Some two decades ago, Advantage Communications Group was launched as a telecom agent, with its founders David Gardner and Steve Rome looking to help SMBs procure their telecom circuits. While the company still helps its client base procure technology services, Advantage has come a long way since then, driven by its founders’ desires to consistently add more value to the services Advantage delivers.
Today, Advantage helps more than 1,300 businesses navigate an increasingly complex IT landscape through partnerships with 250+ service providers globally – from the Verizons to the Zooms to the Masergys of the world, and many more. Its provider partners encompass a broad range of IT services and, while connectivity (including newer services like SD-WAN and SASE) remains a core competency, Advantage also includes UCaaS, CCaaS, POTS replacement, cloud, security, and more in its portfolio.
In the two decades since Advantage was founded, the business tech landscape has changed dramatically and the services companies consume are more diverse than ever. Advantage COO Diane Miller sees the company’s expansive partner ecosystem as a value-add. The depth of its portfolio enables Advantage to match any client’s needs to the service providers best equipped to deliver on them. Those partners include not only globally recognized brands, but many local and regional providers, which gives Advantage the ability to present a variety of options to clients across the globe.
Effectively, Advantage can source the full range of services needed to run a successful business today. As businesses continue to embrace cloud-first strategies and evolve their workforce models, their IT requirements change – and become more complex. Many of the technologies needed to support today’s work models and digital transformation projects are already part of the Advantage portfolio, but it continues to expand its partnerships to further cement itself as a one-stop-shop for IT services.
“Remote workforces are so much more prevalent today and all of the services that enable them have put us in very high growth mode,” said Miller. “That is allowing us to explore even more new services to add to our portfolio, and to help our customers enhance their work environments.”
It’s not just about procurement, though. While some of the services Advantage provides might be considered part of a traditional TEM offering, its end-to-end capabilities bring much more to the table. From project design to sourcing and procurement, as well as inventory and expense management, and trouble ticket support, Advantage has become a full-service technology management partner to its clients. It bridges the gap between businesses and vendors, simplifying procurement, inventory, billing and other processes.
Advantage has also developed a software platform – Command Center – through which clients are able to log into their accounts and see any of the services they have procured through Advantage, with full visibility into those services built on data analytics. The idea was to create a full lifecycle and expense management platform with single-pane-of-glass visibility to help eliminate the silos that exist within organizations that can lead to accounting errors and unpaid invoices.
“Enterprises have multiple stakeholders with different needs and roles within their operational structures,” explained Miller. “With Advantage, they can come to a single system for all those needs, giving them a level of visibility and transparency they won’t get with other solutions.”
That visibility allows Advantage to processes clients’ invoices against their inventory to audit billing accuracy. Because Command Center provides insight into a client’s entire inventory, invoicing, and usage history, Advantage can also look for opportunities to consolidate services (and invoices) or get better rates as contracts expire or come up for renewal.
“Other solutions don’t include upfront procurement and sourcing; they don’t have access to the buying cycle or visibility into what orders clients are placing,” said Miller. “Without that detail, it’s very difficult to do the end-to-end lifecycle management like Advantage does. They simply don’t have all the pieces.”
Because of the visibility into its clients’ services, Advantage can easily reconcile invoices and send alerts when something seems amiss. That said, Advantage doesn’t simply alert its clients and leave them to resolve their own discrepancies. Rather, part of its service includes investigating anomalies to determine cause, resolve issues, and ensure all records and invoices remain accurate.
Recently, Advantage added even more to its full-service offering by adding a Bill Pay feature, which takes another – and often significant – workload off clients’ plates. Advantage still does the same upfront work to reconcile invoices as it always has, of course. But, now, instead of clients having to execute checks for payment to each provider, Advantage leverages a payment engine to disburse payments on clients’ behalf. All a client needs to do is make one – or a few – lump sum payments each month, instead of hundreds or even thousands of individual payments.
Payment information is then delivered into Command Center and loaded into the client portal, where each client can see exactly what has been paid and when – all without having to make those time-consuming and error-prone individual payments to each provider. Clients also receive a file with all transaction information, so they are able to maintain accurate general ledgers and accounting systems. The Bill Pay feature also eliminates missed payments, which can occur far too frequently amid the chaos of managing each monthly invoice manually.
“We have removed a massive amount of work from accounts payable teams,” Miller says. “That is a significant benefit, and it’s the piece we were missing. We are able to take all the chaos that comes with multiple stakeholders and service providers and give our clients a single resource for all their technology procurement, management, and payment needs.”
The comprehensive solution allows clients to better understand what services they are paying for, and what services they are actually using. They are able to better evaluate their spend and, with help from Advantage, reduce their expenses in the process. Advantage’s Senior Director of Marketing Samantha Osowski explained that, for today’s data-driven world, the Advantage platform creates actionable intelligence from a mass of raw data, allowing companies to better understand and allocate their technology budgets.
But, driven by a need to always deliver more, Advantage isn’t stopping there. It is now looking to white-label Command Center to other vendors, who can leverage it to provide the same kind of insight to customers who have a large number of assets and providers to manage.
For instance, Advantage recently partnered with cloud-enabled networking provider Extreme Networks (News - Alert). Extreme understands the value of data and visibility – its ExtremeCloud IQ network management platform delivers actionable insight on network performance and usage to its customers. With Command Center, those same customers will gain full visibility into their connectivity inventory – including Extreme SD-WAN and services from other providers, giving them the same benefits, including simplified vendor management, that all Advantage customers enjoy.
From its start as a telecom agent, Advantage Communications has built a business that removes hassles and much of the arduous, repetitive work typically part of service provider relationships. Businesses get the services they need for operational success, and their team members can focus on other aspects of their jobs, all while Advantage takes care of the service management.