Verizon Wireless rolls out data monitoring widget for mobile users

CIO says customer-focus is basis of IT innovations

Verizon Wireless CIO Ajay Waghray
Verizon Wireless CIO Ajay Waghray

ORLANDO -- Verizon Wireless has developed innovative IT tools that it has recently put to use in its online customer account management systems and in upgraded Verizon store kiosks, said Ajay Waghray, the carrier's CIO.

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 generated a record number of orders in the first two hours it went on sale in February. The volume of pre-sale orders and subsequent in-store sales later made it necessary to create open interfaces for iPhone orders (and eventual activations) 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's IT team also recently developed a patent-pending data usage widget for customers who register on My Verizon Mobile. The widget, which gives users a running tally of their monthly data usage, works only on BlackBerry and Android smartphones; support for devices that use other mobile operating systems is due later.

Verizon has held off setting a usage cap on data plans for smartphones such as the new HTC ThunderBolt, which has an unlimited data plan that costs $29.99 per month, but the monitoring tool still could be valuable for smartphone users who have subscriptions for lower-priced limited-usage data plans, or for tablet users, who have a choice of four different data service plans.

In a brief demonstration of usage tools on an iPad, Waghray showed a chart that's green when usage is less than 75% of the monthly allotment but then turns yellow when usage reaches 75% and red when usage goes above 90%.

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 users load contact lists from older phones onto a Verizon cloud, where the files are available for easy downloads onto new phones. That approach could eventually be expanded, leading to the creation of a large scale cloud-based storage system that would hold all of the text and media files that people have on their phones, 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 ... on the Web site as well as at stores," Waghray said. "Part of the purpose is to allow customer engagement and detangle store reps from busy work so they can focus on the customer."

Waghray, who has worked 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," he 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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