Managing Ever-Rising Wireless Expenses Is Critical for Government CIOs (Opinion)

Governments at the federal, state and local levels should make adopting "wireless expense management" a business priority.

by / July 23, 2010

With the increasing popularity of mobile device usage in governments of all levels -- federal, states and municipalities -- IT leaders must manage a complex wireless environment for thousands of staff members and ensure that mounting expenses are kept under control while appropriate security measures are taken. As a result, most of them are recognizing the need to take control over their mobile environments by establishing policies to make devices and plans corporate-liable (rather than letting employees make isolated mobility choices), and implementing processes and tools to support those policies.

Corporate enterprises have begun to adopt wireless expense management (WEM) solutions for many of the same reasons -- deep cost savings, security and control over their full wireless environment. Public CIOs now have the opportunity to achieve these benefits by leveraging commercial solutions that have matured to address the unique requirements of the public sector. These solutions have consistently saved organizations 10 to 35 percent annually on their rapidly-growing wireless expenditures while at the same time centrally managing a number of priorities: wireless devices and plan ordering, end-to-end invoice processing, monitoring and enforcement of mobile communication limits for employees, optimization of plans and services, help-desk support, and the generation of reports that provide visibility into companywide mobile usage.

Why Is Wireless Expense Management Necessary?

Governments and enterprises share many of the same needs for a solution that automates and proactively manages wireless across the organization. Government entities can leverage this common ground to shorten their learning curve for WEM. The main impetus is high growth in the use and usefulness of wireless, driven by faster and more reliable wireless networks, more capable and varied devices, more demanding and advanced users, and an ever-expanding universe of applications. These advancements have created a significant opportunity for public and private organizations to better enable their mobilized work forces to complete their duties while maintaining visibility and control over their mobile activity and expenses. Other key drivers for WEM include:

Relentless budget pressures -- With ongoing budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels, WEM programs provide a counterbalance with proven and rapid return on investment. In the past, particularly in large agencies, it had been hard to identify who is responsible for balancing the needs of the mobilized employees with the associated costs. Often it had been several people in different departments -- a contracting officer for phones, another one for the Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPA), a director of networks, or perhaps an operations or administration official. As a best practice, public CIOs should designate a wireless manager with comprehensive responsibility and authority over these areas for wireless. Ideally this person reports to (or is) the owner of fixed and mobile telecom overall.

Renewed focus on inventory tracking for security purposes -- Wireless devices now routinely carry gigabytes of sensitive company or government information, which necessitates a tight process for keeping track of who has them and how they are being used. To capture this visibility from the start, a WEM solution provides a foundation of inventory cleanup or registration from which all future activity is tracked. One agency recently had more than 20,000 wireless telephone numbers on its wireless bill that were otherwise unknown. Beyond the inventory, there's a need to monitor and manage proper assignment of Wireless Priority Service for first responders and other key government officials. Ensuring these public servants are fully enabled contributes to national security, not just IT security.

Move from decentralized ops to centralized ops -- A certain level of manual WEM may be delivered by individual contracting officers who have responsibility for a manageably low number of mobile devices. Leveraging competitive rates offered under various contracting vehicles or BPAs, they can manually validate that the contracted rate matches the billed rate and keep an eye on excessive usage or

charges, as time and expertise allow. However, telecom is most cost-effective when purchased in aggregate and therefore managed in aggregate. This doesn't diminish the role of the contracting officer on the front lines, but it begs for a centralized WEM function with the tools and expertise to take advantage of the scale of government's or agencies' aggregate wireless spend. Most enterprises already have been through this transition -- consolidating vendors and contracts into large pools that are managed through sophisticated optimization algorithms, which are fed each month by changes in available pricing plans. This is often the largest single source of savings for organizations.

Special Considerations for Government WEM

Government agencies have distinct requirements for implementing WEM within designated organizational structures and approval procedures. In evaluating commercial WEM solutions, public CIOs should include considerations such as:

1. Contract line item number-based ordering and pricing. Can the WEM solution's catalog handle all the features and bundles that the agency currently buys?

2. Special quoting workflows for service orders. Some agency purchasing policies require a competitive bid (rather than just buying off a vehicle or BPA). Make sure the selected solution can handle this process.

3. Multilevel approval. A configurable workflow tool is an essential component to handle the unique requirements of government purchasing.

4. Contract vehicle rate and budget tracking. Certain vendors with existing public-sector clients may have libraries of available rate plans to use in optimization and to compress implementation timelines and time to savings.

