Beyond Alignment

Meet the pioneers of extreme IT-business convergence. At these companies, it's hard to tell IT and business apart.

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At Vanguard, for example, that singular vision is about creating wealth for clients, typically for retirement.

"We're really not all that complicated of a firm. We're not trying to do 100 different things, so there's not that classic tension between different businesses, and there aren't stovepipe systems. That is so not who we are," Heller says. "It's really all about running the firm, and it's about doing the right thing for the client. We all move between jobs, so it's not about your job; it's about wearing that bigger hat -- the Vanguard hat."

Jim Fortner, vice president of IT development and operations, P&G
P&G's Jim Fortner is leading IT's charge to help the company win new consumers.

At P&G, Fortner says the company's CEO has made his vision perfectly clear: Acquire 1 billion new consumers. "What I'm focused on is what IT can do to drive more product adoption," he says.

To help drive faster adoption of more products, IT has developed a virtualized environment that P&G uses to conduct product design work, product placement research and even consumer feedback studies.

Among other things, IT has created virtual reality models to test design ideas for the next breakthrough in products such as diapers or cosmetics. Within these cyberworlds, P&G can rapidly test product performance and consumer response to various kinds of ingredient and packaging choices.

Another big push is to use visualization to help executives run their businesses in real time. This involves integrating product, consumer and sales data that was once viewed in various reports into a single decision cockpit where the information can be viewed graphically. Both of these programs require hiring for nontraditional IT skills, Fortner says.

Another key attribute of these convergence pioneers is a distinct and vibrant company culture that is immediately recognizable. When you fly Southwest, you can tell it's different from other airlines. Perhaps it's the flight attendants wearing sombreros or carnival beads. Or it could be the way the company tries to make everything orderly and straightforward, from its Web site and electronic ticketing system to the way it handles boarding.

The Vision Thing

Progressive markets itself as an insurance provider that offers customers choices. Its overarching goal is to make insurance easy to shop for, buy and own. Its strategy involves using highly automated underwriting software and exposing data to customers in an easily understandable way.

The company's exclusive IT-enabled online Name Your Price tool, for example, allows customers to choose the price they would like to pay for insurance and then see the coverage they can buy for that price. After entering basic car and driver information, shoppers are offered a customized insurance package that includes limits and deductibles closest to their named price.

Shoppers can also manipulate an online dial to change various options, and the system instantly responds with information about how such changes will affect the price. Progressive also allows customers to comparison-shop at its Web site, checking out what Allstate, State Farm or other competitors charge for the same coverage.

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