Verizon is calling on emerging technology to rescue network and technology specialists from clunky legacy software. The telecommunications company has distilled functionality from more than 20 legacy applications into a digital platform that employees use to support the development of 5G and other critical systems, says Lynn Cox, Verizon\u2019s senior vice president and network CIO.\n\nCalled Canvas, the platform layers predictive analytics based on machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots, intelligent search and other tools atop a hybrid cloud, says Cox.\n\n"These are the tools people need to plan, build and run the network and provision services better," Cox tells CIO.com.\n\nCanvas,\u00a0which was nominated for an IDG CIO 100 award recognizing achievement in technology innovation, is the centerpiece of Verizon's initiative to make operations more efficient by digitizing manual processes and consolidating workflows from several disparate systems. But more importantly, Canvas improves the morale of the employees who use it.\n\nCompanies that offer compelling workforce experiences generate 22 percent higher engagement among their workers, who are also four times more likely to stay in their jobs, according to Deloitte. Moreover, the consultancy says, organizations with the best workforce experiences also enjoy a 12 percent greater customer satisfaction than other organizations.\n\nDigital tech boosts employee engagement\n\nBetter employee and customer experiences are core to Verizon\u2019s transformation. For much of the past 20 years, Verizon network and technology specialists had slogged through a hodgepodge of legacy web applications, switching from one screen to the next as they provisioned service jobs, fielded calls and completed other tasks. The tools, a mix of bespoke and off-the-shelf software rolled up from years of mergers and acquisitions, created duplications and other process inefficiencies that resulted in poor customer experience and reduced productivity.\n\n\u201cWe can\u2019t continue to run and operate legacy systems,\u201d Cox says. \u201cThe cost of doing that is significant for any company.\u201d\n\nApplying design-thinking and agile principles, Verizon user experience (UX) designers, subject matter experts, user interface programmers, server-side developers and quality assurance experts embedded with the network and technology centers to learn what specialists required. They conducted bi-weekly sprints to build Canvas, which essentially operates like an iPhone from which employees access several applications, says Anirudha Joshi, Verizon IT director. \n\nNow Verizon\u2019s network and tech specialists use the portal to support customers via a single user interface that uses guided navigation to walk them through equipment and inventory management and network maintenance, as well as highly surgical tasks such as circuit design. Responsive web design enables employees to access Canvas through desktops, tablets and smartphones with ease, creating efficiencies for product owners and reducing training requirements. \u201cThe intent is to open work items within the same screen, eliminating swivel-chairing,\u201d Joshi says.\n\nCanvas\u2019 feature list checks most of the bell-and-whistle boxes found in leading digital platforms. With the help of 66 RPA bots, Canvas has automated 173,000-plus hours of manual work. For instance, one bot created to eliminate manual screening of each dispatch job has saved about 32,000 labor hours. Moreover, Canvas has automated 95 percent of manual email, chat and phone \u201chand-offs\u201d between provisioning staff and engineering teams.\n\nChatbots help staff solicit and retrieve information in a conversational messaging interface. The integration of communication software, along with camera, photo management and GPS technology, enables team members to share contextually rich information about tasks. ML-based predictive analytics assesses risk score in customer commitment, including the likelihood of churn.\n\nWhen Canvas rolled out in 2019, some workers long accustomed to using bespoke apps were skeptical, but Verizon conducted an internal marketing campaign to promote the platform and grease the wheels, part of a change management program.\n\n\u201cWe got a really good response from people who were apprehensive because they were so used to working in one way,\u201d Cox says. To cultivate greater adoption, Canvas incorporates gamification, enabling employees to compete in friendly contests designed to facilitate engagement, according to Cox.\n\nThe importance of modernizing the workplace experience can\u2019t be understated, as employees are 38 percent more likely to stay in organizations that shape the employee experience and are 44 percent more likely to be high performers than those in organizations that don\u2019t, according to Gartner research.\n\nKPIs dial in business value\n\nThe efforts are paying off. According to KPIs Verizon tracks using analytics software, the company has identified an 80 percent reduction in \u201cchair-swivels\u201d associated with multiple system log-ins; a 50 percent reduction in clicks required to complete a task; and a 50 percent reduction in the number of screens accessed to complete a task. Moreover, the chatbots and search capabilities has reduced the time it takes employees to perform a typical task by 60 percent.\n\nToday Canvas consumes its compute power from Verizon\u2019s private data centers and via Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud, but soon the platform will run entirely in AWS, says Nash Sivaganesh, Verizon\u2019s executive director of network systems.\n\nThis will yield Verizon greater business agility while reducing reliance on its infrastructure. Eventually, Verizon expects to roll out Canvas to customers, providing them a user-friendly portal through which to request additional services or assistance, Nash adds.\n\nFor CIOs mulling a similar digital platform, Cox says the key lies in creating a strong partnership with business clients, including showing them the operational and financial benefits that a new solution offers their organization.\n\n\u201cWe need to understand what the user needs and create a shared vision with the business to show them the art of what\u2019s possible,\u201d Cox says.