Telecommunications: Technology Drives Telecom Comeback - InformationWeek

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

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

Cingular also built a Web-based point-of-sale system that combines every bit of information and all the tools a sales agent might need: credit checks, unit activation, product information, and so on. In the past, a customer would have to wait in the store while agents made multiple phone calls, sent faxes, and contacted overloaded credit bureaus. It might take an hour or two for the phone to be up and running. But thanks to the new system, customers get a faster, more satisfying retail experience.

And the great thing about these tools, Arroyo says, is that while the platform was new, all it did was draw together systems that already existed and worked across the enterprise. "The innovation is the extension of tools that have historically stayed within our walls," he says.

More businesses are learning that more-efficient customer service means not only happier customers but an improved bottom line. "If you put more information into the customer's hands, they're not only going to be more satisfied, they're going to do a lot more themselves," says Dan Wagner, CIO of Global Crossing. The more capabilities you give customers, the less attention you have to pay, and that means cost savings.

A year and a half ago, Global Crossing came under fire following accusations of fraudulent accounting and entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But the company has rebuilt itself using IT. "This year has been about transforming into a completely different organization," Wagner says. "We've come a long way from a company that's produced a lot of negative press to one that's growing again."

Key to that rebirth has been massive cost cutting through improved service. Over the last year, Global Crossing has built up and enhanced uCommand, an internally developed strategic delivery platform that gives customers the ability to manage their accounts. The platform integrates systems from across the company, including trouble management, billing, and ordering. Today, uCommand receives more than 2 million hits per month; in some parts of the business, it accounts for 80% of service orders.

A side effect of the new platform is that it lets Global Crossing consolidate many of its servers and applications, replacing legacy systems that have been around for ages. "A lot of our systems and operating capabilities have grown over years and years," Wagner says.

But when Global Crossing set out to build the uCommand platform, it was forced to tame some of those legacy beasts, a task that Wagner says too many of his colleagues have yet to address. "It's a really important issue," he says. "Telecom was one of the first industries to embrace technology, but it may be one of the last to address the legacy problem."

Consolidation has been a huge issue for Cingular Wireless, which was formed as a result of the merger of 11 brands. During the last year, CIO Arroyo oversaw the conclusion of a massive rationalization effort, resulting in the consolidation of more than 1,400 applications into fewer than 300. Cingular consolidated locations as well, collapsing its customer-care environment from 60 contact centers to 22 in the last 18 months.

"Over the past few decades or so, we have created a lot of complexity," says Hossein Eslambolchi, CIO and chief technology officer at AT&T. "For a lot of CIOs, it's leading to what I call the migrate headaches. We have to eliminate a lot of legacy systems. When you keep buying product after product because vendors keep pushing equipment, you're creating a data-quality problem that causes you to have a lot of inefficiency and a lot of worries."

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