Getting Wireless Expenses Under Control During COVID IT

Key Stakeholders: Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, IT Finance Directors and Managers, IT Procurement Directors and Managers, Accounting Directors and Managers, Telecom Expense Directors and Managers, IT Operations, IT Strategy

Why It Matters: Whipping the wireless environment into shape will showcase the IT department’s leadership as a steward of the business, and contribute to the organization’s larger goal of saving or reinstating jobs.

Top Takeaway: Optimizing mobile assets and services will ensure the organization is paying only for what it should, while making sure employees have the resources they need to do their jobs well.

Even before the coronavirus struck, IT professionals faced a mobility management dilemma: how to determine whether smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices would serve as primary or secondary work tools.

The quandary arose as the iPhone, the world’s flagship smartphone (BlackBerry notwithstanding), hovered on the brink of the teenage years – the iPhone turns 13 in 2020. Since its introduction in 2007, the iPhone led the way in shifting the enterprise from a landlocked entity to a fluid one not restricted by physical boundaries. Work from outside the office grew more common, which paved the way for employees to bring their own devices into the business. These devices further complicated IT’s security, expense, optimization and other mobility management duties. These mobile device “tween” years, if you will, have not been easy.

Then came COVID-19.

March and April of this year looked like no other time in modern history. From an IT perspective alone, organizations around the world rushed to support remote work as the need for people to work from home became obvious. IT threw many of these efforts together in a frenetic, cobbled-together fashion. Cloud, SaaS and, of course, mobility, came to the rescue, but at a price. Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 work-from-home (WFH) frenzy, IT experts are finding that employees have adopted mobile computing resources that might not meet standards, and that have inflated the organization’s expenses. Managing the awkward tween phase of mobility just got harder. And considering that most enterprises say they will allow or require remote work for the foreseeable future, IT has a long-term challenge on its hands.

This blog, the third in Amalgam Insights’ series on managing COVID IT, gives IT, accounting, procurement and other professionals involved in expense management, specific steps that will transform disarray into order. (For more fun with the tween theme twist, watch our webinar on this topic.)  

Step 1: Benchmark March and April’s IT Usage, Activity

Amalgam Insights’ chief recommendation for getting the IT department back on track is to benchmark the past quarter of IT usage and activity now that the crush to move staff to remote work has subsided. (With any luck, organizations have advanced past the “survivor” phase of IT.) We discuss in detail here the what and why of benchmarking March and April spend now. If you haven’t undergone this exercise already, time is of the essence. Not benchmarking at all means the IT department will optimize on pre-COVID-19 assumptions. The business will overpay for months or years to come by assuming that the challenges of March and April 2020 represent a “normal” IT environment.

Benchmarking is vital. According to Amalgam Insights’ IT Rule of 30, any unmanaged IT spend averages 30% in waste. This past March and April, largely unbeknownst to IT, employees bought the tools they needed to better work from home (think consumer-grade apps, services and devices). Cleaning up the IT environment, including all those shadow purchases, allows leaders to reclaim costs – and more.

For example, assessing the new normal for mobility (and, of course, other parts of IT including networking, cloud, SaaS and more) also will highlight where to cut future expenses and which contracts to renegotiate. The key lies in knowing what you are cutting before proceeding. The last thing you want is to inadvertently chop something that actually is necessary.

Here’s a pro tip for getting management of wireless assets and services back in line: Take advantage of the free audits some mobility expense management providers are offering. (MobiChord, Upland Software, Tangoe, and vMox are a few we know of.) This level of expert guidance likely will result in significant savings. Furthermore, it should give the IT department leverage for contract renegotiations.

Perhaps most importantly, though, benchmarking March and April’s spend can help the IT department save or reinstate jobs across the organization. That is the overarching goal Amalgam Insights aims to drive home. IT is ideally positioned to support the business in efforts to keep or bring back jobs. Every $100,000-$200,000 in eliminated IT waste translates into another role, and that’s critical as unemployment claims in the United States have climbed.

Step 2: Identify Anomalies, Overages, Inconsistent Usage and Access

A high-functioning mobility estate is key to fostering a productive, smooth remote work environment. Achieving this means, in part, making sure employees have the right devices (type, brand, model and operating system) and services (authorized accesses to corporate files and apps, international roaming and unlimited data if required, etc.), and that they are using them. Understand that IT may end up adding or subtracting assets and services, depending on what comes up in the discovery process. The idea is to serve as a steward to the business and ensure it provides and pays for the mobility it should, and only that.

