Verizon Wireless rolls out data monitoring widget for mobile users

CIO says customer-focus is basis of IT innovations

Verizon Wireless CIO Ajay Waghray ORLANDO -- IT innovations at Verizon Wireless have been put to work behind recent online customer account management systems and upgrades to Verizon store kiosks, said Ajay Waghray, CIO at Verizon Wireless.

In an interview at the International CTIA Wireless conference here, Waghray said his 3,000-person IT team also helped streamline pre-orders for the iPhone 4, which Verizon first put on sale in February, when a record number of orders were taken in the first two hours. That operation and in-store sales later required creating open interfaces for phone orders (and eventual activation) across thousands of Apple, Best Buy and Verizon stores, he noted.

"The iPhone launch was a big deal for us, and we wanted to make sure customers had a great experience, "Waghray said. "We were extremely pleased with what we did there, and it makes you feel good for all the preparation involved."

Verizon IT also recently developed a patent-pending data usage widget for customers who register on My Verizon Mobile. The widget, which gives users a count of their monthly data usage, works only on BlackBerry and Android smartphones, with other mobile operating systems coming later.

Verizon has held off setting an upper cap on data plans for smartphones such as the new HTC ThunderBolt, which has an unlimited monthly data plan of $29.99, but the monitoring tool still can be valuable for a lower-cost smartphone data tier or for tablets which have four different data service tiers.

In a brief demonstration of usage tools on an iPad, Waghray showed a chart depicting in green when usage is less than 75 per cent of a monthly allotment, yellow when it reaches 75 per cent to 90 per cent and red above 90 per cent.

Federal regulators and industry groups have urged wireless carriers to offer customers easy ways to monitor their data usage, which can increase dramatically with online video and media files.

Waghray said other IT innovations include a backup assistant tool that helps a user load a contact list from an older phone into a Verizon cloud where it can be downloaded easily into a new phone. That approach could eventually be expanded to an entire cloud-based storage system for all the text and media files kept on a phone, although Verizon has no specific plans for such a system, Waghray said.

"That's something being worked through at Verizon," he said.

Verizon retail stores have added new kiosks that include touchscreen displays where customers can manage their accounts and devices. "We've focused on customer interests, asking what are the top transactions they make, and we made those almost one-click that can be used on the Web site as well as at stores," Waghray said. "Part of the purpose is to allow a customer engagement and detangle store reps from busy work so they can focus on the customer."

Waghray, who has been in IT for 20 years, has led the IT organization at Verizon since its inception in 2000. "It's been fun at Verizon and we have an extreme amount of collaboration across the company, which has been our theme," Waghray said. "IT is a competitive differentiation for the company and adds value at all levels, from sales to self-service to customer engagement, which is anything and everything. If something doesn't help the customer, we won't do it."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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