New task for CIOs: Make money

Sure, all CIOs seek to add value, but some are taking their quest outside the walls of the enterprise by targeting customers directly.

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PHI Inc. CIO James Quinn was thinking more about customers than cash when he gave his IT team a task.

His challenge to them: Find ways to deepen the level of engagement between PHI, a Lafayette, La. provider of helicopter services, and its customers, which include some of the world's biggest energy companies needing transport to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Quinn was perfectly happy when the end results went beyond just customer engagement to include actual revenue.

"I tasked the IT department to come up with ways to integrate with customers so they'd have some loss if they moved away from us," he explains. "We were looking for some value-add, and it just happened to turn into a revenue-generating set of products."

Those products include Helipass, a full-size kiosk that connects to a Web-based application to provide customers with passenger and baggage manifests, as well as other hardware and SaaS offerings.

Quinn projects that the products will bring in $1.3 to $1.5 million the first year and grow to $20 million in annual revenue by year five for the company, which earned nearly $540 million in revenue in 2011.

It's no mistake that Quinn's 76-member staff hit pay dirt by turning its focus from internal PHI operations to the operations of its external customers. It's an endeavor outside the traditional scope of work for an IT department but increasingly on the radar of forward-thinking CIOs.

"Most CIOs are internally focused, and that's a big enough job as it is," says Frank Scavo, an analyst with Constellation Research Inc. "When it comes to delivering smart products to customers, it's usually in the product development or marketing group. It's unusual to see CIOs stretch into that role, but CIOs are looking at ways to deliver more value to the organization."

Computerworld checked in with Quinn and other CIOs who took on the revenue challenge -- including IT leaders from Purdue University and GE Oil & Gas -- to find out how they managed to lead their teams to the revenue stream. Read on for their stories.

PHI: Filling a customer void

Two years ago Quinn's staffers identified a gap in how the company's clients tracked shipping and travel information. As the former owner of a software development company, Quinn drew on his entrepreneurial experience to come up a five-year plan to develop software and hardware to fill that void.

His team designed kiosks and small wall-mounted machines akin to ATMs, and developed software, which PHI sells and supports in a SaaS model, that tracks employees and freight as they move from helicopter and ferry terminals out to sea and back. It also tracks employee HR information, such as safety compliance and training requirements. The Web-based software is designed to scale from a mobile tablet to a desktop, according to Quinn.

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