Mobile Enterprise CIO Q&A - Controlling Wireless Data Costs

By Pat Brans — March 12, 2012

Robert Notte, CTO at Jamba Juice, speaks with Mobile Enterpriseabout the different strategies he deploys to keep mobile and wireless data costs manageable.

 
Mobile Enterprise: Robert, thanks for taking the time to share some of the tricks of the trade. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get straight to the point: What is the single biggest issue you have in managing wireless data costs?
 
Robert Notte: To answer that question, I need to first give you a little background on our usage policy. We have a set ofguidelines that specify when it’s appropriate for an employee to get a company-provided mobile device. We want to keep our people happy - and we want them to serve customers and partners as effectively as possible by equipping them with the best technology tools we can - but we also have to manage costs. The guidelines help balance those opposing needs.
 
In the end, approval or non-approval is left to the head of that person’s department. That’s the first case where Jamba Juice pays the bill for mobile usage costs.
 
The second case is where the user comes in with his or her own device and communications plan. As you can imagine, more and more people have a personal smartphone and want to use it at work. To address this trend, we’ve added some flexibility to our policy to give employees the choice of joining our plan or using their own plan, as long as their usage costs don’t exceed what they would be under our plan.
 
Our number one issue is managing the costs in this second case, where authorized employees choose not to be on our plan.
 
ME: Do you have systems in place for discovering and understanding who uses what? Are you able to analyze usage to determine what is and isn’t mission-critical to the company?
 
RN: For users of company-provided devices and communications plans, we have a set of tools to help in this area, including device management platforms. Operators also help, because we have a pool of minutes that all corporate users share, but when an individual goes over a threshold, we have the carrier send a message to the user letting him or her know. This usually only happens when the employee goes outside the country - even when traveling just across the border to Canada. International roaming costs are quite high, even when you stay in North America. I personally got this message the last time I went to Canada, and I was happy to see firsthand that the system was working.
 
In the case where employees bring their own devices, we have put in place some procedures that help. Users of personal devices and personal communication plans expense what they pay after they pay their own bill. If their communications costs exceed a threshold, that raises a red flag, and we talk to the employee and the department head. The threshold takes into account the average communications costs of employees on the company-provided plan.
 
Employees have different needs, so we try to consider each case separately. By flagging cases where the expense goes beyond the threshold, we keep everybody conscious of costs.
 
We avoid policing all mobile phone usage centrally, by spreading the responsibility out to the departments. IT gets the bill, but then charges each department. This pushes to the business users any decisions on whether excessive costs are appropriate.
 
ME: Operators are constantly changing their offerings, the pricing models of those offerings, and the price itself. On top of that, they frequently negotiate different mediation charging schemes with other operators, resulting in variations in roaming charges. How do you manage the changes in service costs - and in particular, roaming charges?
 
RN: Since we work with the three big carriers we can make some comparisons across the different offerings. In some geographic regions one carrier has more favorable services or pricing than in other geographies. We try to let people figure that out locally.
 
We only have a problem with excessive roaming charges when employees go outside of the country. We deal with that by getting advanced notice that somebody is going outside of the United States, and then negotiating a roaming contract for that individual with the carrier in question.
 
When we don’t know ahead of time that somebody is going outside the country, we see outrageous costs. This is one of my biggest pain points.
 
ME: Two of the new offerings that will likely cost a lot to enterprise customers are enterprise video conferencing and video streaming. Are you planning for the enormous costs associated with these services? Can you share some of your thoughts on best ways of dealing with this?
 
RN: Yes, we are thinking about how we will manage the costs of these services. We’re also thinking about how to keep from going overboard with data communications in general. As mobile devices get increasingly smarter, application developers get increasingly greedy with data.
 
One of the best ways to control costs - including future data-hungry services - is by having each department pay their own communications costs. They see who’s doing what and they can make the decision.
 
ME: How do you negotiate bulk or other special rates?
 
RN: Where we can, we try to bundle offerings. If we can get fixed line services from the same carrier as mobile services, we try to do that. When users bring their own devices, we are able to get them discounted rates by grouping their plans with our corporate plan. The user is still responsible for paying the bill, but he or she can benefit from our volume discount. This is a win-win situation, because the company has a stronger negotiating position with operators when employee-liable plans are bundled with ours. I might add that the operator wins as well by getting new loyal customers: the employees.
 
ME: On a global basis, how do you choose a small number of service providers? Or do you even do that? If not, can you share why you choose not to do so?
 
RN: I’ve given up on trying to use just one service provider. No one carrier provides the best services in all locations. We work with the three major carriers: Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T. Then we let people figure out locally which one is best.
 
ME: Do you have any additional "mobile cost savings" words of advice that you can share with us?
 
RN: Yes I do. With BYOD driving ever more sophisticated and bandwidth hungry devices into the workplace, today - not tomorrow - is the time to begin examining your cost structures and putting a game plan together.
 
Pat Brans is a mobile technology and productivity consultant and author of the book Master The Moment: Fifty CEOs Teach You the Secrets of Time Management.

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