There are ways of monitoring employee use of mobile phones.
Mobile phones are useful business tools and are now very cheap to buy. But they are still expensive to use. How can companies keep reasonable control over the cost of calls to and from employees 'out in the field'?
The most obvious answer is to restrict mobile phone use. Ian Renwick, a consultant at Telecoms Solutions UK, sees a more constructive solution.
For many companies, he says, 'the biggest spend as far as the mobile phone is concerned is dialling the office.' But it is not necessarily desirable to stop sales staff, for example, from phoning back to base. 'By giving employees with certain types of mobile phone access to an 0800 or 0500 number, that core cost of mobile telephony can drop sharply.' Renwick admits that only two of the four major network providers in the UK (Orange and One-2-One) offer free access to these numbers. But about a million people do use these two providers, so there is 'lots of potential for businesses to make savings from calls back to the office'.
The cost issue is difficult for the business customer to get on top of, admits Kevin Taylor, marketing manager in the corporate business department of another of the network providers, Vodafone. 'Businesses want simplicity, but the situation is extremely complex. Three years ago there were two networks and one tariff and life was easier for everybody - if only because it was "Take it or leave it". Now there are more networks and the variety of tariffs is much broader. There are many users in any company who would be better off on a tariff other than the one they are currently on.'
Taylor naturally trumpets his own company's price competitiveness, but is quick to add that the issues for customers go beyond the amount at the bottom of the phone bill. Effective monitoring is essential if a company is even to begin to work out how to rein in costs. How, for example, do you spot a salesman's multiple peak rate calls to his girlfriend visiting Venezuela? This is not as easy as it sounds - a theme taken up by with gusto by Noel Scanlon, director of competition policy at the Telephone Users Association.
'Sorting out billing difficulties are the hidden cost for the corporate customer,' says Scanlon. 'It's easy for the company communications manager to end up with three tonnes of paper on his desk.' If he or she succeeds in wading through all the paper, and then wants to make an enquiry, the response might not be quite what was hoped. 'It's surprising how many people will offer a good deal and then discover they can't handle the corporate customer. When you're running a 24-hour operation the last thing you want is to find that you can only contact the provider for billing enquiries between 9.30 and 10.30 on a Friday.'
As Taylor points out, network providers can have problems too, if they fail to listen closely to their customers, especially the larger ones.
'The customer may say: "Please sort this out for me and make sure I'm getting the best deal for each of my users. Make it simpler for me to administer, make me have fewer billing queries, give me less issues to sort out with my staff. Then I can pay your bill."'.