Why the phone rang at city hall and a strip club

If your organization is like most, you probably scratch your head when the monthly telecommunication bill rolls in.

You thought things were nailed down in the contract with the provider, but there’s odd fees, unexplained long distance charges … and then the mobility bill comes in with its set of unanticipated costs.

But according to a telecom billing specialist, there are ways of finding savings in those bills. You just have to be creative.

That was the message Jennifer Caley, billing specialist with Nielsen IT Consulting, gave Thursday at Know Your Alternatives, a one-day telecommunications conference in Toronto.

Speakers from a number of communications and network software companies and equipment makers discussed a range of issues including the pros and cons of getting rid of desktop phones, coping with a bring-your-own-device strategy, and new trends in telecommunications.

The first place to start saving money on telecom bills, Caley said, is by knowing what you have and what you’re paying for. “If you get phone bills you need an audit,” she said.

Whether the audit is done internally or by a consultant depends on the organization’s skills. But if you do it yourself, the first place to start is with the organization’s accounts payable department, which should have the information on the lines, circuits and devices for every site being paid for. Failing that, the provider’s sales rep should be able to help.

With that documents, Caley said, you can look for the following for initial savings on fixed line service:

–Outdated services or circuits you’re no longer using? Nielsen recently inventoried an unnamed municipality that had a lot of off-premise phone extensions. One rang a phone in a city hall office and simultaneously another phone in a local strip club.

“Nobody raised their hand and said, ‘Oh, I know why that’s there,’” Caley said.

–Paying for things you though you dropped. You checked and that fax line indeed doesn’t work, but the provider’s computer keeps charging. That’s why it’s important to keep records of communications with providers. And check your bills monthly to make sure a charge has been stopped;

–Long distance charges. Are you being properly billed according to the rate in your contract? Caley knows of a hospital that had an agreement with the provider to pay two cents a minute for long distance. However, that rate was charged on calls on only one of the institution’s two sites. Calls from the other site were charged at 24 cents a minute.

Check each account, Caley urged, particularly for what the provider is charging for one-minute calls. “Some of you will be shocked,” she said;

–Read the service contract. Is the term at least a year? If not, start negotiating with the provider. Contracts are another reasons to do a monthly audit, to catch human or computer error.

Then there’s those cellphone and wireless providers, whose billing is “notoriously complicated,” Caley said. She offered these tips:

–All mobility bills have to be checked monthly. Once a year, she added, have a telecom consultant look things over to make sure the contract(s) is being followed. If your organization can’t afford it, most carriers can send you electronic billing data, which may help an analysis.

–On bills, look for charges for “short codes.” These are chargeable text messages sent to users, often unwanted, as a result of the user signing up for something. The solution is having the user text back “stop.”

–Look for travel-related overages. First, was the travel legitimate? Should the user be on a roaming plan?

–Still paying system access fees and 911 charges? Why? This is 2012.

–Investigate pooling airtime for your staff’s voice minutes. That allows users to share minutes, which can help with monthly overages. But make sure you aren’t buying a pool of minutes bigger than you need.

–Read the service contract. If you haven’t negotiated a contract in two years it’s out of date. Be tough. Today, carriers should offer a certain number of free text messages and free features like voicemail, call display, call waiting and call forwarding. Ask for special deals on U.S. roaming or long distance.

–Finally, educate your users. That means having a wireless user policy that includes do’s and don’ts. And let your staff see their mobile bills. Those who do, said Caley, “have a huge drop in their overages.”
Caley also warned that switching providers is no quick fix. In fact, she said, it can involve a lot of pain. Only change providers if there’s a business case, she said.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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