Buzzwords such as 5G, eSIM, SD-WAN, Cloud, AI, IoT and IIoT have dominated conversations and headlines lately. While they no doubt will change entire industries, what do they really mean to you and the world of expense management in 2020? What will realistically move from buzzword to solution? What do our experts predict will deliver or not deliver as expected?With the proliferation of more and more acronyms and other terms to describe the latest technological advancements, we’ll all look back fondly soon at the days when all we worried about were our phone bills.
In every organization there’s someone who is responsible for paying the bills. In smaller organizations that same person may also be responsible for analyzing those bills before paying them, while larger organizations have specialists in various areas who own responsibility for analyzing bills and often they also advise purchasing personnel on how to lower costs by getting better deals.
One of the largest expenses these organizations have is now poised to become orders of magnitude larger and more complex.
Telecom Expense Management (TEM)
Originally, TEM was focused on reconciling telecom invoices and seeking better rates. TEM begins by building a comprehensive inventory of all services, circuits, equipment and other elements of a company’s telecom estate. From this inventory TEM identifies services and equipment that are coming up for renewal, others that are no longer in use and need to be terminated, and frequently compare the rates being paid with newer, currently available plans that will lower their organization’s costs.
More recently with the explosion of new communications technologies, TEM has had to expand to include cloud computing expenses, wide area network (WAN) data lines, mobile, and more. As you read about new entries including 5G, SD-WAN, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data and more expect each of these to dramatically expand the TEM universe.
The inventory management aspects of TEM have also grown significantly in importance. Especially in an increasingly mobile world keeping track of who has what device and where all your physical assets are has become a strategic tool in improving user experiences and controlling costs.
While this will be challenging, it is also an opportunity to bring some of the largest and most difficult expenses to manage under one unified point of management and control.
Unscrambling the Acronyms
To develop a better understanding of the many acronyms and terms its best to put them into context.
Every telecom service is based on a circuit that begins at an “endpoint”, transports various data types including voice, video, text, and more across a combination of wired and wireless media, arrives at a network “core” containing all the servers, switches, and other equipment required to make this all work. There, the data is processed in a variety of ways and may simply be stored, or results may continue back to the original endpoint and possibly other endpoints. Simply put, start-transport-process-storage-transport-end.
Every smartphone, tablet, computer or similar client device is an endpoint. Since they are entryways into the network, security and access control are big concerns at each endpoint. In general, there is a fee charged for each endpoint that communicates across a carrier’s network. Sometimes these fees offer unlimited service, and some are billed based on consumption.
Another source of endpoints that arrived more recently is the Internet of Things (IoT). Cisco Systems announced that there were more “things” on the internet than humans back in 2008. Millions of sensors are being deployed worldwide by thousands of companies that monitor everything from motion to temperature, ambient light, air quality and much more. Millions of controls are also being deployed to manage everything from building heat and cooling, traffic, manufacturing, turning lights on and off based on local occupancy, progress of transportation vehicles, water reclamation, energy, and much more. Now driverless vehicles, home security and control, kitchen appliances, and many other new applications are being addressed by IoT technology.
From a TEM perspective here’s the point, every one of those millions of sensors and millions of controls are exactly the same, from a connection to service standpoint, as a smartphone. Each is connected to the network and its owner must pay for that pleasure. Unlimited plans may become available, or billing may be consumption-based. Either way, this one technology expands the TEM challenge by orders of magnitude.
5G represents the next generation, the fifth generation, or wireless communication. Although some initial services are already being in the marketplace, as of this writing none of the major carriers have finished defining what their 5G offerings are, how they work, what’s required to use them, or what they will cost. Although they promise dramatically higher bandwidth than current 4G LTE services, some of their services may require deployment of small, specialized antennae every few feet throughout a given service area, which could take years to deploy. One big application that depends upon the higher speed and complete lack of latency offered by 5G is the driverless vehicle. Imagine one of them encountering network latency just as it approaches a busy intersection with oncoming cars turning. Zero latency required. Many anticipate eliminating wi-fi completely and replacing it with 5G.
Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) combines multiple wired communication services, including MPLS, to offer very high-speed, reliable transmission of data. Even wireless deployments will depend upon SD-WAN to “backhaul” data from access points in the field back to the network core. These custom-designed circuits are expensive but will be required more and more as companies find more need for real-time computing activities.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) handle data in new and more productive ways. AI and ML can analyze and process data in more subjective ways than were previously possible. They can read and understand plain text, infer ideal connections from related bodies of text, and converse with humans in a more comfortable way than ever before. From a TEM perspective, applications of these advancements will drive more utilization of cloud services and connections to them.
Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), and many other XaaS services are a natural outgrowth of the success of cloud computing. UCaaS in particular promises to eventually change the entire telecommunications universe, possibly eliminating plain old telephone service (POTS) and the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Already they have eliminated intracompany communication expenses between connected locations. Users enjoy great agility in moving from mode to mode, communicating as they prefer at any time.
Digital Transformation (DX) is currently the ultimate buzz phrase. In an industry whose marketing departments prefer the vague, DX fits the bill perfectly. There are many definitions coming from many different places, and all of them are different from one another. One part of most of those definitions that is consistent is that DX focuses on improving the ways in which people employ communications and computing technologies to improve their work and their lives. Deeper integration between technologies and people brings with it the promise of more services, more choices, and more complexity.
Keeping Pace with TEM Expertise
By now you’re probably sensing that all this proliferation of buzzwords and phrases represents an accelerating challenge that will be extremely difficult to keep up with. Automation combined with expertise is the answer, and Calero-MDSL has both in abundance. Talk to us about your current telecom estate and your vision of your telecom future. We’ll show you how we can provide the control you need.