The big mobile problem your company may be ignoring

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Device configuration, access to corporate resources, security capabilities, and app management are often the hot topics when talking about enterprise mobile management. Given that those areas are huge priorities regardless of whether a company is operating a BYOD program or providing mobile devices to employees (or both), these four issues need to be addressed in technology use policies and they need to be implemented technologically with one or more of the many excellent mobile management solutions on the market.

In dealing with the influx of new smartphones, tablets, and whole new mobile platforms, it's easy to fixate on solving the four core needs of proper configuration, access to corporate resources, security, and app management. These things are huge priorities, regardless of whether your company operates a BYOD program or provides mobile devices to employees, and they can be implemented with one of the many mobile management solutions on the market.

Fixating on just these issues, however, can keep IT leaders and teams from even recognizing other pressures that the explosion of mobile technology puts onto an organization.

For instance:

  • Ensuring a healthy work/life balance among newly mobile workers
  • Determining how the work-anywhere-at-anytime model impacts the paychecks of hourly and salaried employees
  • Effectively managing mobile-related expenses for both employee-owned BYOD devices, and for corporate-issued smartphones, tablets, and other mobile access devices like mobile hotspots.

One reason that mobile expense management often falls through the cracks is that it isn't exactly an IT issue -- at least, not any more than ensuring that there's enough paper for all the printers in company. While IT will likely purchase, set up, and troubleshoot a company's printers, purchasing supplies for them is typically a task for office supply and procurement managers and/or the finance department.

The same is often true when paying most recurring bills, ranging from electricity to office space rentals to expense reports to mobile calling plans. IT may have some role in managing mobile expenses, but it can be as minimal as using a mobile device management (MDM) tool to disable domestic or international data roaming.

Some would argue that finance or individual departments should manage mobile expenses. But finance staff or department managers rarely have the tools, understanding, and time to manage mobile expenses in an effective manner. Yes, these parties can sift through the bills and look for users or devices that are particularly high and work to minimize use, but that's a pretty basic concept of expense management -- and even that can take many hours or even days to sort through.

After all, even trying to make sense of all the charges on your own personal mobile bill and trying to figure out ways to minimize expenses can be a challenge. Are you better off with a shared data plan for your devices versus a dedicated plan for each of them? That's a tough question for any individual to answer.

Magnify the mass of information associated with a family plan by factors of hundreds or thousands and you'll get an idea of the challenge for enterprise companies that likely rely on multiple carriers in different regions and potentially different countries.

Another challenge is that mobile expense management generally doesn't happen in real time. There's a lag between when devices are used and when the bills are received and reconciled. If a member of the finance team sees a spike in usage on a particular device and decides to take corrective action or question the user about the increase, they're likely to be dealing with something that happened weeks earlier. Tracking down the cause becomes a waste of time if that cause was a temporary aberration and usage has already returned to normal. A worse situation is that the excess usage may have continued for weeks before being noticed and resolved.

A final problem with this approach to mobile expenses is that the finance staff or department managers often have jobs beyond managing mobile expenses. They may not know about the options for consolidating plans, credits that a company may qualify to receive, or the range of options available from different carriers in different markets (or even in a single market).

Ultimately, this type of situation is likely to be costing a company money in terms of overpaying for services as well as in the manpower invested in trying to make things work as best as a company can without outside help or a dedicated mobile expense manager.

Help is available

That's the bad news. Here's the good news: there are a range of companies that offer varying types of mobile and telecom expense management solutions out there that can streamline the both the mobile expense processes as well as the actual costs.

Most of the companies that operate in this space also operate in the wider mobile management arena. Tangoe, for example, offers a range of device and app management solutions as well as real-time expense management -- complete with advice about consolidating plans, expanding and reducing monthly allotments for voice and data, and working with multiple carriers for the best deal possible. Other options, like Visage MobilityCentral, focus specifically on expense management, which can be integrated alongside other mobile management solutions that are already in place.

Keep in mind that not every vendor defines expense management in the same way. Many device management vendors list expense management as a feature and provide more limited tools, like alerting the user and/or someone at HQ when a device is roaming, displaying a device's current carrier, and generally tracking voice or data use. Those are very useful features but they stop short of helping you get a true bird's eye view of mobile expenses and how to reduce them.

In the end, the key to mobile expense management is building a relationship between IT and the teams managing (and paying) mobile expenses. The decision to invest in expense management tools, the process of evaluating the options, and then implementing one or more tools is a joint effort. In that respect, it's another chance for IT to become more integrated with other aspects of the business and to deliver real and measurable value.

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