As the staff of enterprises increasingly adopt smart phones, tablets and laptops as essential working tools, the odds also increase that their IT or telecom managers will run into bill shock.
That sinking feeling hit Allen Wong (pictured), corporate affairs specialist at manufacturer Samsung Electronics’ Canadian division in January when the monthly wireless bill from included $100,000 in data roaming charges racked up by a staffer who used a smart phone tethered to a laptop during a five day trip to Europe.
The experience was a lesson in the demands required by telecom expense management. Some consultants and software companies offer solutions to organizations, but carriers are also responding to customer pressure to help them rein in costs.
For example, Telus Communications Co. recently slashed its international roaming charges by 60 per cent, while Rogers Communications Inc. lets businesses buy monthly buckets of data either for individuals or to be shared by groups.
The Samsung staffer’s European trip was legitimate, as was the wireless work done on a laptop tethered to a smart phone. In fact, all the staffer downloaded was a mere 2 gigabytes of data. However, the carrier, BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility, charged $51 a megabyte.
“At the beginning, we were shocked,” recalled Wong, whose job includes overseeing wireless spending. Samsung’s contract with Bell specified that those using its service would only be charged $5 a megabyte. However, to get that rate the carrier has to be notified before a staffer began using a mobile device out of the country.
The problem, Wong said, is staff don’t always notify him of foreign travel – and this was a prime case of why they should.
One solution, if a carrier contract has a similar provision, it’s simply a tough reporting policy where staff must give advance travel notice to managers.
Eventually, Bell [TSX, NYSE: BCE] agreed to negotiate the charges down to $9,000, on condition that a similar incident not happen again. The carrier made sure of it by insisting Samsung subscribe to its Telicost service, which charges $5 a month per corporate subscriber for detailed monitoring of mobile devices. Telicost is a cloud service provided by Anomalous Networks of Montreal through carriers or direct to organizations.
“We have been offering this solution for the past 18 months and the response from our clients has been amazing,” a Bell spokesman said in an e-mail.
An agent is installed on each smart phone used by 278 Samsung staffers who are on a Bell Mobility contract. Wong is notified by e-mail as soon as a unit is used out of the country – triggered by the handset’s GPS capability — so he can immediately notify Bell and take advantage of the roaming discount.
The agent also puts an icon on the handset’s screen to give the user a warning when their data limit is approaching.
Telicost also generates detailed daily reports Wong can use that track everything from the long distance numbers staffers call to where calls are made from.
Like many large organizations, Samsung Canada doesn’t rely on one wireless provider. Some staff are on contract with Telus, while others are serviced by Rogers Communications Inc.
Yet while Wong is very happy with Telicost, he doesn’t see the need for a similar service from the other two carriers. Telus [TSX: T, T.A; NYSE: TU] slashed roaming fees help staffers keep control of its wireless costs, while Samsung buys a monthly bucket of data from Rogers [TSX: RCI.A and RCI.B] to be shared by staff using its service. All Wong has to do is ensure is staff stay within the overall limit.
“We believe people want to use their phones, and we think this will stimulate that,” Jim Senko, Telus’ vice-president of SMB marketing said in explaining the roaming fee cut.
Raj Doshi, Rogers’ vice-president of mobile product management, said the carrier recently launched data roaming day and week passes to help small businesses control wireless costs.
Telecom expenses are so complex they either have to be controlled through sophisticated software or outsourced, say industry analysts. “It always pays to do it,” says Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group, a Mount Albert, Ont.-based telecom consultancy. She figures Canadian carriers offer some 2,000 wireless business plans.
“Wireless costs are a discussion I have with clients frequently,” said Mark Tauschek a research director at Info-Tech Research Inc. in London, Ont. “The biggest problem is the cost of roaming when you’re travelling abroad.”
Some solutions can be low-tech, such as having restricting travelling staff to using dedicated handsets or making them use a company-supplied SIM card for certain countries in their cellphones. Local SIM cards help keep costs down by eliminating long distance charges.
Encouraging staff to use Skype or Wi-Fi when outside Canada, will help as well.
However, Tauschek admits senior executives often see themselves as above these kinds of restrictions.
There’s always showing the executive his most recent wireless bill, Tauschek added. That worked for a Toronto company whose senior salesman hadn’t realized he’d chalked up a $1,500 roaming bill the last time he was in South America. “Part of it is user education,” Tauschek said.
There’s no shortage of independent telecom expense management providers, including Toronto’s Save U Tel; Laval, Que.’s Accell Telesystems; Etelsolv.com of Montreal and Accountabill Corp. of Unionville, Ont.
But Tauschek said real-time services such as offered by Anomalous Networks warn managers fast before they get hit by bill shock.
Anomalous Networks’ CEO Daniel Rudich said he and co-founder Jaan Leenet created the service because other expense management solutions rely on data coming from wireless carriers, which can delayed by up to several weeks.
“We have a predictive analysis engine that predicts where you’re going to end your month,” he said, “so you can be assured to know you’re not going to be over your carrier’s plan limit.” It offers a free version of the app called Telicost Lite organizations can try.
The company has a number of telecom expense management partners, the latest of which is Fuel Mobile of Calgary. Carrier partners include AT&T and France Telecom’s Orange wireless service.
As for Samsung’s Allen Wong, he says Telicost has helped his company cut roaming costs by 50 per cent.