Move telecom expense management to the CIO

Scott Lowe explains why he thinks it makes sense for the CIO rather than the CFO to manage telecom expenses. He also describes the changes his IT department made since he assumed responsibility for mobile services at Westminster College.

There was a time when the finance department handled most of the operational aspects of a company, including managing telephone contracts, printing and copying services, and even overseeing IT. While many organizations have retained IT as a part of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO)'s portfolio, most of these electronic services now fall under the purview of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), regardless of whether the CIO reports to the CFO or to the CEO. This set of services now includes mobile device contract management.

I've heard people ask who should handle these kinds of services -- the CFO or the CIO. In my opinion, the CIO is best positioned to provide the oversight that is necessary to support a fast-changing set of services.

On the mobile service contract front, mobile services are generally broken down into voice and data categories with many devices now meeting needs in both areas. As mobility needs increase and as companies take more advantage of these devices, overall responsibility for them belongs in the IT department. The IT departments is responsible for mobile applications development and/or acquisition, so by also managing the contract process, IT can more efficiently make sure that service procurement meets application needs. Further, when it comes to device provisioning, the IT department generally takes the lead through the use of centralized tools.

In my organization (Westminster College in Fulton, MO), the finance area handled cell phone contracts and related policies, as well as telecomm services and phone system maintenance, until 2008, when I was asked to assume responsibility for these services. Our IT department immediately made a number of changes, including:

  • Establish a Missouri statewide contract with AT&T for mobile devices (cell phones and smartphones) in which all Missouri colleges and universities can choose to participate. I negotiated this contract, which includes some revenue share features. (At the time, in our small town, AT&T was pretty much the only company that provided consistent, proven service. Verizon and Sprint also had local networks, but they were not as reliable as the AT&T service.)
  • Move every single line to pooled service plans and, once available, to family plans for businesses. This has reduced our per-device costs for existing service. The savings has been largely offset by the addition of a number of smartphones with data plans, but at least there was that initial savings.
  • Create a security-focused policy that governs smartphone and mobile device use. This policy includes support for bring-your-own-device needs, which allows users to use their personal hardware while protecting the College. We are able to enforce this policy through ActiveSync.
  • Jettison the old PBX and replace it with a hybrid unit that supports analog, digital, and IP-based devices. (This was after a cost/benefit analysis that included determining ongoing maintenance costs for the existing phone switch and long-distance service.) The result has been very good. We were able to upgrade most campus phones and save money at the same time.
  • Terminate our old ISDN PRI-based long distance service in favor of SIP-based services, which has resulted in significant long-distance savings. In fact, we've also been able to make some operational improvements that ease the overall user experience. Because the SIP trunks include so much usage per month -- and we never come anywhere close to the limit -- we no longer have to create, maintain, or require the use of long distance dialing codes.


For us, moving all things telecomm, including mobile device management, into the technology group has resulted in significant improvements to the campus at a lower cost than we were paying before.

What about you? Which department manages your company's telecom expenses?