Leveraging technology Featured

6:06am EDT May 16, 2006
Since telecommunications is business-critical but not often cost-optimized, small businesses should consider reviewing their telecommunications needs every year to identify any changes within their industry and new telecommunication tools.

In many businesses, telecommunications expenses such as telephone long-distance minutes, local charges, Internet connectivity, wireless and messaging -- among the top five indirect expenses --show no sign of a downturn.

Finding the right local solution provider/partner with relevant experience with a company's day-to-day type operations is the key to maximizing that potential.

Smart Business talked with Kevin Teeters of Mpower Telecommunications to find out how the right business/telecommunications provider can improve competitive position.

When should businesses start looking for upgrades in telecommunications systems?
When they want to balance cost with benefits. Most small businesses are not in a position to attach every bell and whistle to their hardware, software, communication systems and services. The right provider will carefully balance a business's costs with its benefits and provide managed solutions that are less expensive to small businesses.

Rather than pushing the most expensive products and services, a trustworthy solutions provider will only suggest options that make solid fiscal sense.

Why is it important to find the right telecommunications solutions partner?
Telecommunications providers understand the technology and how it translates into helping businesses. The right partner will educate the business and cut through the jargon to provide relevant, concise information about the technology and how it translates to its bottom line.

Today, smart businesses look constantly for new ideas and communication solutions that improve productivity and business processes while staying cognizant of the capital and support costs, and competing with international companies.

Newer services such as business text messaging, integrated messaging (fax, voicemail and e-mail in the same desktop inbox) and wireless telecommunications often provide a competitive edge in industries where efficiency and customer service are paramount.

How can businesses take advantage of new telecommunications products and services?
Rather than attempting to navigate this ever-shifting landscape on their own, they should partner with an expert who is fully versed in the products and services available, and who can help integrate these systems to help them maximize the potential of technology.

What benefits do business owners derive from comparing providers and telecommunications systems available?
Businesses that review their return on investment when making choices benefit by solving problems that drive costs. The lowest price may not always be the best choice.

Providers that develop next-generation communication services by leveraging new technology and focusing on solving customer communication problems can provide solutions that improve productivity and give businesses the competitive advantage they need in their industry.

How do businesses find the right solution provider partner?
They should look for five crucial characteristics in a provider.

1. Good listener: No matter how much knowledge providers have, they can't identify unique solutions for individual businesses unless they're willing to listen. The right adviser will probe for important information about current assets, issues and challenges, and will ask about the growth and direction of the company.

2. Financial stability and longevity: Solution providers come and go. Those that have built a history and thrived in recent years have earned their good reputations. Check their status with the Better Business Bureau. And research public records to find out how often they have been to court. Finally, don't be shy about asking a firm to provide some proof of its current financial stability.

3. References: Ask for references. Don't settle for just one -- ask for several.

4. Reliability: Do they stand behind their services? Carefully review service-level agreements and other contracts to be sure they are fair to all sides. Explore what's to be included, such as solution performance, uptimes, support response times and more. Make sure all commitments are in writing.

5. A well-oiled machine: Ask for the details of the company's standard operating procedures and project methodologies. Demand to meet with the highest-level executive available. Face-to-face relationships with the CEO, CFO, CIO and others always help management make decisions and solve problems.

Also, ask to meet with every technical person involved with the account, from project coordinators to engineers. Make sure they are the kind of folks you want to be working with side-by-side in the future.

KEVIN TEETERS is the vice president for marketing for Mpower Telecommunications. Reach him at kteeters@mpowercom.com.