Some 85% of IT execs surveyed by Nemertes Research said that telecom best practices is one of the top four priorities for this year. In that spirit, here is a set of New Year's resolutions to get you off on the right foot:Let's face it, 2002 was a tough year. Between\u00a0telecom bankruptcies\u00a0and budget freezes, telecom managers faced some of the biggest challenges of their careers.And telecom continues to be a top focus: 85% of IT execs surveyed by Nemertes Research said that telecom best practices is one of the top four priorities for this year. In that spirit, here is a set of New Year's resolutions to get you off on the right foot:Issue requests for proposal. Yes, it's a hassle collecting all the information about telecom usage and composing the RFP with detailed service-level agreements (SLA). But the exercise is worth the effort. Creating an RFP forces managers to take a close look at telecom and networking historical data, trends and future projections - which provides invaluable insight for strategic decisions downstream.Approach fledgling and established carriers. I'm not recommending that you bet the company on a provider nobody's ever heard of, but small telephone companies might provide more advanced features, lower cost and superior customer service - at no increased risk. Keep in mind that there's no guarantee that even established telephone companies will continue to be around - and it's a virtual certainty that neither their technology nor customer service is about to improve dramatically until the market opens up. Start-ups might play a useful role as back-up providers or serving noncritical business locations.Keep negotiating. Never take a service provider's first offer. You might be more interested in service enhancements than price reductions (particularly these days), but regardless of your goals the deal always gets sweeter as time goes on.Remember the "out" clause. Even if you've negotiated the perfect deal, enforcing it can be another matter. By including an out clause in your contract, you gain leverage. Some clients have included a clause that lets them depart without penalty if the service provider files for bankruptcy. For others, it's consistently missing SLAs that would trigger the clause. Whatever your top issues, ensure that you're free to walk if the carrier's not addressing them.Make accurate bills the carrier's responsibility. Many large organizations pay one or more people to do nothing more than audit phone bills. Why should you assume that cost? Accurate billing is the service provider's responsibility. Some clients successfully have included the contract clause that "payment is due on receipt of an accurate bill" - forcing service providers to step up to the plate and fix inaccuracies.Be nice. Service providers are people, too. It's not the account representative's fault that the CEO's a crook or the senior vice president cooked the books. And the technical folks, more likely than not, are just trying to do their jobs (like technical folks in most organizations). That doesn't mean you should put up with shoddy service, but it does mean keeping in mind that the humans providing it are, well, human.Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous 2003 to all.