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Agents Reinvent TEM

Bill review has long been a sales tool for telecom agents looking to convince business customers to switch their services to a new service provider that would presumably be able to offer lower rates. It was a short step for them to then audit what was billed against what was actually provided and/or contracted. And, then another short step to question whether those services were the right ones in the first place and to get the customers on the best services, plans and vendors. Mission accomplished.

Not quite. Agents quickly learned that keeping telecom environments and expenses under control for their customers required regular monitoring and management. Company growth or contraction and changing technology options and rates are among the reasons the status quo doesnt remain optimal. So many agents developed business process outsourcing (BPO) offers that incorporate these disciplines from sourcing to inventory control to expense management. Some have taken advantage of the offers from the emerging industry of software vendors that arose to automate management of these functions for enterprises. But some agents have found these accounting-centered offers lacking and taken matters into their own hands, developing their own software to better match their needs.

One of these agencies is Spectrum Inc., a master agency out of Cincinnati. When we were approached by our customers to take over their wireless we thought we would just go partner with someone to assist. We partnered with a [TEM] company but quickly learned their focus was not on telecom and at every turn it seemed we were reinventing the wheel, said Spectrum CEO Troy McCracken, noting the solutions Spectrum evaluated were designed to audit, but not to support telecom environments.

TEM Defined

  • Sourcing includes identifying suppliers and evaluating them against price, service quality and reliability.
  • Invoice Processing encompasses processing paper and electronic billing media, auditing and bill payment.
  • Service Ordering involves placing orders with providers to obtain, change or disconnect services.
  • Inventory Validation includes aggregating, normalizing and mapping inventory data.
  • Change Control reconciles moves, adds, changes, disconnects (MACD) against validated inventory.
  • Reporting and Analysis communicates detailed information on expenses, tracks budgets and monitors supplier performance.

Source: AOTMP

Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, Spectrum in 2006 developed its own hosted software as a service under the TrueVue brand. There is a huge difference in building an application that a customer uses to help them manage their own telecom environment more efficiently and [one] that is built to help agents better manage their customers telecom environment, McCracken said.

TrueVue manages the complete telecom life cycle, including benchmarking current services, service order management, asset management, expense management, invoice visibility and auditing and customized analytical reporting for wireless and wireline services. McCracken said its primary differentiators in TEM market are that TrueVue is user-friendly and logic-driven. You can get anywhere in three clicks or less, he said. Spectrums multiformat (EDI, pdf and paper) invoice processing is patent-pending.

Spectrums experience is shared by 13-year-old master agency Configure Inc., San Jose, Calif. Rudain Arafeh, Configures founder, president and CEO, told PHONE+ that his main problems with TEM offers were the result of customer complaints. We kept hearing from our customers that the TEM software was too expensive and cumbersome, he said. It needed to be affordable and easy.

Arafeh explained that existing systems were tailored to large enterprises with monthly spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars while his customers were midsized with monthly spend in the tens of thousands. In addition, he said, these high-end systems require six to eight months to deploy meanwhile draining IT staff resources and delaying the cost savings. That may be OK if you have the resources of an enterprise, but midsize companies dont have eight months.

In addition, he said legacy systems tend to have a steep learning curve that requires dedicated staff to manage. If you are only using it once a week, you cant be proficient, he said. And if the primary user churns, the tool is not used at all.

Arafeh and his team developed a hosted application called Telecom Expense Solution Advantage (TESA) that he said can be up and running in 30 days and is intuitive to use even for new users. It allows users to aggregate bills from all their service providers, service types and service locations and get a single view by location, provider, cost center and more. TESA includes four service modules: wireline voice, cellular, data/Internet and conferencing.

Configure also tackled the cost issue, offering a monthly subscription price that is below the industry standard 10 percent of telecom spend and not charging extra for the number of bills processed or devices managed.

Passing It On. Developing TEM software is no small undertaking for any company, and it certainly wasnt for these agencies. Configure, for example, spent about three years and $1.5 million creating TESA. While each agency will recoup some development costs by selling the services to their own customers, both reached the conclusion that an indirect sales channel could help broaden their reach.

Spectrum, a master agency, offers the service for sale through its subagents for residual commissions at rates similar to network services. It also enables other master agencies to license and rebrand the software. Telecom Brokerage Inc., for instance, was announced as a private-label partner in January 2009.

Configure rolled out TESA for use with its own customers last fall and based on early positive customer response, it made TESA available for other agents to sell to their customers in January 2010.

Configure offers two agency options. The first is a referral partner, which has no quota, and pays a one-time bounty based on the contract size. The second option is an agent/reseller agreement, which requires a volume commitment and pays an annuity on the TESA subscription. Agents dont have to implement or delivery the service, but they are responsible for closing the sale and upselling additional modules.

Both Spectrum and Configure have continued their agency businesses, but have separated them from their TEM services. Configure says the two are independent practices, but it also signs non-compete agreements with its TEM agents. Spectrum has strict guidelines as to how we handle potential conflict and even incorporate language into our agent agreement that protects the agent, said McCracken.

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