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Making Sense of Telecom Lifecycle Management
Telecom lifecycle management is not a topic that telecom managers think much about — that is, until they discover a flaw in their process and struggle with management of their telecom services — or realize how much money the department is hemorrhaging. It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle and bogged down in voice and data services.
Lifecycle management is the process of responsibly handling contracts and invoices from cradle-to-grave. Responsible management of these services reduces or even prevents waste, such as early termination fees (ETFs), excess services, overbilling, etc. Large enterprises can almost always find ways to reduce costs, improve services, and streamline a process within voice and data departments. Unfortunately, carriers do not make it easy to manage these services.
Inventory management requires an inventory management database that can provide reports; account management requires experience, persistence, and a special kind of patience; and general services management requires industry knowledge and experience.
Let’s take a moment to highlight the major steps of a new order and digest each of those steps. The steps for a new order process include:
- New order placement
- Consider shopping around before placing orders. If your vendor knows you price check regularly, pricing usually remains competitive.
- While it may be tempting to pick up the phone and call your sales rep, it’s typically best to follow the carrier’s order process in writing. This helps to ensure both parties have the same info and are on the same page.
- Add the service to the inventory database. The database is then used for tracking the delivery and all events going forward.
- Verify the new order
- The carrier will typically acknowledge a new order and recap or summarize the order via email. This is your first opportunity to check it for accuracy.
- Service delivery
- At this point, all test and turn-up activities apply. Sometimes, a CPE vendor is needed.
- Audit first bill
- The first bill should always be scrutinized. It is not uncommon for an order to be inaccurate. A simple POTS line needed for a fire alarm system may be delivered with three-way-calling and voicemail — often at an additional cost. Tatiana Finkelsteyn, founder of lifecycle management company ZLinq, stated in an interview, “32% of first invoices after any change (MACD) has errors on it.” Most carriers will include all these additional services by default. In a large enterprise with thousands of lines, this adds up. Another audit item is to ensure that the carrier put the service on your existing enterprise account or master service agreement (MSA) and did not open a new account (under tariff rates).
- A new CSR should always be ordered after new services are delivered. It’s especially useful to double-check services when summary billing limits you from auditing the new service, and it’s handy to have on file for future use.
- If a new account is needed, it should be added to the enterprise portal.
- The capability to monitor billing trends and receive alerts to any abnormality is invaluable. Since fraud, tariff rates, and mistakes are common occurrences, active monitoring is the cost of doing business, but it pays dividends. Monitoring these trends helps to identify cost increases and usage utilization.
The disconnect order process is equally cumbersome. It’s not uncommon for a disconnect order to get “lost in the system.” You are not alone when you find it necessary to follow up with carriers regularly.
While all carriers have a lengthy internal process filled with red tape and a system designed to drag out for months, disconnect orders tend to drag on longer than new orders. Sometimes, a dispute order is required — another lengthy process — to either receive a check or credit for the overcharge. Keep a copy of all correspondence with the carrier, especially the disconnect order number. Without this, you have no proof of order.
The steps to take for a disconnect order include:
- Check for early termination fees (ETFs). Look for ways to mitigate these by possibly extending terms on other circuits.
- Place the order
- Receive the order number
- Answer questions from the carrier
- Return equipment (when applicable)
- Track the next 2-3 billing cycles
- Submit a credit or refund request for the billing cycles that went past the disconnect order date
- Track credit or refund until received
- Update inventory database
It’s not uncommon to place a disconnect order, and weeks later, receive a cryptic email from a carrier and buried in the middle of that email is a statement asking to confirm intent to disconnect a service. It goes on to state that no response will result in the carrier canceling the disconnect order; this underhanded tactic has worked on me in the past.
I received a letter last week from a large carrier that canceled my order because I placed it more than 10 days before my desired date.
This is where a lifecycle management company pays dividends. A lifecycle management company can speak the carrier’s language, has benchmarked pricing, and will spend the necessary time to meticulously maneuver through the bureaucracy (outsourcing the back-and-forth emails with carriers) — all on behalf of your company’s interest.
You can contract a lifecycle management company to manage only some of your carrier services. Or you might decide to offload certain services for a while to see how it goes and gradually offload more work to them. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to this. Your environment, business needs, and comfort level will influence your adoption of this service should you choose to do so.
It’s important to understand that lifecycle management of your carrier services can be a full-time position for one or several individuals. “One full-time employee is needed for every $150,000 of invoices each month,” Finkelsteyn said. “Another metric is two hours/month/location is what it takes to manage lifecycle for a large enterprise,” she added. Other factors can affect the workload, such as the diversity of carriers, number of accounts, number of invoices, types of invoices (paper vs electronic vs EDI), cost-allocation requirements, number of service addresses, etc.
Business activities can also disrupt normal lifecycle management. Mergers and acquisitions tend to be significant, time-consuming projects for telecom departments. Few people outside of the telecom niche appreciate the labor involved in the transition of carrier services from one company name to another.
Using a lifecycle management company is NOT a magic bullet. This is not a set-and-forget service. Think of your lifecycle management company as an extension of your team providing two or more resources. A high-level of communication is necessary for operations to run smoothly. Your lifecycle management company should have a liaison for them to work with regularly. This person should have some experience in the industry, and also be a decision-maker comfortable with cost allocations, contract management, change management, risk analysis, and some technical understanding of the technology being managed.
A lifecycle management company can be a telecom expense management company, but not necessarily. Some lifecycle management companies limit themselves to service management and intentionally avoid the bank transfer aspect. They don’t want to spread themselves thin and try to offer everything for everyone. They intentionally specialize in a niche so that they can be a renowned expert in their field.
An experienced lifecycle management company will bring talent, experience, and a reputation they care about. If your company does not have a system in place to handle the cradle-to-grave process of carrier services, and you don’t want to outsource the bill payment process, I’d strongly consider a lifecycle management company. Otherwise, your team should be staffed to responsibly manage carrier expenses or risk out-of-control costs.
The complexity of managing the services in a large enterprise absolutely requires a process. Whether you choose to manage this in-house or outsource it to another company, the ROI is significant.