7 Tips for Planning a Wireless Expense Management Program

Getting a firm grip on wireless expenses involves more than just implementing software. There are organizational and cultural changes to manage, as well as thorough process assessments, according to Tony Tocco, vice president of information systems and technology at Sodexho, a $6.3 billion food and facilities management company. The Gaithersburg, Md., business recently instituted a new wireless expense management program that will eventually include Sodexho’s full inventory of telecommunications lines, such as conference call numbers, broadband service, and local and long-distance service to land lines.

Tocco says it’s important to keep several things in mind when embarking on a project to manage wireless devices and expenses:

No. 1. Involve senior stakeholders from the start.

While the information-technology department might take the lead in implementing wireless expense management software, other divisions, such as finance, purchasing and operations–and telecommunications, of course–are affected by processes and policies and should have a say in the project.

Tocco worked with Sodexho’s I.T. governance committee, whose members interacted with high-level executives to ensure that I.T. was not the only department making the decisions. “You need that top-down commitment,” Tocco says. “It’s a pretty big process change.”

Sodexho’s chief financial and information offers were the most senior employees involved with the new wireless expense management initiative.

No. 2. Establish a measurement system.

The only way to know if your program is working is by setting targets for key metrics, such as average cost per device and maximum spending per division.

Tocco says he and his reports set goals they thought could reasonably be achieved and reviewed them with the governance committee before instituting them.

No. 3. Create an internal communications program.

Sodexho’s wireless management initiative included apprising employees of the new wireless purchasing, ownership and usage policies, and how to transfer the ownership and liability of their devices (if they chose) and phone numbers to the company.

This was a big cultural shift for employees, according to Rob Ingalls, senior manager of telecommunications for Sodexho. In the past, workers selected their own devices and rate plans with a manager’s consent. Some had family plans and didn’t want to give them up, Ingalls says; others simply did not like having a limited selection of devices, an element of the new wireless program. But owning the device numbers was integral to getting an accurate inventory of wireless assets, Ingalls says.

To overcome the cultural hurdles and inform the workforce about the new expense process and wireless policies, Sodexho’s communications department mounted an internal marketing campaign, called Sodexho Connect, to educate employees and win them over to the new system.

The campaign included a consistent logo, e-mails explaining how to transfer liability and e-mails on how the new system would save the company money. A Web portal on the company’s intranet was created to provide information about the new system and money-saving techniques when using the devices, such as using a phone card overseas instead of a BlackBerry.

No. 4. Improve negotiation skills with wireless providers.

When Tocco and Ingalls went about the task of consolidating Sodexho’s wireless carriers from dozens to three, they wanted to make sure the contracts they negotiated were advantageous for the company and would hold up over time.

Tocco suggests finding a good negotiator–internally or externally. Sodexho’s I.T. and purchasing departments analyzed wireless usage and worked together to develop an approach to negotiating. “It has to be a partnership with the provider,” Tocco says. “If you’re trying to standardize and reduce the number of vendors, you don’t want to be switching every year.”

No. 5. Call on outside experts.

Tocco says that having a trusted adviser was a big help early on in the project. Advocate Networks, an Atlanta consulting firm, assisted Sodexho in several ways: It helped craft the company’s wireless policies, ramp up its wireless inventory, craft the requests for proposal sent to software providers, and weighed in on the software decision.

Advocate Networks also conducted the initial spring 2004 audit that uncovered where and by how much Sodexho was overspending on wireless. Some telecommunications consultancies help negotiate with wireless providers, set benchmarks and determine the optimal rate plans for a business.

No. 6. Understand your growth.

When wireless or other telecom expense growth goes unchecked, Tocco says it is difficult to maintain a low-cost position with service providers.

If procurement rates and expenses are growing unexpectedly, it might be time to take a look at your wireless policy for opportunities to cut back and save. “You might have to look at the wireless policy and say, ‘Do I need all of these cell phones?'” Tocco says. Sodexho was able to reduce the number of cell phones it owned by replacing some of them with direct-connect phones. In reviewing employees’ devices and plans, the company determined that for some positions, a walkie-talkie feature was sufficient for communicating and less expensive than a standard mobile phone.

Tocco adds that savings achieved in telecommunications are usually put toward funding growth, but that as an internal organization, it is good for telecom to show it can have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

No. 7. Keep an eye on business needs.

Limiting the number of available devices and standardizing them is a good approach, according to Tocco: “We’re not trying to be on the bleeding edge of phone introductions.” He adds that the worst position for a company to be in is to have saved money on telecom, only to end up with a major business gap.

For example, Tocco says, from a technical and financial perspective, BlackBerrys are impractical; they cost more to purchase and support than mobile phones. However, he says, the devices have become critical business tools for Sodexho’s expansive mobile workforce: “It’s not just about containing costs. You want to be able to do it all: meet the needs of the business, contain costs and provide the best services. It’s a balancing act.”