Ready, set, compete: The benefits of IT innovation

In the new 'fail fast and move on' world of business, IT is learning to quickly tap into creative ideas and harness the power of innovation for competitive advantage.

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One of Hyatt's most successful ideas emerged from the business side and was put to the test in a lab hotel. Hyatt International's president announced that the company needed to change the way guests check in. The Rooms Operations team, together with IT, decided to get rid of the front desks and make every associate a "host." The IT team created a mobile tool to untether front desk staffers and allow them to move about the lobby and interact with guests in a more personal way. The iOS-based iPad application includes hardware for credit-card swiping and encoding room keycards. The lab trial was so successful that the company decided to expand the mobile solution even further.

At the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago, mobile hosts are now stationed at the airport shuttle center, where they greet guests, check them in and issue room keys. "That has been a huge win for us from a customer intimacy standpoint," says Prusnick. "The guests feel like they're being greeted in a VIP way. They don't have to wait in line, so that saves them time."

As the keeper of Hyatt's major innovation projects, Prusnick's biggest challenge is making sure everybody realizes that they're all on the same team.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm stepping on other people's toes," he says. "Making sure that we can facilitate great cooperation between IT and the business can sometimes be a challenge." That's especially true when other departments come up with innovative projects on their own and Prusnick has to intervene to make corrections or stop the project until the innovation team determines if it's really needed.

"At the end of the day, everybody is looking for the best experience possible for our guests and [employees]," he says. "We all have the same goal. It's just a case of who gets to run it and be the project manager." In fact, all employees are trained in "Hyatt Thinking," meaning they're encouraged to come up with ways to improve existing solutions. "We're trying to introduce this culture of innovation," he adds. "That's everybody's job."

Partners = Speed to Market

The biggest banks are continually developing new services and payment applications. Speed to market and unique offerings are required to stay ahead of the pack.

At Capital One, Monique Shivanandan, senior vice president and CTO, relies on a new innovation lab team and trusted partners in the startup and university realms to bring new ideas to market fast.

In 2010, Shivanandan launched the Capital One innovation lab and staffed it with 20 "hard-core developers and product managers" in San Francisco and Washington. She then partnered with the FinTech Innovation Lab, a development organization that brings together New York area startups focused on banking applications, to tap into ideas and expertise from the outside. So far, the partnership is credited for new offerings such as Capital One's Mobile Deals app.

"It's been an incredible opportunity for both of us," says Shivanandan. "We've been able to get into the marketplace a little bit quicker because we have these relationships, and we've been able to help some very small companies really advance their agendas and frame the product or service so they're more realistic and more marketable."

She also partners with research groups at MIT, Georgia Tech and Stanford.

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