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Benchmarks for your telecomm operation.

Benchmark: A standard by which something can be measured and judged, says the American Heritage Dictionary & Electronic Thesaurus.

While telecommunications has led the way in creating a vocabulary in the past few years, management is running a close second.

Benchmarking is a series of ongoing processes for measuring and comparing the work processes of one organization (or one department within the organization) to those of another. The measurement can be either internal or external. While internal benchmarking can provide data on the current operation, external benchmarking helps the manager assess the differences between their operations and the external one(s) as to effectiveness. efficiency, cost and performance.

For example, to discover how the number of resources used in your operation to perform a specific task compares to the "best-in-class," you need to match data from external sources to your internal data. This is especially valuable if the external source has been targeted carefully as to similar size and complexity. Ask:

* How well are we doing as compared with our peer organizations?

* Who is doing it best and how do they do it?

* Can we adapt their operation to fit ours?

* Can we be better than the best and what will it take?

Benchmarking is not done in isolation, but must always be a part of the objectives and goals of the telecomm department and of the overall organization. While benchmark data is not a prescription for cure, it can be a powerful diagnostic tool for identifying the problem as well as providing the internal team a starting point for discussion. We recently underwent an analysis of and comparison to data from several of our peer institutions.

Several areas were targeted. Our objective was to improve our performance in each.

Customer services--Our target was to find out the median time required to complete a telecomm work order. This is an area where a telecomm department can make great strides toward improvement through planning efforts. The analysis of how our peer institutions were doing in performing MACs (moves/adds/changes) led us to rethink our processes. As a result, we were able to reduce our average MAC times from one week to two days.

The major difference is our new proactive approach. The first step was to become involved with our fellow service areas responsible for planning and performing the physical office/staff relocations. Generally, we learned about the relocations when the office occupants moved in and discovered they didn't have telephone service, which always ended up in our reacting to a crisis.

We started attending the planning meetings and making our customers aware of the need to keep our department in the loop from the start. Although this effort was successful, it still had a few cracks where things fell through. This led to customer interviews, newsletter articles and customer visits 'in an attempt to close the information gaps.

When we were "spinning our wheels" reacting to one crisis after another, pulling installers off one job to take care of a crisis situation, we were not making efficient use of their time. Through improved scheduling efforts for MAC work, the new performance standard was met and is being maintained without adding technicians.

Mean time to repair (MTTR)--Be sure to measure both peak and off-peak hours. Although we are proud of our 24-hour operation, we found a serious gap in our maintenance service. There are several critical operations on every university campus where 24-hour maintenance service is necessary (power plants, police, health clinic). Our repair and installation work is outsourced to the local telco. This arrangement allowed us to negotiate for emergency services as required and since they have technicians on duty around-the-clock. it was easier than it would have been if we had our own in-house technicians.

We have a large residential student population and although we don't consider their phone repair an emergency, it is important to them and to us. Students use the phone during the evening hours and on weekends, and if their telephone doesn't work, they don't like waiting until the next day to have it repaired. It was a simple process to extend our maintenance hours for the residence halls so we could respond to our customers' needs.

Calls to service desk and average time in agent's queue--It was heart-warming to discover we were "best-in-class" in this category. It did a lot for employee morale.

Percentage of customer surveys returned--An important benchmark. If the survey is short and to the point, and easy to understand, it will usually be filled out and returned. Our customer service survey form is a part of our automated work order process. A survey form is automatically sent to our customers upon completion of a work order.

The number and frequency of surveys are determined by a pre-defined percentage of work orders. We ask: Was the work performed to your satisfaction and was it what you requested? Did our estimate of costs match closely your final cost? Were the installers courteous? Did we meet our stated schedule?

Voice switches--We wanted to determine our technology status and its effectiveness in serving customer needs. How cost-effective is the voice service? Comparison in cost categories is more difficult since there is such a wide variance in costs across the country. However, you can get a good idea of cost performances by adjusting for variances and arriving at a telecomm cost per business unit, percentage of sales, per faculty member, or some other relevant data.

The important thing to remember is the costs must be measured against a nonchanging yardstick as much as possible.

Networks--How often are network services not available to customers? Also, measure the number of outages and their duration. Are total network costs competitive? Can existing networks route the traffic effectively and efficiently? Are the networks current with technology and is there a plan, with appropriate budget, to make required changes and enhancements?

End users expect consistent, high-quality services regardless of the problems created by installation of a new router or new circuit. Response time can be especially important to the users, so it is an important measure to the network manager. LANs and distributed data processing have increased the workload of network managers and--at the same time--management is looking at staff reductions.

Measuring number of users supported, volume of data traffic and complexity of networks against staffing levels can help defend the operation against staff reductions. Remember, just because you measure something doesn't necessarily mean you are managing it.

Long distance--How does your cost per minute compare with others? How easy is your long-distance service to use? Do you have adequate lines? This category is easy to measure.

Effective and efficient management is doing the right things in the right way, advice that is as true now as when it was first stated by management guru Peter Drucker. Successful benchmarking includes choosing the right basis for comparison, measuring the right things correctly and using the data to improve performance.

Benchmarking must be viewed as a launching point from which an organization or a department within the organization can begin a thoughtful, targeted improvement of their basic operation.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Michalecki, Ruth A.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Words:1187
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