Responsible Wireless Management for Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments
Published by: Peter Dobbs
Every year, government auditors review the activities, spending and management processes used by municipal, provincial and federal governments across Canada.
Transparency in government spending matters. Everyone agrees on the value of the principle.
The true challenge is translating the transparency principle into practical, easy to manage processes. A blueprint is not enough to build a house – the right tools are also needed. You may already have the blueprint – an excellent wireless contract. However, do you have the tools to administer hundreds or thousands of devices? Can you demonstrate that you are getting the most from your wireless service?
The Wireless Telecom Challenge
In contrast to traditional telecom, wireless services pose a major management challenge. Few organizations are equipped to fully manage their wireless assets through their entire lifecycle. For example, manual procedures are commonly used to manage wireless devices. Such a time-consuming approach takes time away from other tasks such as asking better questions like: “are we making the best use of our wireless assets?”. If your division has a major efficiency gap in wireless governance, then it is a matter of time before difficult auditor questions appear.
Are You Ready for The Auditor?
Every year, government auditors review the activities, spending and management processes used by municipal, provincial and federal governments across Canada. Elected officials, the media, and the public rely on these reports for insight on the how well public funds and responsibilities are managed. How can you equip your division for audit success?
Instead of viewing auditors as a threat or adversary, consider them as a stakeholder in your success. With that viewpoint in mind, you can pre-empt audit failures by seeking to understand their needs. If you anticipate an auditor’s needs in advance, the entire audit process will unfold smoothly. The following audit reports from Ontario and Quebec illustrate the questions and concerns that are top of mind in public sector audits. The principles and processes illustrated in these cases directly apply to wireless telecom.
Lessons From Ontario Hydro’s Value for Money Audit
The Auditor General’s first value for money audit on Ontario Hydro illustrates several ways spending and procurement can veer out of control.
- Inconsistent Credit Card Purchase Governance. The investigation found many cases of purchases made by government credit cards rather than the standard process. Unfortunately, these processes did not follow best practice for review and approval. In addition, there were weak processes to govern and restrict the organization’s credit cards appropriately. As a result, there is an increased likelihood of wasteful or inappropriate spending.
- Ineffective Expense Review. Oversight and expense control processes were circumvented in some cases. For instance, an administrative assistant made purchases for their executive’s use and then the executive approved the purchase for over $50,000. This practice critically undermines a critical expense control process.
- Weak Contract Management and Documentation. Both the auditor general and Hydro One’s internal audit group found missing or inadequate businesses case documentation for single-source procurement and other purchases. This problem may have been prevented if employees were equipped with software and processes that made it easy for them to understand their spending and activity levels.
The Takeaway Message:
Writing off Ontario Hydro’s difficulties to individual mistakes and errors misses the point. Instead, we see these problems as evidence of poor tools and processes. These findings also illustrate some of the questions you can expect an audit team to pose to your division. If your employees are properly equipped with the right tools and process, they will be equipped to answer such audit questions with confidence.
Contract Management Shortcomings in Quebec
Government contracts and procurement continues to be a hot topic in Quebec. Like other governments, Quebec faces challenges with significant debts and deficits. Therefore, improving the efficiency of government purchases and contract management is a key strategy to improve the province’s financial position.
In a recent report of the Auditor General, several recommendations were made concerning contract management and governance. In a special report on the Ministère des Transports, de la Mobilité durable et de l'Électrification des transports, the Auditor General found multiple contract governance problems including:
- Lack of expertise. The report found that lack of expertise in contact management processes held the organization back from success.
- Lack of monitoring. The Ministry has inconsistent contract management processes.
- The Need For Improved Management Information. The auditor recommends that management obtain regular information on its contracts. Without this consistent stream of reporting, how can managers know if contracts are properly monitored?
What was Learned:
Quebec’s auditors point out a fundamental truth – contract management is not a “side of the desk” activity. For management to carry out its responsibilities effectively, expertise and monitoring processes are required. In our view, the fastest way to achieve those goals in the context of wireless is by using specialized software that provides wireless operations management.
Three Reasons Why Wireless Operations Management Matters to The Public
Wireless activities are important to govern and control for three reasons. First, reducing wireless expenses represent an “easy win” if you have the right process and technology – organizations that use a wireless operations management system often see significant improvements in a matter of months. Second, wireless expenses are easy for the public and media to understand and criticize, so it pays to be proactive in this area. Third and most importantly, government credibility and trust are at stake – failure to enforce policies, regulations, and procedures prompt uncomfortable questions about government ethics.
How To Improve Public Sector Wireless Operations Management:
The following steps will put your division on the path toward improved wireless governance.
1. Improve Financial Transparency
Improved information and reporting is the first step to cost reduction. Many organizations attempt to use existing financial reporting and control activities to understand their wireless spend. Unfortunately, these methods usually lack the sophistication required to obtain and manage information effectively.
Auditors expect to receive any document they need for their work promptly which includes wireless telecom invoices and reports. In a 2014 report on value-for-money audits, the Quebec Auditor General stated the following expectation as a condition to carry out effective audits:
“I must obtain a copy of any document that I deem useful to carry out my engagement without having to justify the reasons for my request and regardless of the period in which the document was produced”
Does your department currently have the ability to supply any and all documents about your wireless services and devices to an auditor on request?
If the answer is no, then you are putting your department at risk for embarrassing audit findings and stressful audits.
2. Optimize Your Wireless Devices Inventory
Every year, people come and go from jobs. Many of those people require wireless devices to carry out their work. In our experience, we see many organizations routinely purchase new devices for each new employee. This expense could be reduced if unassigned devices – those modern and operational devices sitting in drawers gathering dust – were assigned to employees. This practice alone often saves substantial money especially as new smartphones may cost $500 or more.
3. Reduce Employee Time Spent On Wireless Management
If I had a dollar for every disconnected “home brew” Sharepoint, Access, and Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I have seen used to manage wireless... This isn't an effective way of accurately tracking and recording your departments' wireless assets.
If your current wireless management process relies on manual processes like calls to your carrier and tracking data in an Excel file, it is time to do better. Depending on your situation, you may be able to reassign an employee to another activity or free them up to take on other responsibilities.
Equip your staff with the right tools or hope for the best?