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March - 2010 - issue > CIO Profile
It is All about Adding Value to Customers
Vimali Swamy
Thursday, March 25, 2010
'Value to customer' is the mantra Ajay Waghray swears by everyday in his work. And why not, as the CIO of Verizon Wireless, his primary job is to focus on the prime technology that will help solve customer problems and add value to their everyday operations. “I always believe that it is a tripod that one has to balance. If you have the three legs of the tripod - customers, employees, and shareholders - balanced, you are in the right path,” says Waghray.

‘Customer’ - the Magic Word

For him, it is all about creating ‘customer centric innovation’ that improves the quality of experience and products for the customers and productivity for the employees. That is exactly what he is trying to create in Verizon Wireless today. Be it the fourth generation technology for LCD TV that it is developing and testing in two markets with Vodafone to enable high definition viewing of games and videos; improving the network that leverages the user experience while accessing the Internet over smart devices like PDA; making systems that are smarter and personalized to the individual channel and customers by integrating business intelligence to the current technology revolutions; or just helping customers access and maintain all the data that is available today, Waghray is striving to ensure that Verizon is out there leading the next wave of innovation for its customers and revolutionizing the industry.

And to achieve this, the company has begun to embrace open source applications and devices that can be quickly integrated into its operating environments and be consumed by the customers in a machine-to-machine open world. The recently launched developer’s community and the joint innovation lab with China Mobile, Vodafone, and other partners to create Web widgets and machine-to-machine applications are among its steps towards realizing this.

“Today, Verizon is penetrating in new verticals such as healthcare and utility industries. Anything from e-readers to utility devices that measure the oil levels in turbines to diagnostic instruments in hospitals, we want to innovate things that can be integrated into the ecosystem again so that they cater to our customers within and also their end customers. For example, a utility company should be able to use Verizon’s products not only for its customers but also within its own organization for the benefit of the employees,” Waghray says. It is a case of B2B2C and B2B2E kind of ecosystem that he wants Verizon to create and support.

Technology with a Value

Though a technologist at heart, Waghray believes that technology just for the sake of technology is meaningless. "Technology presents constant opportunities to enable new products and services, simplify business operations, and enhance the customer's experience", Waghray elucidates. What irks him is to see organizations jumping up to buy the latest gadget or gizmo in the market without measuring the value it will add within or among their customers. “What I don’t understand is if an existing technology can continue to solve the end customer problems effectively, why go for a new one and increase customer costs unnecessarily,” he wonders. Keep the costs minimum and you have a happy customer and a thriving business, he adds.

This reminds him one of the incidents during the early days of formation of Verizon Wireless in 2000. He joined the company when it was still Bell Atlantic Mobile. The company was then using about 17 different systems just for billing, and several others for the different operational requirements like WAN, LAN, desktop, datacenters, call centers, help desks, and others. The large number of systems resulted in an increase in the margin of errors, thereby causing inefficiency. Thus, the challenge was to reduce the number of systems and increase efficiency and productivity.

The business benefit associated with a single system serving millions of subscribers is amazing, he says. “You can roll out products and services much quicker. As you optimize consolidation, it makes fault tolerance and high availability easier, too. And it allows for easy and consistent customer experience because regardless of how a customer contacts the company ? via a cell phone, online, or in person ? the same back-end computer system services all requests,” he says.

In 2005, Waghray and team succeeded in consolidating all the systems and processes and bringing the number of billing systems down to one and the other 100 plus systems for other operations down to 25-30 systems. In 2008, the company had only two different systems that took care of all the requirements, which too he again pushed and reduced to just one.

Waghray has been instrumental in leading efforts to bring in-house an outsourced billing system, which saved the company more than $30 million annually. Experiences in billing, sales, and architecture and database structure speak about his versatility and knowledge of business and IT; and under his direction new technologies to improve system performance and reliability have come online. As a CIO it is important to develop a framework that helps balance the ‘tripod’ Waghray talks about and he has more or less achieved it.

Mantra for Success

A CIO of one of the largest wireless companies with as many as three Vice Presidents reporting to him, there are many a thing about leadership and success that one can learn from Waghray. “Understand the customers,” he says, “One can be adept at developing breakthrough technology but if you cannot speak your customer’s language, it is of no use.” This is the lesson he learnt early in his career and which drove him to do an MBA. His three-point mantra for success consists of:

* Never stop learning: Keep your mind open to learn from anyone and anywhere. It is not just enough to surround oneself with people who compliment lavish praises upon you, but rather work together like a fist that has five fingers of different sizes.

* Always do today’s job first: Instead of concentrating on what needs to be done tomorrow, strive to complete today’s job within today. As it is this that will affect your performance tomorrow.

* Execution: Success is one percent vision and 99 percent execution.

But mostly he believes in having a passion for one’s work and drawing fun and enjoyment from what one does.

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