! You’re welcome.
Taking the Tool to the TEM Tasks
Telecom expense management, or TEM, consists of a variety of tasks, each one handling a different aspect of the telecom environment. So a TEM SaaS tool is designed to make it easier to enter data, track changes, cross-reference items, flag problems and push invoices from entry, to approval, to payment. It also stores everything (wireless, voice and data) in ONE place, and offers loads of reports allowing you to fine tune the data for even the finickiest of managers.
And telecom expense management software is part of a larger picture. Whether you want to do everything yourself, or plan to outsource some or all of the telecom management tasks to a partner, the tool is what ties it all together. Data goes in, someone manages the information within the tool, and good reporting and clean invoice payments come out the other end. So let’s take a look at how that works.
1. Inventory Management
What’s the first thing your Mother taught you? “Always put away your toys when you’re done playing with them.” Good advice. The trouble is, you don’t HAVE the toys. If you are a typical telecom manager, your assets are scattered all over the company – POTS (plain old telephone service) lines running into buildings, smartphones in salespeople’s pockets, old pagers stuffed in drawers…I could go on, but you get the idea. This isn’t a bunch of blocks that you can stack in a pile and count.
So one of the key challenges of telecom expense management has always been “How do I know what to pay for if I don’t even know what I have?” This is where telecom expense management software comes in. Imagine a neat drop-down menu that says “Inventory”. From there you have an intuitive interface allowing you to see all the data on your inventory items. What is it, where is it, who has it, what vendor is it from, what features does it have, and what does it cost. The magic of integration! In fact, the most powerful aspect of a good telecom expense management tool is its ability to deliver the Big Picture. Here is this bit of data, tied to this detail over here and those six things over there. Click, click, click and you can see the whole telecom landscape in one place, which sure makes keeping track of your stuff easier!
2. Cost Allocation
Another telecom management task that will conjure up memories of your Mother, or maybe your Father, is the age old question – “Who is going to pay for this thing?” Now that you know what you have, your CFO probably wants to know who is responsible for each particular business expense. Those accountants, always so picky. But that is what they do – identify costs. And sometimes they even want the costs split into pieces! It is not uncommon to have one inventory item being paid for by multiple departments.
A good telecom expense management platform can make that easy. Just add in your Cost Centers, to whatever level of granular detail you need, then start allocating items – Sales, Operations, Marketing, Warehousing, whatever. If it has stuff, and it is supposed to pay for that stuff, let the software keep track of it for you. Then when you go to pay bills, or run reports (I’ll get to both of those later), it will all come out neatly on the back end. And you can go on a break.
While we’re on the topic of making your life easier and saving you time, document management comes to mind. In the modern era, no one wants a file cabinet stuffed full of papers hulking in the corner of their office. And they certainly don’t want to have to dig through it to find contract information. A contract should be electronic, easy to find, and cross-referenced with the items it pertains to. How else are you going to verify your inventory items are actually being billed at the rate you agreed to pay? And what if you need to check when a certain asset falls out of contract, or if it is still under warranty? Again, let the software make that simple. Scan, upload, attach. You’re done. Go back on break.
4. Invoice Processing & Payment
Speaking of document management, one of the biggest pain points of telecom has got to be invoices. Little missiles of irritation that arrive in the mail to ruin your day – sometimes by the boxful. And you know you should really look at all of those – line by line, every single month – to make sure they are accurate. But really, who has the time?
So you’re left with two challenges. Can I minimize this mountain of paper? And is there a faster way to review these to see if we have problems? You’ll be happy to know the answer to both is YES.
Invoice data can get in the software two ways – electronically via import, or manually. And this is where you might want to outsource some work to a telecom auditing partner. Invoices can be shipped directly to them, and they scan and enter all the information into the system. The invoices will then be available for viewing as a PDF, or some other format depending on which tool you use, and all the payment data will be attributed to the proper inventory items and cost centers. Then comes the fun part of audit and approval.
Which brings us to our second trick – automating the invoice review process. A good TEM software should have some built-in variance tools. Most invoices should be the same, month in and month out, so when they aren’t, you know something has changed. Perhaps you were anticipating that, but perhaps not. Either way, if it is flagged for you, then you know to look. The system may also be able to highlight certain types of charges that are often tacked on by mistake, like installation fees and taxes. This can save you a lot of time, as you can choose to only look at items that need attention.
And once the invoice review is done, and they are tagged for approval, the software can generate a feed to your Accounting system with all the details. Then they can cut the checks there, or your vendor partner can cut the checks, pay the bills, and just send the feed to Accounting so they know it’s done!
5. Change & Order Management
Now some of you may have thought, while we discussed invoice auditing, “What about changes?“ Good question. Telecom expense management software has to have a robust tracking mechanism for changes, as personnel get hired or fired, devices get retired and replaced, and buildings open and close. Lucky for you, we thought of that. The platform has various places that changes can be recorded, from ordering new handsets, to canceling lines or data plans. This ensures you have an accurate historical record for everything you own, allowing proper record-keeping and reporting.
6. Issue Tracking
And so you remember to check your next invoice to verify the change you recorded was actually implemented by your vendor, the software offers an “Issues” area. This is one of the few times in the workplace that it is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to talk to yourself, at least without triggering someone in HR to send you for a psych evaluation. Leave notes, record conversations with vendors, add details about why or how something was changed, and tag the issue with an Open and a Close date. This works even better when you have multiple users accessing the system. With a tidy breadcrumb trail to follow, any other user should be able to determine what happened, when it happened, and who did it. The Issues area also gives you visibility into what you need to watch for on upcoming invoices, again streamlining the auditing process.
Last but not least, any telecom expense management software should offer lots of reporting. As they say, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. And the beauty of all this data being integrated in one system is that it allows you to look at it from many different angles. Look at inventory cross-referenced by user, cost center or account. See trending data by cost center, location, or inventory type. Request information about various timeframes. Software can come standard with almost thirty reports. Very custom reports can be designed based on parameters you provide.
And note that different users can have access to different reports. There can be a Dashboard feature that allows each user to select the information most useful to them, and have it accessible in a variety of visual formats. By clicking the image, it allows a deep dive into the report behind the graph. Often clients that have outsourced most of the actual day-to-day telecom management tasks to a vendor partner like Valicom still utilize reports and dashboards to keep tabs on operations.