Verizon’s AI strategy keeps human in the loop

Believe it or not, the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) didn’t come up during Verizon’s analyst meeting earlier this month until the Q&A session, when Simon Flannery of Morgan Stanley Research asked the top brass for their take on the technology.

It’s notable because all corners of the industry are buzzing about generative AI and it will be a dominant theme at next week’s Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona.

When the question did come up about mid-way through Verizon’s meeting, Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg said that of course, the company has been using AI for a long time in its own operations, including to bring more efficiencies to customer care.

Verizon was early to the mobile edge compute game – some might say too early – and AI requires a lot of compute and storage at the edge, so Verizon is ready for it, both internally and externally with new products.

He also made sure to note the ethical challenges inherent in generative AI. He said Verizon is doing AI “in an organized way, keeping the privacy of the data, being ethical with AI and all of that.”

Given that background, it might not be too surprising to hear that Verizon created an AI Leadership Council, an internal team consisting of top executives from legal, IT, security, network and several other departments.

Debika Bhattacharya
Debika Bhattacharya (Verizon Business)

Debika Bhattacharya, chief technology solutions officer at Verizon Business, sits on the council and in a recent interview with Fierce said the council’s major focus is around responsible AI and making sure they have the right oversight to mitigate risks associated with it.

“There’s always a human in the loop because we think it’s still early days that everything that we do with generative AI, we do have a human who is part of the process,” she said.

The goal of the AI Leadership Council is to “make sure that we continue to take a very strong position around responsible AI,” she said. “There is a lot of Verizon data but more importantly, there’s a lot of customer data, so every use case that we experiment with, every area that we want to look at, this council sets policy around how to move forward,” including who has access to data.

“We want to ensure that we do not inadvertently or unintentionally put any of our customers’ data at risk or cause some data leakage,” she said. “While we’re very excited and we want to benefit from all the innovation that’s happening, we’re also making sure that responsible AI is in the forefront of what we do with generative AI.”

That sounds like a tall order, but Bhattacharya said when it comes to generative AI, she likes to steal a quote from the company’s CIO, which is to “experiment aggressively and deploy thoughtfully.”  

Bhattacharya manages a new group at Verizon Business under the Technology Solutions banner, which is designed to help business customers navigate the increasing number of technology solutions available to them and create a “seamless technology journey” across the solution life cycle.

It’s not as if Verizon wasn’t doing a lot of these things previously, but Bhattacharya said they wanted to make it a more formalized effort. Kyle Mallady is CEO of the Verizon Business Group.

It’s important for business customers to know what they’re buying is future proofed. If they’re making a big investment, they want it to be relevant for at least five years. In the public sector, customers might be looking at a seven- or 10-year investment. The idea is to not “strand” customers with old technology, she said.

She describes the new organizational structure as a way to “super charge” these aspects of the organization. “It’s adding rocket fuel” to it, pulling various components together with single accountability, for example.

70 billion data points

Customer service is one area that is often mentioned as benefiting from AI. Verizon can use data on a customer’s behavior to predict if they’re looking to switch service providers. On the network side, Verizon uses AI to determine the best location to put small cells and other gear.

During Verizon’s analyst day, Vestberg said Craig Silliman, president of the Global Services division, is overseeing a lot of the AI efforts.

“Today, we ingest over 70 billion data points off the network every single day into our AI engines to give insights,” Silliman said. “We're constantly enhancing the tools available to our customer care teams to kind of remove the cognitive load off of the customer care team so they can use their real human elements there.”

There’s a huge opportunity here for Verizon, but AI and analytics engines “are only as good as the data you put into them,” he added. “We have an enormous body of data across Verizon, but it sits in 29,000 different data sources, which in many ways are fragmented. We don't have common taxonomy. So the journey we're on right now is bringing all of our data together into common platforms and common governance and taxonomy structures.”

Bringing it all together will remove a lot of costs. But more importantly, “it will accelerate the speed at which we can operate the insights,” he said. “You're going to see that rolling out just every week, every month, new capabilities as we bring our data assets together into a more usable form.”

AI will be a hot topic at the MWC 2024 conference in Barcelona next week. Keep current with all of Fierce Wireless’ MWC coverage here.