Even when facing challenging economic times, businesses still need to communicate and rely on technology to connect with customers, partners, suppliers and their own employees. Cutting back on communications spending will have a negative effect in a long downturn. It will leave any business that does so with fewer options when conditions improve and at a disadvantage compared to competitors that continue to invest. However, there are 10 steps that can be taken to grow the value and use of communications, while controlling costs.
- Assess the current estate - what communications services are currently in use and how will that change? Look to rationalise and consolidate, but do not blindly cut back on items bringing in value or that are saving costs elsewhere. Make ongoing assessments; the portfolio of assets shifts as employees come and go, or new services and suppliers are used. Mind the gaps and do not pay for unnecessary services or for leavers who have not been replaced.
- Prioritise shared or limited resources - internet and wide area data connections will often run many services. Are the business critical ones being protected? Are there sufficient capacity or network services to meet the demands of the applications that depend upon these connections? Low cost connectivity can be a false economy, especially when applications such as e-commerce and conferencing can save other costs such as transport, energy and rent.
- Investigate supplier alternatives. Are you getting the best deal? Could an existing supplier offer a better discount or a new supplier with more communications options offer a bundled service to reduce overall costs? Short term discounts, while welcome, do little to address underlying problems. Take a broader view of total communications needs and potential solutions rather than trying to make item by item savings.
- Incremental outsourcing - staffing or skilling up to run the wide range of communication technologies required for even the smallest business is expensive. Can you outsource elements - e.g. device management, security or billing - to avoid needing in-house support and keep costs predictable?
- Disconnect usage from cost - seek out flat rate tariffs so that employees are not discouraged from usage and operating costs are predictable. Investigate fixed per user per month services for software as a service (SaaS), voice over IP telephony, and other services.
- Converge budgets - different technologies - mobile phones, fixed lines, laptops, data cards - may have been the responsibility of different groups or individuals in IT, procurement, finance and facilities. Move this into one place so that decisions are more strategic and less territorial. As technology converges, make sure budgets do to.
- Get outside help - if your telecoms costs are large or complex enough - e.g. 50+ employees with mobile phones, or 100+ employees using a mix of internet, telephony and mobiles - consider engaging outside independent help, such as from a telecoms expenses management specialist.
- Device discrimination - not everyone needs a desktop PC, laptop, mobile email, smart phone or mobile phone. Assess who needs what and match the business-supplied technology to that need. Support employees' personal choices as far as possible - many may believe they have access to better PCs, phones or technology at home - rather than adopting an expensive and unproductive ‘standard issue for everyone' approach.
- Manage devices - This helps with security and consistency, and avoids unexpected costs e.g. from former employees. This can be run and managed in-house, outsourced, or provided as part of a carrier contract, but it is generally better if a single platform, service or solution is used to manage across all devices and all users with all types of connections.
- Face up to personal usage - Do you charge employees for personal phone calls and make them pay for broadband at home when it's partly used for business? What restrictions are appropriate for international calls, using the internet in the office, Wi-Fi hotspots, or premium rate numbers? Employees need to be aware of their personal usage and commitments, and managers must responsibly enforce controls based on a well-communicated company policy. Those with cost centre responsibility should also check and validate supplier billing.
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