Step 3: Uncover the Zombies, Lazy Slobs and Misfits

An important step in fixing wireless inefficiencies starts with finding the obvious slackers: the zombie devices, the ones with bloat and the mismatches.

Zombies: These smartphones, tablets and laptops could be hiding in someone’s drawer or somewhere else at headquarters where no one is working right now. If the device has a cellular or hotspot connection and a data plan, the enterprise is still footing the bill. Why pay for something no one is using?

Slobs: The service plans on these devices have a glut of features, such as too much data or personal hotspot capabilities. The organization doesn’t need to give every employee the same extras. Trim down who gets what by role and responsibilities.

Misfits: These devices and their services have limitations that impede employee productivity. A limited data plan, paired with an equally constrained phone, can make a staff member’s video conferencing choppy or even inaccessible. The device may work best for email and other lighter apps. In other words, look for mismatches among devices, services, plans and their users to keep cleaning up and optimizing the wireless environment.

Step 4: Check With Your Expense Management Counterparts

We’ve all gotten past the literal survival stage of COVID IT. Employees throughout the enterprise have settled into routines. That makes now the time to rein in wireless costs by following all the aforementioned steps, and by going even further. Next, do some investigation. Check in with the people who handle various expense management and procurement tasks for the business to see where IT costs might be popping up. These are other areas where shadow COVID IT could be making an appearance.

Assess whether corporate should continue to fund these expenses and stay alert for opportunities to support staff with more of the wireless equipment or services they need to do their jobs well. For instance, does someone need a better webcam for more professional video conferencing? Not all expenses are bad or unnecessary. Digging deeper with expense management counterparts will help define what is and is not IT’s and the enterprise’s to cover – and what is.

Step 5: Ok, Sometimes You Legally Have To

To that last point, get clear on which wireless devices and services the organization legally must pay for. The IT department does not want to put the enterprise on the wrong side of expense-reimbursement lawsuits. The state of California, as one example, decided in 2014 that companies have to pay for any reasonable costs. Know the rules governing your enterprise before you push back on employee requests.

Step 6: Prep for Contract Negotiations

The next important aspect of improving the wireless environment lies in renegotiating contracts, as that makes sense. But in the time of COVID IT, bargaining with vendors calls for much more than just agreeing to discounts. To do this, start by examining usage categories. Look for large increases where IT may be able to cut costs. These opportunities may not show up in the obvious places, such as eliminating unlimited data.

Figure out how (or whether) switching up products, services and plans also might reduce expenses. Employees might not be thrilled about adapting to a new brand, but going with Google Pixel over Samsung, as one example, could prove worthwhile if usability, data transfer, and security concerns can be worked out. Work through the options with the account rep. Above all, do not miss this chance to renegotiate and make a significant contribution to the enterprise’s bottom line.

Step 7: Look at Wired vs. Wireless Tradeoffs

Employees don’t care about the networks that connect them to the enterprise as long as everything works. IT, on the other hand, cares, especially when cost matters. For instance, determine whether landline access coupled with Wi-Fi might offer better pricing than cellular services without sacrificing service quality. In addition, look for – and get rid of – duplicate services, whatever they are.  

Step 8: Sometimes You Have to Lose the Battle to Win the War

Again, tradeoffs can create prime opportunities for financial savings. In that vein, consider that the SaaS or cloud bill may have to grow even as the mobility bill shrinks. Rather than trying to squeeze costs in every IT category, think about where tradeoffs might turn into gains. In this current environment, it is more realistic to drop the entire IT bill by 10%from last year rather than by trying to trim each category by 5-10%.

Conclusion

Applying these eight steps to the enterprise’s mobile environment will position IT to work more efficeintly over the rest of 2020 and beyond. Tightening wireless expenses efficiently with an eye toward mantaining work productivity will contribute to the larger, imperative goal of saving or bringing back jobs in the time of Corona. IT can be, and is, far more than a commodity within the business – it’s arguably one of the key departments that can steer positive change.

***

If you are seeking outside guidance and a deeper dive on your IT environment, Amalgam Insights is here to help. Click here to schedule a consultation.

Join us at TEM Expo on July 14 to learn more about how to prepare for COVID IT and take immediate action to cut costs.

And if you’d like to learn more about this topic now, please watch our webinar.