AT&T put its money where its mouth is last week when it announced it would pump $500 million into its customer service initiatives.AT&T is specifically tapping resources within AT&T Labs to roll out innovative management tools for its business customers. Automation is the key driver behind the carrier's push. From its self-service Web portal, to its E-Bonding automated trouble-ticketing system, to its Master Services contract.The initiatives fall under one large umbrella called BusinessDirect and AT&T chairman and CEO David Dorman unveiled the company's plans at SuperComm 2003 in Atlanta.Although the carrier has been supporting a customer service Web portal that allows users to monitor trouble tickets and check on orders, the carrier is now also making electronic bonding services available to its largest customers.Users can now link up their internal database servers to AT&T's Network Operating Center through an AT&T Labs-developed XML gateway called Business-to-Business Interface.By doing this, users can set up automated trouble-ticketing so not only are they immediately notified if a circuit is experiencing trouble, but AT&T issues a trouble ticket, gathers circuit information from the customers database, initiates circuit tests and even in some cases resolves the problem all without human intervention.This system promises to save large data service customers countless hours of time, which translates to huge cost savings for most companies.The carrier's E-Bonding system can also be used to streamline order processing and provisioning. AT&T says it has a handful of customers using both of its E-Bonding features at this time, but anticipates many more will sign-up. Users do not pay any additional fees for these network management features beyond their standard monthly fees.While AT&T is investing millions to deploy and support these systems, the carrier anticipates it will save money in the long run by automating its network management operations. Users are also promised the same benefit.