2010 CIO 100 Awards: Creating Lasting Innovation

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At some of the foundation's 4,400 offices in Africa, several workers share one Internet connection. The line is fast enough for basic use but becomes slow and unreliable when many users are on at once. Plus, Internet and electrical service generally is spotty, says IT Director Mark Reilley. "The Internet can go out in Zimbabwe for three days at a time," Reilley says. "It's not like you can call Comcast or Verizon. You have to wait until it somehow comes back up." When the offices lost Internet access, workers would fax, phone or mail data to foundation headquarters in Washington, D.C. "It was not standardized or easily managed," he says.

Such technology limitations forced foundation leaders to rethink how remote staff not only send and receive data needed to do their research and healthcare jobs, but also how they recorded and maintained that information. Their conclusions resulted in their winning project, the Global AIDS System for Evaluation and Reporting, or Glaser.

Now, testing, care and treatment data populates a data warehouse. Field workers in Africa can access it from their laptops or desktops using a Web browser. But the system accommodates the continent's frequent Internet and power outages by allowing workers to fill out spreadsheets or PDF documents that are emailed to them and upload the information to the data warehouse once power and Internet service are restored.

A number of African countries, meanwhile, offer only wireless networks. So in Cameroon, Reilley is experimenting with letting field staff enter data on their mobile phones. He's also contemplating whether to build an iPhone app.

Redesigning the system for data collection has, meanwhile, resulted in higher-quality data, he says. One feature of the system automatically flags data anomalies and gives field staff space to explain them. For example, the data warehouse might show that a region in Zimbabwe reported 800 cases of women undergoing AIDS treatment during a six-month period, but zero cases in the seventh month. Headquarters staff need to know the reason for such a discrepancy. Is the number accurate? A typo? Did civil war temporarily shut the office down, and no report was filed? Previously, staffers would have eyeballed the spreadsheets and followed up by phone with field staff-a process that could take weeks. Now the Glaser software queries the worker who is entering the data to explain the issue on the spot. "Data is more solid," Reilley says, which helps improve medical care.

Perpetual Innovation Working with limited resources, as the Glaser Foundation had to do, can spark the most creative and repeatable innovation. But even companies as large as Sodexo, PNC and Procter & Gamble shoot for a similar goal: sustainable innovation. Using technology to support product development at P&G, for example, has produced a blueprint for how the company will create new products in the future.

P&G, like other consumer packaged goods companies, must constantly come up with new or improved products to keep sales up. And the faster, the better. In 2006, the company set out to cut time from the development-and-test cycle by making more of the lengthy process electronic, says CIO Passerini.

P&G's CIO 100-winning virtual product-development environment lets focus-group participants walk into a room of large computer screens to evaluate life-size-though electronic-versions of new products and packaging placed on virtual store shelves. Eye tracking software follows where these potential customers look and for how long. This tells P&G what attracts consumers-the shape of the bottle, the color of the cap, the design of the label-and in what order.

For example, the company recently updated its detergent product line in Europe and was able to test 100 package designs over several months-10 times as many as it could mock up and test physically.

"If you do virtually in days or hours what used to take weeks, then not only will you go to market faster, but you can afford to do a few more test-and-redesign cycles with more input from consumers and retailers," Passerini says. "That is worth millions in revenue."

This use of interactive graphics to simulate product design and merchandising reflects P&G's overall push to make more everyday work visual, he says. He imagines shifting traditional business intelligence reporting to more real-time, graphical, sense-and-respond dashboards that continuously collect and display internal and external data. "The speed of innovation to market is accelerating exponentially," says Passerini. "Consumer electronics, fashion, design-it is true for us as well and it is amazing how consumers respond to innovation."

PNC, meanwhile, developed Virtual Wallet Student based on what it learned from launching a similar service, Virtual Wallet , in 2008. The original is designed for Gen Y customers and other big users of the Web and smartphones, and it won a CIO 100 award in 2009. During development of this first version, PNC sent product developers to South Korea to see how people there use mobile technology because the United States lags behind much of Asia and Europe in mobile transactions, Dhanda says. Figuring out what customers wanted before committing to a particular technology was critical to making both projects work.

These kinds of strategic business leaps, enabled by IT, would be impossible without an innovation ecosystem that each new project builds upon, Dhanda says. "We have philosophical discussions about what is a product, what is technology, what is marketing," he says. "Forty years ago, IT was streamlining the back office. Twenty years ago, it was helping the sales guy be more efficient. Now IT is what we go to market with."

Read more about consumer in CIO's Consumer Drilldown.

This story, "2010 CIO 100 Awards: Creating Lasting Innovation" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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