You'll need flexible policies to get on top of the proliferation of mobile devices.

Getting ahead of the mobile tide requires working through a series of steps. First, get your IT architectural house in order. Work with the business side to figure out what kinds of devices, services and carrier networks meet your business needs, then make sure those options can meld intelligently into your network architecture. Jim Wilhelmi, telecom manager at Intermountain Health Care, a $3 billion nonprofit healthcare system in Salt Lake City, says both clinicians and IS technicians needed wireless access to corporate applications from their laptops. IT decided that cellular modems dialing up over Verizon Wireless's network would give them the connectivity they needed, supporting monthly plans ranging from charges per megabyte to unlimited use.

Next, put together a set of policies that match workers with mobile data capabilities and services. IHC identified about 2,000 employees as qualified users for whom it was willing to provide cell phones or laptops and pay the monthly bills. An estimated 10,000 other users still shoulder the costs of their own wireless devices, expensing only their business use.

But make sure you don't let those costs fly under IT's radar screen. Assign clear responsibility within IT for tracking mobile data and other telecom costs. Change the allocation and charge-tracking policies so that mobile data doesn't get buried deep in categories like travel and entertainment. The payback for line managers will be greater transparency, allowing them to track and project their own data communications costs more accurately. "Telecom in general is one of the few categories of expenses that winds up all over the accounting spectrum, so rolling up all the costs is very hard," says Don Hobbs, chief operating officer of TelAssess, a vendor of communications cost-management software. Such companies say that up to 90 percent of wireless savings come from simply making sure the right users have the right contracts. An employee on a one megabit-per-month plan who's regularly slurping gigabytes is inevitably getting hammered on monthly charges.

Just don't assume the information you're getting from carriers is accurate. The Aberdeen Group research firm says 7 percent to 12 percent of telecom-related charges are flat-out wrong, yet up to 85 percent of midsize companies simply pay what they're asked. Those who do focus on their wireless bills find themselves spending about 20 percent of their time trying to identify errors and a resource-chewing 80 percent trying to resolve them. Extrapolate these challenges to your wireless data services, and you have a looming wireless nightmare for IT—and for accounting. "The finance side of the house is critically interested in this approach," says Mike Benzian, director of marketing at cost management software company QuantumShift Inc.

This article was originally published on 10-01-2003
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