How many missing BlackBerries do you have?

If you’re a mid-to-large sized enterprise, you probably have a lot of hidden telecom costs that you shouldn’t be paying for, according to an independent technology analyst.

“Less than 20 per cent of companies I talk to have adequate telecom expense management (TEM) in place,” Jack Gold, president and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, said. “Most of them know they sent $3 million to AT&T or Bell Canada last year, but they don’t know what that really means. They don’t have the granularity and they don’t see the black costs – the ones they don’t know anything about.”

Without visibility into telecom spending, he added, companies will have a difficult time identifying and controlling their expenses during the ongoing economic recession.

Last December, Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, indicated that network and telecom expenses is one of the easiest places an IT shop can look at to cut costs.

“Companies generally overpay for stuff and don’t even realize it,” he said. “They might be paying for services they don’t have to pay for, such as mobile phones that the carrier never bothered to cancel from their bill.”

Tauschek added that most corporate telecom bills contain financial errors, resulting anywhere from five to 35 per cent in overcharges.

“The carriers don’t make it any easier for you either,” Gold said. Most providers charge companies extra for itemized bills, and even that only lists charges by telephone number, rather than by employee.

Gold advised companies that are serious about keeping their spending under control to consider implementing a TEM initiative.

“It’s basically a business intelligence problem,” he added. “You want to be able to associate costs with your employees and quickly find out the trends in your telecom bills.”

Earlier this week, San Diego, Calif.-based Vocio Inc. released Telecom and Wireless Tracker 2.0, the latest incarnation of its Web-based tool that gives telecom and IT staff the ability to manage their mobile inventory, orders, and expenses.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘we gave this phone to somebody else, but didn’t document the ESN swap to the new employee,’ which is just an administrative task,” Noel Huelsenbeck, president and founder of Vocio, said. But other times, he said, TEM can actually uncover more serious issues such as fraud.

“We had a client recently and they had 30 phones that the person procuring the wireless service had actually bought for her friends,” Huelsenbeck added. “She left the company and they were trying to figure out ‘who are these people?’”

Every invoice that is input into Vocio’s system can be broken down and tied to employees, departments or site locations, he added. You can continue to input data as you do with a spreadsheet or you can automate the process and have Vocio do it for you directly with your service providers.

“When using spreadsheets, the financial person might create a spreadsheet and the telco/IT person might also create a spreadsheet to send off to the VP of finance,” Huelsenbeck said. “Once these spreadsheets are e-mailed out, they’re no longer valid and can’t be used in real-time.”

Allowing one application to manage your inventory, Huelsenbeck said, can allow you to see when a contract is coming due, better track employee usage, and shed light on hidden spending.

The company is targeting businesses who spend anywhere from $25,000 to $750,000 per month on telecom and wireless services. Vocio also vows to provide the software free until a customer sees a return on investment.

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