Organizations use a wide range of approaches to managing expenses for communications technology and related services. Some use one of the Technology Expense Management (TEM) hosted systems available, while others rely on various spreadsheets and databases either purchased or developed in-house.
Regardless of which approach you decide to take, here are nine considerations to ensure ongoing success by including all relevant expenses and accurately tracking them.
1. Decide what types of invoices should be part of your communications technology budget. Because organizations may charge different invoice types against different cost centers, many don't have a complete picture of this expense. Do you include the following items in your expense management strategy?
- Traditional telephone bills for services relating to voice and data communications
- Voice and data communications hardware expenses both initial and ongoing for maintenance
- Mobile services and devices
- Audio and videoconferencing (Zoom, WebEx, etc.)
- Subscription-based and license-based services (Office 365, salesforce.com, etc.)
- Data center charges
- Data storage
- Voice and data security
2. Different entities within your organization pay the bills. In a large organization, it’s not uncommon for some communications technology and related services bills to be paid by separate entities using the services, rather than all bills going to a centralized accounts payable department. Sometimes these bills don’t surface until they don’t get paid, resulting in service interruption. Often, they are paid out of different budgets so do not show up on the radar.
3. Communications service providers create new accounts resulting in more bills to manage. Unless every order for a new service includes a specific account number, it often happens that your communications service provider will create a new account generating a separate monthly bill. Unless these bills are identified and appropriately categorized (you know what services they represent), this may result in inaccurate expense tracking. Make it clear to your providers what account number (and contract) you want to use for each new service ordered.
4. Communications services may get placed on the wrong account. With many of their customers having multiple accounts, it is not uncommon for a communications technology provider to add a service to the wrong account, potentially resulting in inaccurate expense tracking.
5. Communications service providers change account numbers. A known service provider changed its billing platform a few years back and changed every single account number in the process. This adjustment can happen with little notice, as we’ve seen with other providers. Make sure you identify both the old and new account numbers for each bill received to ensure accurate tracking. Doing so ensures you don’t lose historical data.
6. Certain bill types aren’t available on the vendor portal. Most communications service providers that have been around for a while have multiple billing platforms (often resulting from mergers and acquisitions). Services billed on the older platforms will never be available on the service provider portal. If you rely on the vendor web portal to retrieve your bills, you need to develop an alternate means of receiving the monthly invoice and keep track. If not received, you will flag this as missing from the overall expense.
7. Some vendors don’t have a web-based portal and only issue paper bills. As communications service providers proliferate, some of the newer ones don’t yet have a portal (or may never have one). Therefore, again, it’s incumbent on you to receive the paper bill or a scanned version on a regular basis.
8. Communications service provider’s records. Surprising though it may seem, most communications service providers don’t have a way of identifying all of the invoices you receive from their organization monthly. As mentioned, they have different billing platforms that don’t tie together. Also, if your organization is large, bills may be issued under various names, particularly if there have been mergers and acquisitions. The procedures for changing names on a bill are cumbersome. Therefore many organizations fail to do it.
9. Communications service provider support team. Most communications service providers assign one or more specific people to an account team to support a large customer. You must ensure that this team addresses all of your accounts with that provider. It’s not uncommon to find that in a geographically dispersed organization. Some locations may be overlooked and receive the same support as a small organization rather than the larger organization to which they belong. In many cases, these smaller locations find they don’t even have an account representative.
Managing expenses for communications technology and related services is never easy. Staying on top of these issues will increase your likelihood of success.
Jane is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.