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The Sun's Shining On Verizon Wireless

As they change, companies call on IT to curtail costs
InformationWeek 500 - TelecommunicationsIn an industry where many companies are buckling under the weight of competitive pressures, falling prices, and customer defections, Verizon Wireless stands tall. The Bedminster, N.J., nationwide wireless-service provider signed up 807,000 new subscribers, an all-time high, in its second quarter of fiscal 2001. Its subscriber base of 28 million-plus outstrips that of any other U.S. wireless carrier.

Pretty good for a company that's hardly 18 months old.

The joint venture between the United Kingdom's Vodafone LLC and Verizon Communications Inc. is an amalgam of AirTouch Communications, Bell Atlantic Mobile, GTE Wireless, and PrimeCo Personal Communications, plus technology assets from Alltel Cellular, Ameritech Cellular, CommNet, and Frontier Cellular. It began operations in April 2000. "Verizon Wireless hit it out of the park with the merger and its positioning since then," says Jeffrey Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst. "It's a true global powerhouse."

While splashy marketing campaigns might draw attention, it takes a strong infrastructure to back up the hype. "They have the sizzle and the meat," Kagan says of Verizon Wireless. "They have the back-end system to be doing it all. Two plus two equals a whole lot more than four here."

Roger Gurnani

Verizon Wireless CIO and VP Roger Gurnani
Yet the math involved was a little more challenging than that: The multitude of wireless and back-office systems that would be thrown together by the complex merger had to be integrated. That task fell to Verizon Wireless CIO and VP Roger Gurnani, who's responsible for all IT divisions, ranging from data operations to customer service to software implementation. Under Gurnani's guidance, many of those systems were melded into, among other things, the infrastructure that supports the company's hugely successful SingleRate service plans.

While the integrations aren't complete yet, Gurnani and his IT staffers have made plenty of headway, cutting the number of major systems from 150 to 80 on the way to an ultimate goal of 25 to 30. Case in point: Gurnani started with eight types of enterprise resource planning systems from the companies that make up Verizon Wireless. Now there's just one. By consolidating financial, procurement, and asset-management systems into a single, complete ERP system, "we expect to see 15% to 20% reduction in overall IT costs," Gurnani says.

Besides ensuring that the company's back-end-technology needs are filled, Gurnani oversees Verizon Wireless' customer-facing IT projects, including its E-commerce efforts. With the Verizon Wireless Web site, customers can purchase wireless products and services, pay their bills, and analyze their service usage. Gurnani is also responsible for the technology behind the company's retail initiatives, such as its joint ventures with RadioShack and the establishment of Verizon stores. "We've seen excellent results with our program that continue to amaze me," Gurnani says of the company's sales and customer-care achievements.

Those excellent results owe a debt to the integrated point-of-sale system shared by various Verizon Wireless distribution channels, such as resellers, retail stores, direct sales, and E-commerce. "With our Web-enabled point-of-sale system, it's easy for our sales employees, customer-service agents, and resellers to access the system and have immediate access to customer data," Gurnani says. "It reduces costs and improves customer service."

Therein may lie the key, because there's no such thing as too much attention to customer service in the wireless industry. "Wireless companies need to focus on the customer experience-making sure the problem is fixed quickly-because customers remember," Kagan says. "Verizon Wireless is doing a good job. Its biggest challenge is keeping it up."