The Grill: Verizon's Ajay Waghray tackles a massive project to streamline infrastructure

Stepping into a new role, this IT leader tackled a massive project to streamline infrastructure.

When Ajay Waghray stepped into the job of CIO at the newly created Verizon Enterprise Solutions in January 2012, he encountered an array of systems that couldn't talk to each other or work together. Recognizing the disparate collection as a barrier to growth, Waghray focused his IT team on consolidating and updating the infrastructure and eliminating redundant systems to create the streamlined backbone that he wanted. His other duties include leading the global IT strategy and initiatives at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, which focuses on serving business and government agencies. Here he talks about some of his most recent work.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started as CIO? We had a wide array of disparate systems that was a result of all the acquisitions over the years that culminated in the creation of Verizon Enterprise Solutions. We had hundreds of systems and thousands of interfaces. When you have too many systems, too many environments, too many ways of servicing the customer and creating solutions, you have an inconsistent one-to-one experience that is very hard to enable and support. You can't scale a business that is majority customized.

To correct the situation, we worked on streamlining the processes underlining those and streamlining the systems, to simplify the experience for our customers and our employees. We removed more than 300 of our systems and streamlined all of those processes with the goal of making it a seamless experience. It eliminated this fragmented experience, the inconsistencies, long delivery times and the costs to maintain it.

How did you approach fixing such a complex problem? We sat down with all our cross-business partners to strategically align with where we were heading and how we would achieve our goals. Then we started to focus on the people: What is the most streamlined process for both our customer people and our employee people, to enable the best experience? That created really the basis for what I call the "one function/one process/one system" approach to determine our end-state architecture. We have a multiyear road map and we're making progress ahead of schedule.

You wrote about companies looking to CIOs to "unlock the potential of their organizations through technology." How do you approach this? The model I use is what I call OCI. It's worked for me in unlocking this. The O is for optimization, which is essentially less is more. [We focus on] streamlining and optimizing everything we do. Then C stands for consistency, which is really about standard, efficient processes and systems that drive consistent customer experiences at every touch point and embodies the "one function/one process/one system" approach. And the I stands for innovation, which is really enabling the future of our business by enabling new products and services and new business process innovation. In our context, we are focusing on the business opportunities and opportunities in other areas, such as cloud and big data and innovative ways to combine these things. That truly creates a foundation for our initiatives.

How do you balance the need for IT to provide both optimization and innovation? They're not exclusive in any ways. It's about having the discipline to make things simple and free yourself to tackle bigger questions on how to change the game.

As CIO of a fairly new organization, how would you describe the IT culture you're building? It's a culture of performance and ownership. It's there every single time you have a dialogue -- you say, "You touch it, you own it." You talk about producing measurable results, so if you can't measure it, you don't do it. It's about producing measurable business value. That's instilled into all the performance agreements, all the day in and day out projects, all the project reviews. It all has that orientation.

Can you talk about your IT Next program? It is an IT transformation program. My general stance is that innovation and transformation is everyone's job. There are cross-functional teams created to break walls down and get people talking and give people the opportunity to transform the way we work and to be better tomorrow than we are today. We structure it based on needs and context. We take people's input on what they think is most important for us to focus on as a team.

We just had our first live chat session with all the global teams to really share ideas on what are good ideas of risk-taking, decision-making, accountability and how you can use some of the new technologies for collaboration. Another team is focused on developing and improving existing talent. Another team is lean-and-mean design and development, focusing on data architectures and development techniques. This makes it very contextual and current, and the overarching goal is to make us better business leaders.

What do you look for in your IT team members? The most important thing for me, beyond the technical skills -- that's table stakes now -- it's really the business orientation. It's about accountability, ownership, performance, innovation, customer orientation, communication, collaboration. Those softer skills are very, very important.

-- Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt (marykpratt@verizon.net)

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