Features: July 30th, 2010

By Paul Hughes

Mobile usage is very heavy right across the public sector and the bill is substantial. The savage budget cuts have brought close scrutiny of all costs and mobile bills are attracting attention. The problem is that the search for savings in individual bills is very time consuming. The author describes how it is possible to automate the number-crunching and analysis.

Like any modern enterprise, government and public bodies rely increasingly on mobile communications. Recent figures suggest that public sector mobile service deals might be worth £690 million. Budget cuts have increased the pressure to manage down costs of all services. But mobile bills have been notoriously difficult to manage. You can only track usage by looking at individual itemised bills, which is a massively time-consuming process for an organisation which has hundreds or even thousands of phones and data cards in its fleet.

Looking at individual phone usage is important for a number of reasons. Most obviously there is adherence to house rules on personal calls. But usage statistics can yield other important information:

• do individuals have smartphones but are only using them for simple telephony?

• could shift duty staff share handsets rather than having individual phones (and would this make number management easier, too)?

• are users on the best value, most appropriate tariff? Are you paying for calling minutes when a phone is only used to receive? Are heavy data users paying heavily per megabyte?

• is roaming available only on the required lines?

• are there any unused phones, sitting on a shelf with no call activity but still clocking up a monthly fee?

Cutting out labour intensive analysis

All of this and more can make for significant savings. But it is only a real saving if the cost of achieving it is manageable, which is difficult when the individual bills are relatively small. Saving a pound on a monthly bill is not a saving if the cost of identifying it is two pounds.

This means that most ways of tackling the problem – individual members of staff checking their own bills, managers ploughing through a bill reconciliation, a central team or an outsourced service to analyse all accounts – are extremely labour intensive. That makes it expensive, not to mention susceptible to errors (and even dishonesty).

The solution is to automate the number-crunching and analysis. At Signum we have made a very large and continuing investment in powerful and intelligent software. This takes billing data direct from the network provider, processing it to extract management information. This is presented in a clear and simple form, detailing performance at individual, contract and fleet level.

Most important, because it is automated it is available at a very much lower cost than that proposed by service providers who offer manual outsourcing of mobile account management. The Signum service can be as low as one tenth the cost of other offerings, taking it comfortably past the tipping point where the cost of the process is considerably lower than the saving achieved.

Let the software to the work

The intelligence in the software can track trends, for example identifying personal usage and measuring it against your own policies. For VAT purposes HM Revenue & Customs allows three approaches: an enforced policy on zero personal usage, one-off analysis and profiling of personal usage, and ongoing monitoring and apportionment. The management report from Signum supports all three approaches.

While production of the data is fully automated, the information is also read by one of the team of analysts who make considered recommendations for action, including reassigning instruments and shifting tariffs. In our own surveys of our users, 88% confirmed that they acted on the strong recommendations in a Signum monthly report.

The advanced reporting service gives purchasing managers a clear idea of the costs involved in providing mobile communications, and it may well lead to a more radical approach, looking to re-tender to bring a more coherent communications programme. To support this, Signum has a related product called Evaluate.

This is a service which establishes the precise requirements of the whole organisation through the analysis of existing billing data. Armed with real and accurate information, the process then creates a standardised request for proposals which can be submitted to network operators and service providers, safe in the knowledge that the responses will be directly comparable.

Making the savings

Anecdotal evidence suggests that, if you tell a potential supplier that you are using Evaluate to prepare the RfP, you will get a better deal: both parties know that the request is accurately framed. Certainly one of our commercial users estimates that by retendering for its mobile communications supplier using Evaluate it saved more than 30% on its annual costs.

That may be an extreme example, but there is no doubt that, taken together, the services of tender preparation and monthly advanced reporting can deliver savings in the 20 to 25% range, at a cost which is in proportion to those savings.

More important for the public sector, using this sort of service is more than just accurate management and the development of a reasoned strategy for mobile communications, but ensuring the process is transparent, enabling managers to demonstrate clearly and publicly that they are achieving best value.

Paul Hughes is with Signum International