I was recently chatting with Andi “TEMGirl” Pringle on LinkedIn about career options and skills for the telecom and technology expense analysts. Given that most of my jobs over the past 20 years have been related to telecom billing and expenses, I have a few opinions on this topic. So, to start with…
First, here’s the reality. Telecom expense management is a commoditized job. Telecom spend is not growing, on a global basis, from year to year and CIOs don’t think of telecom as one of their top priorities compared to digital transformation, cybersecurity, process automation, artificial intelligence, or customer experience.
So, where can you go from here? For now, if you’re managing $10 million or more a year in spend, then your efforts should be preventing enough to justify your salary on a revenue per employee basis. Part of your job is to show your manager that your efforts are saving several hundred thousand dollars a year or more by finding those Zero use circuits and phones, optimizing services, and keeping people up and running because nobody will do it for you.
But you also need to upgrade your skills for the long run. Telecom will continue to become just another app running on the network and cloud computing has already eclipsed telecom as being more strategic in importance even though the global market for cloud computing is still only about $250 billion compared to the $1.4 trillion on telecom.
So, there’s a few different directions you can go in depending on whether you want to focus more on the data, finance, technology, project management, strategy, or consulting aspects of the job.
Data Science/Analyst: If you want to dig deeper into the data, you need to understand relational databases and then how to deal with the statistical modeling and analysis of data. Start by learning SQL, the lingua franca of data and the one technical skill that I’ve used consistently over the last 20 years. Then you’ll need to use Python, and/or R along with statistics and calculus classes to understand modeling and to know what you’re doing with your statistical and modeling libraries. The data science role is all about fitting the right algorithms and statistical models to your data, but it all starts with the database and setting up queries. This is actually where I started when I got into telecom, as I had both a computational chemistry and a competitive fantasy baseball background where I’d work on tweaking player forecasts and performance variances. Back then, we used SAS and SPSS rather than R, but tools change over time.
Accounting: Learn some basic financial and managerial accounting as well as micro and macroeconomics. These classes will help you to track costs more effectively, get some business context for costs, and to broaden your skills from telecom-specific cost management to business-wide cost management. The differences aren’t enormous and, frankly, I think telecom expense is one of the hardest costs to manage. A project management or operations management course doesn’t hurt either, as a lot of this role is understanding costs, resources, and business drivers for planning and forecasting. But having an accounting and basic finance background will allow you to translate IT cost management to a broader planning and budgeting capability. This was what Planful CFO Shane Hansen spoke about at our recent Technology Expense Management Expo.
IT Management: Amazon is the new Cisco and there is more new cloud spend this year than telecom spend. It all goes back to tracking storage, network, and compute units across every service, but dig into the service types and learn about cloud services just as you’ve learned about USOCs, FIDs, and service order fields. Cloud providers are the new telcos in terms of being the providers that power IT. Interestingly, a lot of these cloud bills are in the hands of cloud architects and developers who are learning to manage cloud costs from scratch. This management practice is often not called Cloud Cost or Cloud Expense Management (because that would be too easy) but is also called FinOps or a section of Cloud Service Management. We had multiple sessions on cloud infrastructure and software management at the TEM Expo from Corey Quinn, Robert Lee Harris, and Lukas Smith.
Project Management: The PMP is the key certification here. Even if you don’t work on getting the certificate, since some of their materials are starting to get dated, their recommended topics and PMBOK are a helpful starting point. One of the reasons I was glad that Upland Software was an exhibitor at the TEM Expo is that they provide both technology expense and project management software together. I think it’s fundamentally important to have a single toolset to manage projects and cost structures. This is actually a trend in the telecom expense world as a number of solutions start to have SD-WAN or network project management modules as a part of their solution. I think the TEM players will be pushed to go farther.
Managed Service Providers: Being on the vendor side can be an interesting way to work with multiple organizations, sometimes at once, to figure out what similarities and differences exist beween organizations. It can be easy to get stuck in the specificities of your own organization and miss out on some of the best practices and innovations that exist in the market at large because they don’t align with your own organization’s specific governance and compliance issues. Also, being on the vendor side can be a gateway into learning how the management of TEM as a business works and can be a gateway either into moving to service, product, and consulting roles or to become a manager or to learn how to be a full-time consultant on your own.
And finally, if you enjoy either teaching the topic or solving a specific type of TEM problem, you may be better off either as a consultant or industry analyst. (Note: this step requires you to be part of the front office and to either develop or hone your sales chops!) This is the leap I took 12 years ago when I became an industry analyst and I’m always glad to discuss how I did it and where you can learn this craft.
If you’re currently a telecom expense analyst or manager, I highly encourage you to go in one or more of these directions to upskill yourself and continue moving up in your career. If you have any questions about any of these paths, please don’t hesitate to ask me at hyoun @ amalgaminsights. com.