Infrastructure
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9/18/2003
02:32 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt
Features
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Telecommunications: Technology Drives Telecom Comeback

Still reeling, sector builds self-help Web sites and consolidates systems

Maybe the best thing that can be said about the last 12 months in telecommunications is that at least it wasn't 2002. In last year's InformationWeek 500, we called that period "the industry's annus horribilis"--a time marred by fraud, bankruptcy, plummeting revenues, and the sharpest drop in spending in decades.

But time passes. Companies that took monumental hits in 2002, including Global Crossing, Lucent Technologies, and WorldCom, live on. Some even are proving still to be smart and innovative. Revenue is slowly climbing, with a few vendors breaking into the black, because of strong growth in wireless. And phone companies, hardware vendors, and Internet service providers alike are using technology to lower costs, improve service, and become more efficient.

"Over the past year, the disaster of WorldCom, and the bankruptcies, and all those other things have begun to ebb, and that's allowing us to focus on our key priorities," says Fran Dramis, chief information E-commerce and security officer at BellSouth Corp. "Growth is our key issue now. We're continuing to focus in terms of IT and how we can make our business work well."

Things may be starting to look a little better, but it's still tough out there. Bankruptcies and closures have left the market tighter and more competitive than ever. In that environment, many companies are focusing on technology to improve customer experiences.

"We've done a lot of work in the customer-care area," says Roger Gurnani, VP and CIO of Verizon Wireless. The company's IT department recently finished building a Web-based management platform that lets it more easily integrate services and content from partners, sell customized services based on the specific device a consumer owns, and display help-desk and support information from multiple sources on a single screen.

As a result, Gurnani says, Verizon Wireless is able to build useful, comprehensive support sites for its customers. Presumably, that means happier customers who buy more services--and lower costs for the company. And since the system is made of modular, reusable Web services, it can readily be upgraded to support new products and services, allowing Verizon Wireless to bring products to market in a matter of days, Gurnani says.

"It's all in the spirit of improving the level of service as well as improving efficiency," he says.

"As we provide more and more self-service capabilities on the Web, customers have instantaneous gratification, so more and more customers are choosing to serve themselves. That's a good thing, because then the resources can be used to take care of other matters."


Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of Cingular Wireless

The success of an IT project depends on keeping team members a part of the larger corporate culture, says Gurnani, VP and CIO at Verizon Wireless.

Photo by Rachelle Mozman
That opinion is shared by Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of Cingular Wireless. "What's becoming paramount here is the customer's desire for simplicity," he says. "We're starting to see a focus in the company on making the product more simple and using IT to enhance the customer experience."

Cingular spent the last year building up customer service in numerous ways: A self-help Web site lets users see and pay bills as well as change the features of their service without ever directly contacting the company. Extended functionality of voice-response systems on toll-free lines draws from the company's business-intelligence software to predict what customers might be calling about and customize their experiences appropriately.

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