“Everything that happens on the Internet, these guys tell us years in advance,” Kheradpir adds. “And they also understand that you can’t get my mother to set up a server in her home. … it’s just not gonna happen.”
The product teams are “very startup-driven,” Kheradpir explains, and people get onto them by surfacing a good idea, then prototyping and refining it until they’ve made the case to be pulled off their day job to work on it full time. Kheradpir recalls having lunch with a group of IT architects when they proposed the Verizon One concept. “They said we’re missing a big opportunity … we pay to ship all these DSL modems and people just put them in the closet. Had that employee not brought it up, we wouldn’t have this product.”
To bring products to market, the software-centric IT teams work closely with R&D to ensure network compatibility, as well as with Verizon’s marketing teams to determine features, pricing, and positioning, Kheradpir says. Product developers receive incentive compensation based not only on how many products are shipped, “but more importantly we want you to get rave reviews — customers liking the product.”
Verizon senior IT fellow Ruchir Rodrigues, who leads a 300-person product group within IT, says that the product effort has changed how marketing perceives IT. “As so many of these services become software based, it’s become a more productive and constructive cycle,” he says. “Instead of going to a vendor, they now come to IT first, and say, ‘What do you think about this? Is this something you want to build?’ ”
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He says he’s also learned that personal engagement and the encouragement of risk-taking by IT managers at all levels is crucial. He personally authors a video blog on Verizon’s intranet, carrying a video camera into the field to highlight products and ideas in all stages of development. “Product development by nature takes a lot of leadership, and has a lot of twists and turns,” he explains. “It’s fuzzy and chaotic. If you’re not in the innovation machine every day, it’s hard to nurture it. You’ve got to open up the black box, jump in it, and hold hands with everyone else.”
Vidus: The Spinoff
Although many products that come out of IT departments these days are platforms to support services, occasionally an application emerges that can be sold to a broader market as well. In the case of BT (formerly British Telecom), that application was a field-service support solution developed internally in the 1990s, then spun off as a company called Vidus — and recently sold to Fremont, Calif.-based @Road, which is marketing it globally.