On 16th June 2021, CIONET Spotlight had the pleasure of featuring Shankar Arumugavelu, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Information Officer at Verizon. Shankar has devoted most of his career to Verizon, having started at GTE as Director in 1992 after the Bell Atlantic acquisition, which later became Verizon. Shankar served as Executive Director for Verizon Data Services in 2002. Over the past 18 years, he has held a variety of leadership roles within the company, including the SVP and CIO of Verizon Wireless to be promoted to SVP and Global CIO in late 2017.
In a conversation moderated by Mark Zawacki, Interim CEO, CIONET US & Canada, Shankar shared key success factors that have enabled the smooth transition to digital in 2020, his outlook on customer-centricity and “phigital” customer experience, highlighted key directions of Verizon’s development in the near future as well as exchanged thoughts on leadership and the “5Q” framework that has guided him throughout his career.
During the interview Shankar elaborated on the implemented technologies and techniques that helped Verizon navigate the challenges of 2020. The company started its digital transformation journey several years ago, which allowed a smooth transition to remote work in early 2020. The leadership team at Verizon used this opportunity to take a closer look at how the company is organized – how staff functions and frontline employees (retail, customer service and field technicians) can operate in the new reality. Before COVID, Verizon created a call center group, called “home based agents,” and allowed for 20% of them to work remotely. Full-time employees previously had the opportunity to work from home; however, not all of them at the same time. In March 2020 over 115,000 employees out of 135,000 started working from home over the weekend.
What helped Verizon immensely last year was a scalable network, which was enabled through automation – for example, software-defined networking and virtual network services. This allowed for a quick pivoting, after implementing minor improvements, such as adding VPN appliances, enhancing the number of VPN licenses and augmenting the capacity of the multi-factor authentication platform.
Apart from that, the company had an advanced hybrid cloud strategy in place (a combination of private and public cloud), which resulted in enhanced flexibility. The employees were able to start remote work instantly thanks to cloud-based collaboration tools and virtualized desktops in call centers.
Shankar underlined another key success factor in the company’s strategy – Verizon is always “customer zero” – before any solution is sold to the client, it is initially tested internally. In some cases Verizon co-architects these solutions. At times the product development team builds the solution and then deploys it internally to be finetuned before launching it outside the organization. The company has multiple solutions in place (be it created by Verizon directly or by third-parties - “niche” vendors). If one of the solutions fails, another one protects the continuity. Shankar refers to the combined capacities of third-party and internally-developed solutions as “defense and depth” philosophy.
A topic that surfaced during the conversation was security. Verizon introduced internally the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CF) for asset protection. At the highest level the framework addresses cybersecurity threats in 5 steps:
Shankar underlined that the financial motive is driving the most of ransomware attacks; therefore, it is crucial for the organization to protect their assets – be it by using ransomware protection programs, cyber-resiliency and disaster recovery exercises on a regular basis and having a backup restore strategy in place. A couple of vital questions that digital leaders should consider asking themselves on the topic of cybersecurity had been posed: How to bring cyber availability engineering into the equation and how to bring AI into operations to be able to proactively detect threats and introduce self-healing applications for best employee and customer experience.
Another topic that Shankar focused on during the interview was investments in Verizon’s near future. He mentioned it is essential to determine how digital will look going forward to be able to plan investments that will respond to the customers’ needs. According to our speaker, the future holds convergence of physical and digital CX which he calls “phigital,” where Verizon meets the customer when and where they want to be met and provides them with a seamless omnichannel experience – using hyper-personalization and real time 1:1 marketing.
The events of 2020 have undoubtedly accelerated the digital transformation – at the same time digital literacy in general has significantly increased. From a technology standpoint, the priorities for Verizon to adapt to this change include investing in industrialization of AI (and building an AI factory), which in turn means strengthening data governance and improving data quality for the AI to learn from. What is also relevant is developing a systems of insights factory, which would encompass customer interactions, customer experiences on the network, feedback and communication messages. Applying the aforementioned data strategies to specific insights would allow Verizon to build a more personalized customer experience.
Traditionally the customer journey path was quite simple: learning about the product, buying it, getting the device, using the service, paying the invoice and getting support, if needed. In the case of “phigital” the main focus is put on saving the customers’ time and matching their expectations. Shankar mentioned an example where a customer can digitally order the service on their own and still request being connected to a sales representative if the process turns out to be too complicated or when additional questions arise. After the order is finalized, the customer can pick up their device on Verizon’s parking lot (the geofencing service that respects the customer’s privacy detects when they’re close and can notify an employee who brings a package to the parking lot).
In summary, Shankar shared a leadership advice, which has formed his path as a digital leader – being guided by the “5Q framework”. The Q’s that the framework consist of are:
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