If your telecommunications environment is out of control, you may need to go beyond a simple audit and conduct a full-fledged analysis of your costs, technology choices and goals.
“You have to understand your own inventory and cost structure, as well as the products and services available in the market,” says Brent Saxon, vice president of sales/general manager of Simplify Inc. “Compiling and analyzing this information is a challenge for most companies, but is even more difficult for large multi-location corporations.”
This isn’t a service provided by the carriers in most cases. Rather, customers are left on their own to analyze cost savings, technology migration and bandwidth use. Sometimes brokers or auditors are brought in, but they only look at a piece of the puzzle, not the full picture.
Simplify uses a four-step process (deep dive analytics, collaborative strategy, accountable execution and life cycle services) to help you make sense of the mess and make better telecommunications decisions.
Smart Business spoke with Saxon about how the deep dive analytics process works.
Why is this process important?
This first stage is critical because it sets the stage for the rest of the process. Deep dive analytics starts with the customer’s location list, a copy of the invoices for every dollar they spend, and a letter of authorization that allows us to pull the customer service records. We also review their contracts.
Basically, we build an inventory of exactly what’s on their invoices. We can show them by location what they spend for all products (local, long distance, data, wireless) and break everything down by product, all the way down to taxes, fees and anything else on their bills.
Why is it important to build an inventory?
By doing analytics on the front end and building a full inventory, the transition is much easier when customers decide to switch carriers. That’s why a lot of customers stay with their incumbent provider: it’s simply too painful to move.
These analytics also allow you to benchmark against other options, whether it is like-for-like services, technology migration or something else entirely, and then make it possible for you to choose what’s best for your company, transitioning smoothly to new options as needed. You can’t do that if you don’t have all the data in house.
What’s the difference between the deep dive and an audit?
Auditors mostly go after low-hanging fruit. They check to see if you are paying the contracted price for your service with your carrier or if there are other errors in your bill. Then, they keep 30 to 50 percent of the savings for the next 12 months for finding that error.
Auditors will also tell you if you’re on the wrong product with a carrier. You can usually re-term with a provider and save 10 to 20 percent. That’s low-hanging fruit. You will save that 10 to 20 percent and the auditor will get 30 to 50 percent of that savings over 12 months, but they are leaving options on the table. Our process will benchmark that bid against the competition. The 10 to 20 percent you could save from re-terming could be 30 to 40 percent with another option and could provide much better consolidation in billing and/or support services.
Also, auditors rarely have to live with their recommendations. They analyze, but the customer has to go back and implement the changes with the carrier. Whether the auditor advises to renegotiate and re-term or migrate, the customer has to do all of the work associated with that. The auditor does the front-end work, but the customer is left to handle the heavy lifting on their own.
What can the deep dive uncover?
Hidden fees and taxes that you may be paying, incorrect invoices based on your contracts — it even uncovers charges you are still paying for services that have been disconnected. The main thing it uncovers is exactly how much you are paying for every dollar of spend.
What kind of results can a company expect from the process?
The average savings is 20 percent, but some clients get up to 40 percent. We’ve built our company around having the right process in place to help companies be more successful. Deep dive analytics is just the first stage of a proven process. We don’t stop there, but taking that step on the front end allows you to be more successful on the back end with things like life cycle support.
Benefits reaped include cost savings, consolidation and better information so you can make better decisions going forward.
How much maintenance does it take to keep it running?
The right application is a must! Advocate, our industry-leading service tool, loads the inventory we built for you, and keeps that inventory updated. Everything runs through a process in the software instead of using spreadsheets, e-mail or phone calls like most companies. Everything goes into the application, which proactively manages the inventory.
At the end of the day, it’s all about accountability. If we say we’re going to save you 20 percent a month, we can be held accountable to that number because we know exactly what you spend today and in the future. Accountability is something that most auditors just can’t offer.
Brent Saxon is vice president of sales/general manager of Simplify Inc., a firm that helps large multi-location corporations simplify and optimize their communications life cycle management. Reach him at (281) 465-6003 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.AreYouTelecomplex.com.
Studies have shown that 90 percent of all Internet sessions start with or include the use of a search engine. This means that it’s likely nine out of 10 visitors to your company’s website probably typed a few keywords into Google, Yahoo, Bing or another search engine and stumbled upon you.
Directing search engine traffic to your site is not a simple one-step solution. In fact, a good search engine optimization strategy, also known as SEO, requires a variety of tactics and frequent maintenance in order to continue appealing to unique visitors.
Many SEO tactics can be done in-house at little or no expense to your business. All it takes is time and talent and a little bit of know-how. Affordable search engine marketing tactics are a great way to augment your SEO and win the competition for visitors. That can mean the difference between your website being an expense or a sales engine for your business.
