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Getting the Big Picture: Auditing Your Network


A technology audit
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For a perpetually busy telecom department, the prospect of auditing and documenting its network and systems may seem like a time-intensive and costly proposition. Yet, this exercise can produce exceptional value through cleaner communications, greater efficiencies, fewer redundancies, and lower costs.
Telecom and network teams that can deliver this kind of lasting value require deep experience in and knowledge of a variety of carriers — including their billing, pricing, customer support and related systems, a solid understanding of the hardware components that run the network, and keen analytical skills. In addition, key audit contributors should be individuals who are not burdened with the task of keeping the network running, so they can truly focus on the broader picture. This ensures that they understand how the network fits together and is being used, are able to ask probing questions of the technical team, and can discern and uncover opportunities for improvement that bill reviews and telecom expense management (TEM) tools routinely miss. Getting the “big picture” can take a telecom audit from simply shaving costs to cleaning up and truly improving the entire network environment.
In his recent article “6 Reasons Companies Still Overspend on Telecom,” fellow SCTC consultant Tim Proctor explained why companies often miss opportunities to increase efficiency and economize their telecom spend. In that article, Proctor said:
“As an experienced telecom consultant, I do things like: evaluate voice and data networks, client operations, call centers, and select phone systems. I also write strategic plans, negotiate contracts, consider alternative vendors, and technologies. Yes, I also audit phone bills. I also understand the big picture.”
Digging Deeper
An example discussed in his article was the disconnect between network engineers using the services, and those handling the telecom billing. This often results in services that are no longer needed continuing to be billed for because the necessary service disconnect order doesn't get fully processed. However, we often see another related problem: network teams may no longer need circuits or services, but since the status can't be confirmed with certainty, they are left in service. In these cases, we often provide additional means to validate the use (or lack thereof) and work with the client to develop a “safe” turn down process to get over the hurdle of doubt, so that an “out” order can be placed and savings generated.
Complexity of Billing
Telecom services and billing tend to be complex, making it difficult for network engineering experts to be sufficiently fluent in each carrier’s unique terminology and billing mechanisms to ensure unneeded services are not included in the monthly bill. Carriers exacerbate the problem by giving “branded” product names to standard services such as MPLS, SIP trunks, E-LAN, and others, making their services hard to compare and commoditize. For organizations that have migrated legacy services to current offerings, this becomes important. Legacy services are often not fully removed from billing, so remnants of unused services can continue to bill. Just because the network is working properly, it does not necessarily mean all the work has been finished.
More Important than Savings
An experienced network optimization specialist with a “big picture” focus can uncover and bring attention to a variety of issues that may have escaped the notice of the IT team. These can sometimes be items that have nothing to do with the audit — and will not even necessarily result in any savings to the client — but will improve the overall telecom environment. Here are some example findings from a recent network optimization project:
• Stores set up off the centralized IP Tel system were not set up to pass proper 911 information.
• Failover routing was found to be only partially set up, requiring significant manual intervention in a failover situation.
• Large quantities of Toll-Free numbers were pointed to numbers that were asking callers to hang up and call another Toll-Free number.
• The main contact center queue script was found to allow callers who made no selection to potentially stay in the system indefinitely.
• Carrier portal admin access was outdated and assigned to a vendor who was no longer contracted to work with the client.
Bringing together the right expertise, processes, and tools are critical for effectively assessing opportunities to reduce cost and improve the telecom environment, but a broad mindset can make all the difference in generating true lasting value from the exercise. Sometimes, this expertise resides in-house — in other cases, the best course is to bring in a third party. Wherever you get the expertise, be sure you are having “big-picture” conversations. Surface the strategy and ask for deliverables that provide not only savings but also enhanced clarity and understanding of the powerful details. Then, you will maximize operational value for your organization.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.