TEMpest In a Teapot?

By Kelly Teal Comments

Remember five and six years ago when telecom expense management (TEM) was all the rage? At the time, TEM referred to oversight of wireline services as big-name providers bombarded the channel with claims that auditing customers’ bills for unused or overpriced circuits was the greatest Gold Rush since IP. But that narrow focus grew outdated as businesses’ wireless and IP-services usage began to soar. Meantime, the giant TEM software providers, still heavily emphasizing wireline TEM, were failing in the channel as they asked too much from agents for too little in return. Many partners saw the futility in both a restrictive definition of TEM and in aligning themselves with the large platform developers. Those agents have since expanded their interpretations of TEM to life cycle, rather than expense, management to find their own ways to profit. Still others have discovered that while audit-focused TEM carries little financial impact by itself, it’s useful as a jumping-off point for a consultative sale and a way to shore up customer loyalty.

Dan Vidal, co-founder and managing director of Telecom Advisors Inc., is one agent who has experienced both the promise and pain of TEM. He continues to include TEM in his sales strategy despite sour experiences with brand-name providers. “It was like pulling teeth," he said, recalling those early relationships with TEM companies whose attitude toward the channel was less than friendly compared to the way carriers treated him. Specifically, these marquee names wanted agents to pay thousands of dollars for software each month, give up ownership of the customer and often imposed annual quotas of at least $1 million on potential partners. Those stipulations didn’t fly with many agencies and Vidal was not alone in seeking other options.

For Vidal, the answer lay with a network-services reseller, Wholesale Carrier Services, which last year contracted with mobility management firm eMOBUS, as well as another agency that helps with manual auditing and back-office processes. These alliances allow telecom advisors to assume the role of trusted adviser with end-users, acting as their outsourced IT department — for far more than auditing and asset inventory. In Vidal’s case, expense management helps identify customers’ pain points – particularly apparent in mobility – and lets him solve those problems with moves/adds/changes, inventory, repairs, SLA enforcement and more. But counting on TEM to carry a sale doesn’t make sense for him. “I don’t even use the word ‘TEM’ with my clients," he said.

That’s a widespread sentiment. Only transactional agents depend on bill auditing, sources say, and that narrow view won’t get them very far. These days, agents say, TEM ought to be considered part of a bigger process: lifecycle management. With wireline and wireless services on their books, not to mention the cloud, customers need help overseeing everything from service ordering, asset and expense management to invoice visibility, auditing and reporting. The more successful agents have moved on from an audit and asset-purchasing perspective to offering holistic managed services.

“The services TEM providers offer are alive and well, but they’re being done by top consultative partners as part of a value-add," said Matt Harty, president and CEO of Converged Network Services Group (CNSG).

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