Here are some things for you to keep in mind.
Content is king
In order for your website to be ranked by search engines, you need well-written, relevant content that includes the usage of a set of keywords or keyword phrases. These are words that identify your business, products or services and come up when users type them into a search engine. Tools for establishing which keywords are most relevant to your business include Google’s Keyword Tool and Wordtracker’s Keyword Questions. These keywords should be used throughout your website as often as possible.
Each product or service that you offer should have its own page of content. For instance, if you are a retailer, you should create a Web page for each product. Try to avoid copying and pasting the descriptions that come from the manufacturer. Every other retailer selling the product is doing the same thing. Instead, write your own description and be sure to use your keywords and keyword phrases.
Put in the time
When used correctly, meaning updated frequently with relevant and recent posts that include keywords, a blog can push your content to the top of search engine results pages and introduce your company, products and services to those who are seeking them.
It takes time to develop keyword strategies, measure the impact those strategies have on conversions and build authority with Internet users and search engines. Marketers must allot the time and have a measured, purposeful strategy to ensure long-term positive results when it comes to organic search. The ROI is incredible, but it’s not a silver bullet. It takes effort, consistency and resources.
Not all good things are free
The pay-per-click Internet advertising model is an effective search engine marketing tool to help you get noticed. Advertisers bid on keywords or phrases relevant to their target market’s search habits, such as Google Adwords, and pay only when their AdWords are clicked and the user is directed to their company site or landing page. Pay-per-click allows you to influence the user experience, control your message to a specified audience and PPC typically converts at higher rates than SEO efforts alone.
Just because a website has a good ranking doesn’t necessarily mean it will generate a click and deliver engagement or produce a sale. SEO is a tactic that makes your business easier to recognize in a vast marketplace of products, services and ideas — which can give you a decisive advantage over your competitors. It is not, however, a magic spell that ensures the success of your company. You still have to have desirable products or services, reasonable prices, exceptional customer service and the other attributes that are common to successful businesses.
Jim Jay is the president and CEO of TechPoint, a statewide initiative to grow the tech sector and entrepreneurship in Indiana. To learn more about TechPoint, please visit www.techpoint.org and for more information on Indiana’s Measured Marketing Initiative, please visit www.indianameasuredmarketing.com.
Has your chief information officer already mentioned cloud computing to you? If not, he will do so soon. The research firm Gartner estimates global spending on cloud services will hit $68 billion this year, a gain of 16 percent over 2009. That is more than triple the expected growth rate for total IT spending. It will be difficult to avoid the cloud, but as with most hot technology trends, there is more to it than what the gurus are telling you.
Cloud computing offers the opportunity to better utilize computing assets in a shared IT infrastructure environment. Gartner defines cloud computing as “a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ to customers using Internet technologies.”
This means that computing resources — hardware, software and communications — are offered to users on demand and are priced on a “pay as you go” basis. In essence, a computing task moved to the cloud becomes a service provided by a third party in its own data center, allowing companies to scale down their huge investments in IT hardware, software and staff.
Quite aware of this trend, the IT industry is expected to step up development of products specifically designed for the cloud. According to research firm IDC, 80 percent of new software offerings will be available as cloud services in 2011.
Beyond the easy access provided by the Internet, the key technology driving the advent of the cloud is virtualization. Virtualization allows multiple hardware components to act as if they were a single system while creating separate logical compartments that empower systems from different companies to run simultaneously. Virtualization tools allow data centers to operate cloud computing services, providing access to IT resources to different businesses concurrently and in a seamless manner.
But cloud computing is not for everybody and for everything. While it is the best alternative for business environments that have significant volume shifts or for one-off computing needs, there isn’t an airtight business case for cloud computing when it comes to day-to-day information processing needs.
The industry has not demonstrated that the complex systems that allow you to sell, invoice, collect and generate your reports can be more efficiently run on a cloud environment. In fact, there are still very few studies that help answer this question.
As with any other business decision, prudence is the best approach. There is no need to be at the forefront of technology until the economic imperative is proven and documented. Your business needs to be a steady operation and that is better served today by your current IT infrastructure, be it in-house or outsourced to a third party.
On the other hand, there may be some situations that are better served by applications that run on the cloud. If your e-mail service is truly mission-critical — as it is to most businesses — and you cannot afford to build the redundancy required to ensure uninterrupted, around-the-clock service, you may want to consider outsourcing it to a cloud provider.
If your CRM requirements are covered by one of the standard software-as-a-service offerings where you do not need to buy infrastructure, you may want to go with a cloud solution.
Be cautious when it comes to your core systems, especially the ones you have been building over the years. An effort to move processes to the cloud that are currently being run by complex, customized applications might present interoperability, migration and other technical issues.
