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Verizon Slims Down, Saves a Bundle

"Less is more" is the IT philosophy in operation at Verizon Wireless. In fact, the telecommunications company's 2008 Premier 100 Best in Class project was a study in the benefits of slimming down. By consolidating 13 billing systems into a single enterprise system, the company is now saving $20 million annually.

But according to Ajay Waghray, a 2008 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader honoree and CIO at the $44 billion Basking Ridge, N.J., company, neither data nor systems integration proved to be the biggest challenge in the project. Instead, it was innovating and optimizing the hundreds of business processes that the various systems automated.

"Billing systems are the keepers of all the customer data and rules of engagement. To simplify the customer experience, you've got to simplify what you're servicing," Waghray says.

The first step was assembling a cross-functional team whose members represented every step in a customer's experience, from marketing and sales to network operations, store operations and support. The deadline was tight: 18 months to standardize and implement a single set of business processes that would ultimately make it possible to ensure that every customer who walked into one of the company's 2,400 stores would walk out with an activated, ready-to-use wireless phone.

Next came the long, hard work of deciding which processes should be retained to best serve the company's 69 million subscribers.

"We had multiple variations of multiple practices and policies. We had different systems, which spawned different approaches to business problems," recalls John Bianchi, director of customer service and a member of the original cross-functional team. "What we did is roll up our sleeves and plow through all of these customer interactions. We looked for the simplest and most efficient processes and then asked IT to automate those processes."

"The whole thinking was that less is more," Waghray emphasizes. "That means fewer applications to manage, fewer rules of engagement, fewer touch points for customers."

Pulling In the Data

Once the processes were decided, data elements from the old billing systems needed to be imported into the new system. This meant that each and every data element in a customer's file had to be mapped into the new enterprise system in a standardized way. To do that, Waghray says, the IT team adopted a standard format for importing data from the 13 different systems into the new in-house billing system, which runs on a combination of distributed and mainframe platforms.

Today, this single billing system is the primary repository for all customer, pricing and service package data -- a setup that works to create consistency across all of the company's service areas.

"For example, we have both business and consumer customers that have a need for accounts in multiple geographies. Before, they had separate accounts," Bianchi explains. "Now, if a customer in California wants to add a parent in Florida to his account, we can do that very simply and straightforwardly. It's the same with a business that may need to change accounts for people as they are moved around the country. We're hitting the sweet spot of what customers are asking for, which is for us to be simple to do business with."

Verizon Wireless is more than likely saving its customers time and money as well, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Phillip Redman.

Every carrier that goes through mergers and acquisitions gets stuck with several types of billing systems spread across the country, Redman says. This leaves bills in multiple formats and creates room for error. Indeed, Gartner estimates that approximately 10 percent of carriers' bills have errors, many caused by inconsistent systems. This is difficult to monitor, so corporate customers waste a lot of time and money finding and reporting errors.

According to Redman, "Eliminating the chance for errors by consolidating billing systems improves accuracy, creates higher customer satisfaction and actually reduces costs both for the enterprise and the carrier, which has fewer systems to maintain."

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