5. Security. Can the WEM solution be deployed and managed in the government organization's own data center? If not, does the solution provider qualify for the necessary clearances to host it on the organization's behalf? Also, how sensitive is the data and are there specific security measures and policies in place to protect it properly?

Key Components of a WEM Solution

The key enabler of a centralized WEM environment is an organization's core telecom expense management (TEM) solution, which allows organizations to proactively handle end-to-end wireline and wireless functions, such as ordering and provisioning, inventory, contracting, invoice management and reporting. Complete TEM solutions should be able to handle wireless and wireline together under a unified platform and offer different deployment options: licensed software, software as a service or managed services. Other key capabilities include:

Wireless portal for end-users -- A WEM wireless portal replaces carrier-provided portals to allow end- users to order devices from an approved catalog across all approved carriers. The portal should be able to route orders to a line approver or contracting officer based on configurable rules (e.g., all iPhones must be approved by the CIO). A wireless portal also reduces help-desk calls by enabling help requests and provides detailed reporting to support management decision-making in the field.

Wireless plan optimization services -- While a core TEM solution may offer algorithms for wireless optimization, additional savings benefits are likely to be uncovered with supplemented services. Dynamism and variety in usage and contract structure mean that there continues to be an "art" to achieving the highest overall savings.

Wireless help-desk service -- As mobile devices grow in power and complexity, there is a need for help-desk services with experts who have the latest knowledge on wireless issues and devices. Phone support is adequate for most organizations, but on-site help desk is often available at government agencies as well. Doing it onsite makes more sense when there are specific security requirements, combined with a large user base at a single location or campus that can make use of the wireless experts onsite.

Real-time wireless usage management and mobile device management (MDM) -- Increasingly mobile device management (MDM) and real-time wireless usage management (RWUM) are integral components of WEM programs. RWUM includes a software agent

that resides on the mobile device, which along with an MDM solution, actively manages the usage of minutes, text messages and roaming with real-time alerts. MDM solutions include the ability to remotely wipe the devices if they are lost, and to provide greater security for sensitive data. These solutions span both the security and WEM domains by monitoring device usage and user activities in real time.

Maximum Benefits and Minimal Risk

So how does a government get started? There are key steps to lay the groundwork for success and minimized risks. Agencies or departments should first develop a wireless policy in conjunction with the selected WEM solution, which covers a wide range of items: who receives which devices, personal versus official use, usage while driving, device refresh, and the responsible person or entity for different types of charges. The policy will then drive the key capabilities of the WEM solution, such as end-user call tagging and shopping levels.

The next step is evaluating the organization's costs. End-to-end WEM solutions typically cost 5 to 8 percent of total wireless spend, and savings typically measure 10 to 35 percent of the wireless spend. However, to measure the WEM initiative's impact, take time to calculate the average cost per voice minute, cost per text and cost per kilobyte of data for each of the primary wireless carriers. These are key measures needed to calculate the overall benefit of the program. A less useful, but more easily available metric, is "service cost per device per month" because tracking this number over time will not account for increasing usage.

Another important step is determining whether the TEM program will be deployed outside in or inside out. "Outside in" refers to a solution whose initial focus is the end-user experience, particularly for wireless ordering and a portal-enabled help desk. The rationale is that if the device is procured according to policy, then a lot of unnecessary costs are eliminated up front. This approach will deliver the most value in a situation where, for example, employees are buying phones and plans from retail outlets or where an organization is making the transition from employee-liable devices to agency-liable devices. Once the end-user is pulled into the new process, future phases can focus on the core WEM processes around invoice processing, plan optimization and cost allocation.

"Inside out" refers to a solution that initially centers on pulling together all the invoices and inventory and ensuring accuracy. The idea is that there are significant savings to be found just by consolidating invoices and implementing bigger pools. These savings can then be applied to fund future phases. This approach will typically yield the biggest bang for the buck, but it's important to follow through with an end-to-end telecom life cycle management solution to yield the greatest overall return on investment. Organizations usually engage in one of these approaches -- outside in or inside out -- rather than both at the same time.

Government Readiness for WEM

Hundreds of different telecom and wireless managers at the federal, state and local levels have expressed their desire to implement world-class wireless WEM for their organizations. However, many of them are spending the majority of their time just trying to pay the invoices on time. Furthermore, it's often difficult to find the one manager whose job responsibility it is to handle both procurement and costs. Because the goal of WEM is to remove time-intensive and inefficient processes by automating the mundane tasks and allowing key personnel to focus on savings and implement processes needed for success, public CIOs are well positioned to implement WEM to drive both short- and long-term benefits for their organizations.


Christopher Corr
Christopher Corr is director of government accounts at Rivermine. He can be reached at