Lesson 5

By Dennis Mendyk  |  Posted 2003-09-10 Print this article Print

The telecom company's cables were crushed and submerged in water after 7 World Trade Center crashed.

: Life Goes On">

Lesson 5: Life Goes On

As devastating as the attacks were, Verizon couldn't just put its strategic operations on hold. The company is under pressure to improve performance in its basic wired telephone business.

While fires still burned, Verizon took the wraps off a project it hopes will cut operating costs in a key operation: its call centers. Instead of talking to live operators, customers are being directed to the Web to handle routine service questions, such as whether payments have been received.

The charge for creating such "e-services" fell primarily to Verizon's technology department in Dallas, run at the time by Shaygan Kheradpir, now Verizon's chief information officer. In summer 2000, the team, led by Fari Ebrahimi, started mapping out a platform that would consolidate close to 100 different billing, provisioning and other back-office systems.

The team built the platform on Internet communication protocols. For every incompatible existing computer system, Verizon's team created an Internet overlay.

The main goal of the "Verizon.com Project" was what Ebrahimi calls a "no-touch" transaction. The customer gains secure access to the Verizon Web site to request new or repair service. Data from that transaction gets placed in an Internet Protocol (IP) "envelope" that then gets routed to every relevant application, such as ordering or billing—without human intervention.

Ebrahimi says the no-touch goal isn't always met. But Verizon has plenty of reason to be optimistic. Verizon claims about 10% of its customers now use the Web site to pay bills, and Ebrahimi expects that mark to reach 30% or more by 2005.

Electronic bill payment is a huge money-saver for Verizon. Paper bills can cost anywhere from $2 to $3 to distribute and process.

Savings add up when customer inquiries are handled by the Web, too. A phone call to a human service rep costs Verizon from $5 to $10, while the cost of processing an online transaction is under $1, according to Ebrahimi.

Most importantly, perhaps, the more customer services that can be handled over the Web, the more dispersed Verizon's computer systems and network facilities can be.

That kind of distribution should further improve Verizon's ability to recover if catastrophe strikes again.


Dennis Mendyk comes to The Net Economy from Interactive Week, where he served as Telecommunications Editor since July 1998. He was a founding editor of tele.com and has covered the communications and computing industries as an editor and writer since 1984. Mendyk is a past recipient of the Jesse H. Neal Award for editorial excellence.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from New York University and a Master of Arts degree in History from the University of Connecticut.


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