You do not want to be left out of the cloud computing revolution. But at the same time, you do not want to put all of your eggs in the same basket. The economic environment is challenging enough without volunteering to put your company at risk by being the guinea pig for the newest trends in the tech world.
Claudio Muruzabal is CEO of Neoris, a global business and IT consulting company that specializes in SAP and application outsourcing. You can visit the company atwww.neoris.com.
Nearly every business relies heavily on technology, with critical operations and processes that are dependent on information technology (IT). But if disaster strikes, how can a business ensure that it stays up and running to remain competitive in the marketplace?
The answer is a comprehensive business continuity plan, which every business should have in place, says Derek Dalton, a sales engineer for Time Warner Cable Business Class.
“Not long ago, business continuity required millions of dollars in redundant systems, facilities and bandwidth,” says Dalton. “Now, more cost-effective solutions have been introduced, helping organizations ensure that their business will always be up and running.”
Smart Business spoke with Dalton about how to craft an effective business continuity plan.
What is business continuity?
While business continuity and disaster recovery work in tandem, they are separate and distinct disciplines. Disaster recovery refers to the protocols and procedures that an organization follows to activate backup servers and alternative facilities should an unforeseen event disable critical IT systems. When most people think of disaster recovery, they think of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, but something as simple as a broken water pipe, tripped circuit breaker or computer virus can constitute a disaster for a business and thus require a recovery plan.
Business continuity extends the concept of disaster recovery to reflect the processes and procedures that organizations put in place to ensure that critical business functions continue, despite an event that disrupts normal business operations. This can be as simple as identifying alternate resources when employees are unable to work, or as complex as recovering servers and mainframes with network backups in the event of a system failure.
Why is business continuity so important in today’s business world?
Business continuity means your company stays up and running, no matter what happens. And with today’s businesses relying heavily on the Internet and other technologies, constant connectivity is vital.
Forrester Research reports that 76 percent of companies experience at least one disruption in any five-year period, and that 27 percent have to declare at least one disaster, meaning mission-critical IT systems were disabled long enough that recovery procedures had to be executed. It’s not if a disaster will strike, it’s when it will strike and how you will be able to deal with it. And, according to the Meta Group, one hour of systemwide downtime, depending on the company, can cost a business from $330,000 to $2.8 million.
It is important for business owners and IT staff to identify potential risks, figure out the costs of downtime, choose the most effective technology and work together to implement recovery services. These calculations fall into direct costs and indirect costs.
A direct cost could be the amount of business lost if a network experiences an outage. If the system handles a certain amount of business every hour, the organization can know exactly how much an hour of downtime will cost.
Indirect costs are no less important. For example, what would the cost be to a company’s reputation or relationships should a disruption render customer service or supply chain management systems inoperative? What might the penalties be if the company’s financial or customer data systems were compromised?
Awareness and qualification of these cost factors highlight how companies that have effective business continuity plans can quickly recover from system outages, which can be a competitive advantage and an opportunity to take revenue and market share from companies that cannot.
How do cable Multiple System Operators (MSOs) tie in to business continuity?
Organizations seeking to implement business continuity plans recognize cable MSOs as reliable and cost-effective alternatives to traditional telecommunications providers. Because cable MSOs operate over one network, their infrastructure offers advantages such as security, scalability and the ability to support multiple communication solutions.
Cable MSOs deliver availability and redundancy. Because their networks were designed to provide bandwidth-intensive video services to broad areas, cable operators can offer high-bandwidth services regardless of a premise’s distance from a central office. This access to reliable connectivity allows even rural backup sites to be incorporated into business continuity plans and ensures that employees telecommuting can access the same resources available from headquarters.
Cable MSO infrastructures are independent from traditional telecommunications companies. They can provision services with their own resources, delivering new services more rapidly than many traditional telecommunications providers, an important capability in an emergency, when time is critical. They also provide the important alternative routing component of a business continuity solution, as the networks are separate from traditional telecommunications providers that may share common infrastructures.
How are telecommuters protected by business continuity plans?
A key to a comprehensive business continuity plan is ensuring that employees can work remotely in the event of a disaster. This includes telephone and broadband Internet to facilitate communications between employees and management and provide access to enterprise applications. Because the technology is not distance sensitive, cable broadband options offers scalable Internet access options, up to 10 Mbps of throughput speed, allowing you to connect to a virtual private network for enhanced communication and collaboration, with bandwidth to facilitate videoconferencing and database file transfers. Solutions include scheduled backup of desktop files to off-site, secure storage, with backed-up files available from any desktop computer, allowing employees displaced by an emergency to work from any location.
Derek Dalton is a sales engineer for Time Warner Cable Business Class. Reach him at (614) 255-2762.