The hospitality and restaurant industries are especially challenged to manage telecommunications costs because of factors such as varied billing formats, complex market offerings, and the technical expertise needed to manage these expenses. Many businesses in these industries have turned to telecom expense management (TEM) providers to help control and reduce costs, gain visibility into key communications processes, and better manage and secure their mobile workforce.
However, the TEM landscape can be challenging to traverse since this market includes a wide range of offerings from different types of companies: standalone managed services providers, software providers, consulting services from outsourcers and communications services providers, and professional audit services, all of which refer to themselves as “telecom expense management providers.” With so many providers offering TEM services, it takes a strategic selection process to choose the best partner.
One restaurant chain’s path to a valued TEM partner
Recently, Blue Hill Research employed a rigorous decision-making methodology to identify how a multi-location restaurant chain client selected a company to help them cut operating costs through TEM. The client, a fast-growing chain with more than 1000 locations across North America, wanted to bring greater visibility and simplicity to their telecom and utility expense management processes, specifically to help manage telecom vendor billing and disputes.
The company’s Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) established the key decision-making criteria used in the process, including the ability to:
Provide a centralized view of telecom services; Integrate quickly and seamlessly with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software; Offer a variety of references that could provide an accurate view of the TEM implementation process to ensure that the vendor’s technical claims, subject matter expertise, and service capabilities could be validated through experience; Solve multiple operational expense roles.
Because of the inherent challenges associated with managing a quickly growing company, a decision was made to also to include gas, water, and electric expenses in their TEM deployment to make operational chargebacks and expense visibility easier to support.
Initially, they considered the largest pure-play TEM, Tangoe, but found itsfocus on multinational references to be less relevant to its North America-specific telecom challenges. They then focused on the two top vendors in the TEM industry with both global and domestic references: Dimension Data and Cass Information Systems.
Compare the look & feel. The IT department favored Cass for its ability to pull data and the reports needed for operational rollups, contract visibility, and vendor management. Blue Hill has seen the increasing importance of end-user experience in vendor selections as design has increasingly become a key competitive differentiator in financial, operational, and IT management solutions.
Check customer references. The CAO found that while both vendors had solid references who spoke highly of their capabilities, Cass had an advantage in terms of accessibility and availability of their TEM customer services capabilities.
Identify a TEM solution that could also manage utility expenses. Although telecom and utilities are often lumped together by operations and accounting, this can be somewhat difficult to actually manage. For instance, the telecom industry is characterized by hundreds of service providers as well as thousands of products, rate plans, and services supported through a variety of paper and electronic billing formats. This complexity means that TEM providers must be able to effectively handle the specific details of managing telecom to deal with these complexities.
At the conclusion of the analysis, Cass was chosen to provide the restaurant’s required TEM solution. The main factors contributing to this decision were its ease of use, responsiveness from a service perspective, and ability to demonstrate its capabilities to manage utility expenses beyond telecom.
Key considerations when selecting a TEM solution
By learning both from these best practices and key emerging enterprise solution selection practices, companies choosing a TEM solution will be better positioned to identify key challenges and decision points, select an appropriate set of vendors for evaluation, and find the right solution to meet both the needs initially identified and others that emerge during evaluation. Through these best practices, organizations can improve their telecom inventory and contract visibility in a timely manner and traverse the nuanced TEM marketplace more easily.
Identify the right delivery method to ensure you are considering the correct family of vendors;
Look beyond the “upper right quadrant”— companies touted as key players in the industry – and pursue companies that truly have the best cultural and technical fit with your organization;
Conduct due diligence on key evaluation traits with end user inquiries;
Start to codify user experience and software design standards;
Evaluate customer service on multiple levels, including quality, timeliness, and rapid response.