Before it moves into its new national headquarters next year, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind is taking a second look at its phone bills.

The CNIB recently went through a move of about 200 staff from its office on

Toronto’s Bayview Ave. to a temporary location at Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave. While they are there, the institute has enlisted the help of longtime partner Schooley Mitchell Telecom Consultants to ensure it has the appropriate infrastructure in place and will negotiate good prices from its vendors. The CNIB is scheduled to move into a new facility in Toronto in June 2004.

Craig Lillico, the CNIB’s vice-president of finance, administration and treasury, said the project is reinforcing the value of an outside partner to better manage its telecommunications costs.

“”You negotiate an arrangement with a vendor, and you think that’s the end of the job,”” he said. “”Those negotiations don’t get translated into your monthly bill, unless you keep on top of it.””

Lillico started working with Schooley Mitchell several years ago to evaluate its long distance rates, then its cell phone program. Though the non-profit organization has its own IT department, the management of monthly purchases and leases of telco equipment fell to the finance department, where bills circulated among several different people.

“”It really never got the appropriate attention,”” he said. “”We had trouble getting what we considered good advice from our vendors, who always had one foot in the sales camp and one foot in the service camp.””

Kathy Graham-McTavish, Schooley Mitchell’s president, said many Canadian enterprises focus on the acquisition of products but not the management of the costs, despite the fact that billing errors are rampant.

“”Unless you have a telecom department — and they’re often working on big strategic stuff, like new call centre technology — they bounce responsibilities around to various people who don’t have the time or expertise,”” she said.

Graham-McTavish uses the hypothetical example of a company that rents all its lines from Bell at a rate of six cents a minute. If that organization adds to its offices, the costs could be added to a brand-new invoice. “”That invoice won’t be priced correctly because they don’t go into database and see that they have them somewhere else,”” she said.

In the CNIB’s case, Graham-McTavish managed to bring Bell’s price on some of the temporary facility’s core components down by about 45 per cent after learning she could outsource one of the necessary switches from an alternate vendor.

Lilico said he has relied on Schooley-Mitchell to gently remind the CNIB of the ongoing obligations to review its telecom costs. “”Bills are extremely complex to manage. Tying all your needs back into an agreement becomes in itself a job,”” he said.

Graham-McTavish said that when Schooley-Mitchell started six years ago it faced a lot of objections from customers who claimed they knew what they were doing. Then they learned they were paying 20 cents a minute for their long distance bills. “”Now you speak to them and they’ve tidied up all these deals with Sprint. They’re under-resourced, no time, and didn’t have a handle on their costs,”” she said.

Lillico estimated that the use of a telecom consultant has saved the CNIB more than $100,000 a year.


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