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SmartAdvice: Look For Flexibility When Selecting Telecom And Data Carriers

Understand your immediate and near-term needs when choosing a carrier, The Advisory Council says. Also, Six Sigma uses proven techniques to improve quality and isn't just for manufacturing.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to

Question A: What are the best practices when arranging telecom and data contracts?

Our advice: Users select networks based on three criteria--cost, availability, and reliability. The historical reality is that the decision was based primarily on cost. This proved to be viable because the deregulated landscape in the United States spawned enough competition to force most carriers to negotiate and deliver high levels of availability and reliability.

Today, especially for larger enterprises, the situation has changed, primarily for two reasons. First, in the last five to 10 years, the networking industry is experiencing the rapid technological change we've been accustomed to in the computing industry. Second, has been the emergence of the hyper-competitive environment in most industries. To become and remain successful today, an organization must be able to constantly and quickly alter, adjust and change the business (the "agile enterprise"). This dictates that the technical infrastructure has the ability to rapidly change to enable and support the business. Often the network is the slowest and most difficult component to change.

The point is that flexibility is driving more and more networking decisions. To get the best solutions, personnel, and prices from the carrier(s) of choice, make the selection process very competitive. Since ultimately the goal is to get the maximum functionality and the minimum price, and these qualities are in many ways mutually exclusive, we would recommend that you approach this challenge in phases.

Phased Approach: Start With RFI
Although cost will always remain a driving issue, we would recommend that in the first phase you identify which vendors have the flexibility to best fulfill the present and ongoing requirements of the business. Ideally, a request for information (RFI) phase should be initially undertaken which should include five-to-10 vendors (more if the evaluating staff has the bandwidth) to ascertain which carriers offer the flexibility and range of offerings that best meet your needs. Look for flexibility in terms of pricing, technology and technology refresh, service-level agreements, service offerings, managed offerings, geographic coverage, management options, and so on.

The RFI should be brief, and concentrate more on stimulating the vendor's creativity. The requests should be open-ended and encourage the vendor to offer the "best," most leading-edge solution as well as the most cost-effective solution.

An essential prerequisite to the entire task of selecting a carrier(s) is that the enterprise understands what it has today and what the business will require in the near and, if possible, midterm future. The more accurately an enterprise can specify its current situation (inventory, traffic patterns, personnel, applications, etc.) and its future business requirements, the better the vendor response. The better a carrier understands your business, your present and future network requirements, the better it can make and cost-justify newer, more innovative, profit-stimulating solutions.

--Jeremy Frank

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