Innovative CIOs show how to make money with IT

Consequently, executives decided to set up a new business unit for the service--called the Center for Integrated Drug Development--with its own P&L. Quintiles appointed Rick Sax, SVP and global head of integrated clinical services, to lead the unit. While Sax is staffing up the front office, Thomas's IT staff is handling the technology back end, and what Thomas says was "just an exciting idea" three years ago is now on the verge of being another IT-driven service in Quintiles' product portfolio.

Seizing the Opportunity

Technology can be especially powerful when it improves the sales process. TBC Corp. operates multiple tire and automotive services brands throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, including Big O Tires, National Tire and Battery, and Midas. In every retail and service location, sales associates are faced with an overwhelming variety of options for the many makes, models and model years of vehicles. When the company decided to upgrade its existing point-of-sale systems, CIO Steve Smith saw an opportunity to streamline the sales process.

The new system, which is still in pilot, has a sexier acronym than name--Next Information Technology for Retail Operations, or NITRO--but the real excitement comes from what it enables. NITRO, which combines more than 35 data feeds about parts, service and tires into a single system that sales associates access via a cloud-based HTML5 touch-screen application, has already boosted overall sales by 5 to 15%. The reason: Associates only have to type in the vehicle identification number to get a display of exactly what parts it needs and what's in stock and available to sell.

"Our associates are using the system to promote a wider array of vehicle maintenance services than just tire replacement," Smith says. "They literally show the customer a graphical schematic of their vehicle, complete with the maintenance history and service recommendations based on manufacturer-provided guidelines."

The application guides associates through the entire process. This makes sure they can't get anything wrong--creating greater trust with the customers--and also makes them more efficient. The more efficient they are, the more sales they do each day. And with each sale coming in at a higher return, revenue should keep growing as the system is rolled out across the company. (See more about NITRO in " Work with Sales to Create Sales Solutions.")

Selling Homegrown Tech

Sales, however, are not the goal at Christiana Care Health System--it's improving patient care and regulatory compliance, says CIO Randy Gaboriault. But some of the healthcare IT advances developed at the hospital can be packaged up and offered to other hospitals. For example, Christiana Care created a telemedicine command center for intensive care units (ICU). This improves patient care by having experienced doctors and nurses remotely monitoring multiple ICU patients and taking fast action when life-threatening symptoms occur. As a bonus, it also generates revenue. Christiana Care brought in tens of millions of dollars in the last year by selling eCare ICU and other telemedicine services to fellow hospitals, the company says.

To become a revenue-generator like this, you must separate core processes from the ones that could be key competitive differentiators, Gaboriault says. Improving the billing process, for example, is important, but in an industry with such tight margins, it's the services that will get a patient a quicker response and treatment that will make a competitive difference to a teaching hospital like Christiana Care.

"There's not a magic way of saying we're going to drive business, but it's IT's job to take the business goal and translate it into what could differentiate what we offer from everyone else," Gaboriault says.

IT is also helping Christiana Care win federal grants for healthcare reform. In June, the hospital won a $10 million grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to create a model for coordinating care of patients who have been discharged from hospitals after a cardiac event. A key step is consolidating the information that is collected and created about each patient, and making it possible for that information to travel with the person. Gaboriault, who is at the forefront of this effort as the chair of the Delaware Health Information Network, says the results could be turned into additional products and used across the United States.

Robert Laskowski, president and CEO of Christiana Care, knows the value of having his organization's CIO serving as what he calls an "operational strategist," turning mission needs into practical action and tools. "The way [Gaboriault] conceives of the CIO role is exactly what we need," he says.

And when those tools bring in money, the company can provide even better treatment. "IT here is not a technology issue for us, or even a means to an end," Laskowski says, "but a catalytic enabler of a whole new way to practice our profession."

Sidebar: Crowdsourcing Fosters IT Innovation

An experienced CIO says crowdsourcing tools can help IT staffers at all levels contribute their innovative ideas

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, who joined the National Football League in September as a CIO focused on creating new services for fans, says the path to generating revenue starts with innovation.

However, she cautions CIOs not to carve out a special innovation shop, because there's a danger that the more functional positions in the IT group will be seen as unglamorous or undesirable, which can trigger a split in the IT department. "Innovation," she says, "has to weave its way through the whole organization."

At several companies she's worked for, McKenna-Doyle has created an innovation council within IT that people routinely rotate through. Council members come from various IT disciplines, so everyone gets a say in the new ideas.

"A lot of the revenue-driving ideas actually live at the base level of the people keeping the lights on," she says. "They're the ones who will see the most waste or the most opportunity."

But it's not easy to get IT people at that level to speak up, especially in a meeting with talkative marketing staff. McKenna-Doyle suggests taking advantage of the social media tools now available to help IT people make contributions.

When she was CIO at Constellation Energy, McKenna-Doyle deployed innovation-management software called Spigit. This idea-generation tool awards points for contributing innovative ideas, then rewards people for having the most ideas. But it would be easy for these suggestions to simply go into a bucket and be forgotten. To ensure that didn't happen, McKenna-Doyle created a process for the group to decide which submissions should get a chance to move forward. The people associated with those proposals then have a role in shepherding them to fruition.

Using these crowdsourcing tools and keeping everyone involved in innovation, McKenna-Doyle says, will help IT organizations be seen as a source of ideas, value and revenue. (For more, see " CIOs Can Make Money With IT.")

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This story, "Innovative CIOs show how to make money with IT" was originally published by CIO.

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