Tidying Communications Chaos

— April 10, 2007

Texas-based Quanta Services builds the network infrastructure that delivers electric power, natural gas, and voice and data communications to millions of people across the country. It also designs, maintains and repairs nearly every type of network infrastructure, locally, nationally and even internationally.

Founded in 1997, Quanta's executive team anticipated increasing demands for contractors with expertise in the design, installation, repair and maintenance of transmission and distribution networks for utility and telecommunications industries, and so over the last 10 years it has acquired 80 independent contracting firms. Today, with 125 locations across all 50 states and into Canada, it is the largest electric contractor in the United States.

Within Quanta, access to communication tools is essential. The majority of the company's 11,000 employees work in the field, and a single project often can span over 100 miles. Wireless communication has always been an instrumental part of Quanta's vision of the future. "New wireless technologies are quickly incorporated into our company's culture," says Jonathan Prater, director of IT at Quanta Services. "Prior to being acquired by Quanta, all of our operating units utilized wireless technologies."

While there is little disagreement at Quanta about the necessity of wireless communication, there have been issues with keeping the costs of its communication technology under control.

Each time Quanta acquired a contractoing firm, certain aspects of each company changed, but many daily operational features remained autonomous. "All of our separate sites and locations across the United States report back to the main operating units, but they're decentralized in a lot of ways," explains Prater. Portions of marketing, accounting, operations and wireless services were all managed locally, rather than across the organization. "The reality was that the necessary resources to effectively manage and maximize wireless services often did not exist on an operating unit level," he continues. "It became evident that efficiencies could be gained by centrally managing our wireless services." And so Prater turned to mindWireless.

Expense Management

The founders of mindWireless come from backgrounds in telecommunications, supply chain management and customer relations, and so they're familiar with the upward spiral that's typical of most companies' wireless costs. According to a study by Gartner, wireless expense is now the fastest growing line item in most IT budgets, and as the use of mobile devices grows increasingly common, so does the complexity of managing them all. Accustomed to dealing with all aspects of the wireless market from the carrier to the customer, mindWireless creates solutions that eliminate much of the complexity in wireless billing for its customers.

The first step in mindWireless' service is to provide an initial evaluation. "The first analysis includes a report that provides a summary of historical usage and costs as well as recommended changes," explains David Wise, co-founder and managing partner of business development at mindWireless. "Many organizations don't have any idea what they're spending each month on telecom services. Wireless has become really decentralized. Many employees are responsible for their own devices and then just invoicing the office, so organizations don't have a good way of tracking what they have out there and who's using it. Our objective is to provide the information necessary to allow the approver to make a quick evaluation of the recommendations."

Almost immediately, mindWireless discovered over 400 devices that Quanta was paying for but that weren't being used. In eight months mindWireless centralized billing, negotiated better corporate rates for lines that were being billed as consumer phones and enabled Quanta to cut costs by 40 percent. "We attack what we know as soon as we can," says Wise. "We start with some obvious savings and then run analysis about every month, fine-tuning and renegotiating with carriers."

Quanta was impressed. "Once we had a better understanding of what services existed, it was easier to implement cost-saving initiatives," says Prater.

Return Engagement

After 18 months, Quanta figured it had accomplished what it set out to do - carriers were consolidated from 26 down to about eight, with most phones being on one of three national carriers; the 400 lines not in use were turned off; and costs were down. So Quanta decided it could take over wireless management from there. "We thought, -- We can keep this up,'" says Prater, "so we brought it back in-house."

But that didn't last long. "When we brought it back in-house, in only eight months we saw the bill shoot back up that same amount or more, so we brought mindWireless back," says Prater, who saw the benefits again almost immediately. With mindWireless' Web-based reporting tools, Prater had an easy way of viewing Quanta's wireless assets - something he was lacking when Quanta managed its devices on its own. "This is where mindWireless could say -- Jon, here are the phones not used in the last 90 days, 120 days and 160 days.' They helped me develop policies, which reduced our bill significantly. They see all the plans out there that we as a normal company don't know about because we don't deal with [the carriers] every day."

Even if the carriers aren't changing their plans every day, Wise asserts the value in evaluating plans on a regular basis. "We can almost always find incremental changes that translate to savings over time," he explains.

For Quanta those savings translate to more than just lower bills. "We're a very lean staff here," says Prater, "and we really thought that once they decreased our bill and centralized it we'd be able to monitor the plans and make the changes we needed. But managing cell phones was impossible without dedicating a team to it."

Quanta's IT team consists of Prater and a staff of five; with more than 5,000 mobile devices and more than 100 locations across the country there's a lot to keep up with without worrying about the daily costs of wireless. "mindWireless really brings that piece [of the puzzle]," Prater continues. "They have a person to [monitor our situation] monthly, to look at the plans, work with our mobile enterprise director, help him put everyone on the right plans and make sure we're doing the right thing with our mobile devices."

Wise emphasizes that even in organizations with beefier IT departments, the best-laid plans are often derailed. "Even when organizations have done a great job negotiating contracts with carriers, execution tends to be poor over time," he says, emphasizing mindWireless' long-term approach. In addition to rate plans, the company handles device procurement, help-desk issues and replacement devices--essentially, end-to-end lifecycle management for each device within an organization.

Fees for mindWireless' services vary. It focuses on enterprises with deployments of 1,000 cell phones or more, where it feels it can help save an average of 30 percent on mobile service fees. It charges either a flat fee of about $5 to $8 per line per month, and/or a percentage of the total it saves the client. Quanta is paying both a per-line fee and a percentage of its savings.

Building Customer Loyalty

"I guess you could say the carriers have a love/hate relationship to what we do," says Wise, "because our service does cut into their revenues. But we do help build customer loyalty."

mindWireless has additionally built a loyalty of its own with customers such as Quanta. Since rehiring mindWireless, Quanta has saved approximately $100,000 a month. It's hard to pin down hard numbers when it comes to projected savings, but Wise explains mindWireless' cost saving system in terms of cost-per-minute. "The cost-per-minute is what we use to measure what type of savings are achieved," he explains. "We set a base line in the beginning and try to measure against that same base line as a point of reference. What would we have been paying if we hadn't made the changes mindWireless recommended?' I know it's hard to quantify from an ROI perspective, but the savings for Quanta has surpassed the $100,000 a month from where we began."

Prater puts it even more simply: "Since we brought back mindWireless, our bill has gone down while our minutes have gone up." And those are numbers that are easy to quantify.

Teresa von Fuchs is a freelance writer and new resident of Texas. She is regrettably slow to learn the two-step.

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