A previous article I’ve written identifies “The 3 Pillars of Effective Communications Technology Management” as billing (1), contracts (2), and IT inventories (3). In two subsequent articles, I provided tips for billing and contract management. I saved IT inventories for last — as it’s impossible to have a well-managed communications management strategy without them. Here I’ll explain how to define, build, and manage IT services and equipment inventories.
Let’s start by defining inventory — the foundation on which communications technology management builds. Without an accurate inventory of services and equipment (how many of each type and for what purpose), you can’t be sure that the billing amount is correct or that all billed items receive the contract rates. You also can’t effectively plan for a transition from old to new technology without an accurate baseline inventory as a starting point.
The inventory is a component-by-component listing of all communications technology items, whether for fixed, mobile, or cloud communications, including all services, connectivity, licenses, and hardware. Each must be associated with a vendor name, account number, service identifier number, and contract.
A first step to building an inventory can be to obtain a breakdown of the components of each invoice you receive monthly from your communications vendors. This “billed inventory” is a good starting point. However, it may not accurately reflect what you have in place since it’s very likely that you’re paying for items you don’t have.
Most organizations disperse responsibilities for different aspects of the communications technology inventory across multiple people or departments. Identifying who is responsible for each is a logical next step. Some examples include:
- Mobile devices and telephone numbers (smartphones, data-only devices, etc.)
- Connections to the outside world for voice services and telephone numbers (may be combined with responsibility for data but is often still separate)
- Connections to the outside world for data services and ID numbers for each component (e.g., Internet access)
- Organizational global or domestic networks (MPLS, SD-WAN, etc.)
- User licenses for cloud-based voice/data/ web conferencing services increasingly get combined on the same platform
- Hardware associated with all of the above
Each category has multiple components, and the people responsible for them may help reconcile what you’re being billed for vs. what’s in place. If your company has never done this, it can take a significant amount of time and resources, directly proportional to the organization’s size and complexity of your communications services and hardware. You may wish to tackle each category as a separate inventory building exercise to make it more manageable.
Individuals responsible for managing services and equipment are often embarrassed by not having accurate inventories. In most cases, no one provides these individuals with clear procedures or tools for keeping them up to date. Instead, they typically spend their days focusing on front-line responsibilities to keep things running.
Constructing and validating the accuracy of inventories and confirming that billing is correct is another step. Keeping these up to date requires consistent processes. Otherwise, the records that took so much time to assemble will quickly deteriorate. Our focus is on inventory records supporting expense management, but they also support service levels. For example, if a circuit goes out of service, it’s important to report the circuit number, account number, and open a repair ticket with the vendor. A physical circuit inventory ideally provides detail down to the level of demarcation and rack locations.
While there are no simple solutions, here are some suggestions to help get started:
- Start with the people. Get the individuals together responsible for various aspects of each service you buy, including placing orders, paying bills, negotiating contracts and managing vendor relationships. You’ll also need the people who maintain the associated equipment, whether in-house-staff or outside support companies. Agree on established lines of communication among them, such as a monthly video conference.
- Information, please. Make a list of all aspects of each service that need to be collected to build inventory. For example, for smartphones, you’ll need the service provider and username, associated location, mobile number, the type of device (manufacturer and model number). You'll also have to specify device serial numbers, including voice, data, and message billing plans — whether the mobile number is part of a pool for voice or data usage and the contracts. If your organization purchases the device over time, determine when to pay for it and the monthly cost. If early upgrades are possible, figure out how many months into the contract in which each device eligible. Mobile inventories are particularly challenging to maintain in large organizations due to the rate of change.
- Is telecom expense management (TEM) in your future? Building an inventory must be accompanied by an agreed-upon method of capturing the detail and keeping it current. Large organizations may engage a TEM company providing a hosted system and support services. In this case, that company can also help with the “billed inventory” mentioned above.
- Spreadsheets work. Smaller companies may use their internal database software or a spreadsheet to compile the information. In either case, ongoing attention is key to keep the inventory current.
- Audit any bills lately? A communications bill audit is another way of putting together the “billed inventory” as a starting point. If you try this approach, be sure that an inventory is agreed upon as a project deliverable by the auditor.
- Old news isn’t necessarily good news. Part of the process needs to be keeping contracts current and developing a method for updating records as services and equipment are added, deleted, moved, or changed.
To continue the analogy, if the IT inventory pillar is weak, the contract and billing pillars won’t be strong enough to keep the communication technology management structure from crumbling to the ground.
Jane Laino, a guest writer for the Sakon Blog, is president of DIgby 4 Group, based in New York City. DIgby 4 helps clients manage communications technology with both professional services and cloud-hosted systems as a Sakon partner. She is a member of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants.