Dialing for Dollars

University Information Technology Services
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University of Massachusetts
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A look at the big picture of mobile use throughout campus revealed  hundreds of service plans, and it became clear that consolidation was in order. Now there are just 12 accounts.

When was the last time you took a good, long look at your wireless bill? What it contains might surprise you. An international roaming plan used for a trip last year that you neglected to cancel, perhaps. Scores and scores of unused minutes that roll over into infinity. Or 411 calls made despite your smartphone’s ability to search the web.

In taking a look at a year’s worth of wireless invoices, administrators at the University of Massachusetts found the system was spending a lot of money it didn’t have to.

As part of an efficiency and effectiveness program implemented a few years ago by new President Robert L. Caret, UMass engaged Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group to dig into its information technology costs. The firm found some low-hanging fruit to pluck among the 2,800 university-issued cell phones in use across five campuses and the system’s offices.“Since that was an area that was only going to grow, we took a serious look at it,” says John Healey, senior director of enterprise procurement.

A second consultant, from Ovation Wireless Management of Cornelius, N.C., reviewed 12 months’ worth of UMass wireless invoices and found significant inefficiencies that the university system’s decentralized nature had caused. There were “north of six or seven hundred” wireless accounts spread across the [main] campus and the system office, says Healey.

Working with Ovation, the university pooled minutes across all campuses and offices, and consolidated carrier accounts. Officials also centralized service accounts under AT&T and Verizon, which provides the majority of service to UMass at a campus level. This allowed service plans to be pooled across the university.

This centralization process resulted in enormous streamlining: Each campus now pays a single monthly invoice to each wireless carrier, with an automated journal entry chargeback to reconcile wireless charges at the individual user level.

“We managed to consolidate all of this business without interrupting or even impacting anyone’s service,” Healey notes.

Hundreds of mobile device plans have been consolidated into a mere 12 accounts. Despite increased demand for data usage, wireless service expenses have dropped dramatically—by nearly $500,000 per year. And with far fewer invoices to process, the accounts payable office has made major efficiency gains. At one campus alone, UMass Lowell, support staff maintaining wireless billing invoices plunged from 240 people to four.

“By redeploying resources and not having so many people spending time reviewing and paying invoices, hopefully what we’re moving toward now is managing more efficiently and allowing people to spend time in their core competencies,” Healey says. “But if they’re going to be focused on mobile development optimization, let’s make sure ... we’re doing everything in the right way for all.”