IT's new assignment: Generate revenue

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

James Quinn was primarily thinking about helping customers, not making money, when he gave his IT team a task.

The PHI Inc. CIO challenged his staffers to find ways to deepen the level of engagement between PHI, a Lafayette, La.-based provider of helicopter services, and its customers, including some of the world's biggest energy companies -- which rely on PHI for transportation to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Quinn was perfectly happy when the suggestions went beyond 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."

One of those products was Helipass, a full-size kiosk that connects to a Web-based application to provide customers with passenger and baggage manifests. Others included new hardware and SaaS offerings.

Quinn projects that the products will bring in $1.3 million to $1.5 million the first year and $20 million in annual revenue by year five. PHI took in nearly $540 million in revenue in 2011.

It's no mistake that Quinn's 76-member team 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 IT departments 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 at Constellation Research. "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."

Here's a look at how Quinn and other IT leaders got their teams involved in revenue-generating endeavors.

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 developed a system that includes kiosks, small wall-mounted machines akin to ATMs and Web-based software that tracks employees and freight from helicopter and ferry terminals out to sea and back. The software, which PHI sells and supports in a software-as-a-service model, also tracks employee HR information, such as compliance with safety and training requirements. It's designed to work on a range of devices, from tablets to desktop PCs, says Quinn.

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