Wireless Expense Management: How Sodexho Reined In its Devices

Rob Ingalls, senior manager of telecommunications at Sodexho, knew he would have to spend a lot of time on the phone, but he never thought he’d have to make calls to each of the company’s 4,000 to 6,000 workers who carry mobile phones and other devices.

Sodexho, the $6.3 billion North American division of a global food services and facilities management company, employs 125,000 remote workers, most of them in 6,000 field locations, which include corporate, university, government and hospital cafeterias; sporting arenas; hotels and convenience stores. Roughly 5,000 of its U.S. employees have cell phones, handheld wireless devices, pagers and air cards, according to Ingalls. The company charges back half of all wireless expenses to clients such as AOL, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Northwestern University and the U.S. Marine Corps.

A spring 2004 audit conducted by Atlanta consulting firm Advocate Networks, however, revealed shortcomings with Sodexho’s oversight of wireless devices. Among the findings: Sodexho had about 500 idle or barely used phones, no official policy for procuring and managing wireless devices, and a paper-based invoice processing system. Moreover, the external audit concluded that Sodexho was overspending at the time between 20% and 25%—which could have added up to $1 million annually, according to Forrester estimates, though Sodexho would not confirm that number—on its wireless communications.

Ingalls needed to quickly get a handle on which phone accounts were live and which were inactive. For four months, he and his team called each mobile phone, direct-connect phone, BlackBerry and wireless air card user to make sure that the employees who were supposed to be using the devices were actually using them.

With the audit, Ingalls says, “We saw that the way we were operating was less efficient than it could be.”

Click here to read 7 Tips for Planning a Wireless Expense Management Program

Ingalls and Tony Tocco, the company’s vice president of information systems and technology, along with the support of an I.T. governance committee, decided changes were in order. One was to deploy a telecommunications expense management system—software that keeps track of wireless assets and expenses, and automates procurement, inventory management, invoice processing and audits—to help reduce costs.

The result has been dramatic. The company has been able to deactivate approximately 500 unused or barely used mobile phones, it now has a near-complete inventory of all its wireless devices, and it can continuously analyze wireless device usage to ensure it is always using the most financially advantageous plan.

But getting from where it was in 2004 to where it is now was a technical and organizational challenge. In addition to getting an inventory of its employees’ scattered wireless devices, the company had to get control of all its wireless accounts, convince reluctant employees to adhere to new communications policies, and integrate the new expense management system into its existing information infrastructure.

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