Tony Bender, CIO, Alberto Culver

Innovation is the lifeblood of a consumer products company like $1.5 billion Alberto Culver Co. That's why CIO Tony Bender, 51, didn't think twice about going forward with Project Atlas, the company's largest-ever IT initiative.

Project Atlas is a foundation for innovation, Bender says. It leverages technology from SAP, HP, Microsoft and Cisco and represents a complete transformation of all business processes and product life-cycle management at Melrose Park, Ill.-based Alberto Culver.

Yet innovation abounds in smaller projects as well, such as a data analytics pilot program now under way in conjunction with Infosys Technologies Ltd.'s consumer products innovation lab in Bangalore, India.

"We spend a huge amount of money, as all consumer products companies do, on trade promotions -- in excess of 10% of revenue," Bender notes. The potential return on that investment is profound. In the pilot, Alberto Culver is using Infosys' analytics platform to better understand the impact of everything from advertising and coupons to display configurations.

"[Tony] is quick to understand where industry strategies are going, then synthesizing that knowledge into actionable IT support strategies focused on value to the business," says Alex Deaton, a partner at IBM Global Business Solutions who has worked with Bender on Project Atlas.

"There are a lot of technologies out there that we're exploring for commercial viability," says Bender. "We would be remiss if we weren't looking at them. We're constantly exploring, because there's a lot of space to play in."

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