February 25, 2013, 11:14 AM — It started as a research project to explore how Steelcase's customers might benefit from products with built-in collaboration technologies. What emerged is Media:Scape, a line of high-tech multimedia office equipment that is now on the sales fast track at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based office furniture manufacturer. Steelcase's IT department was front and center in the innovation effort, developing, building and managing the first prototypes of the products, which feature high-definition videoconferencing capabilities.
"You have to show the business the possibilities," says Steelcase CIO Bob Krestakos, who with another colleague holds the patent for the HD video technology. "One of the big insights IT was able to bring [to product development] is the power of video in sharing data and collaboration."
Show -- don't tell -- the business how to capture a competitive lead: That's the mantra of today's IT leaders, who increasingly are making their mark by devising new products and services that generate revenue and set their companies apart from the competition.
Rather than simply proselytizing about innovation, the 2013 class of Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders and their teams are bringing to life what IBM CIO Jeanette Horan calls "the art of what's possible with IT."
At $8 billion W.W. Grainger, CIO Tim Ferrarell's team is the driving force behind cost-cutting inventory management processes and services that the Lake Forest, Ill., industrial supply giant first used internally and is now selling to customers as an application.
Over the years, Grainger's catalog, which contains more than 900,000 products, has grown to the point that it is no longer easily portable, Ferrarell explains. Now, thanks to inventory management services provided at customer locations and via mobile technology, Grainger can insert itself directly into a customer's purchasing process.
"These technologies are fundamentally changing how we serve customers and how we do our work," Ferrarell says. "We are the first in our industry to offer mobile apps to customers and are rapidly expanding mobile capabilities into new features designed to save customers time and money and to ensure Grainger's offer is accessible real-time and closest to the point of need."
The upshot: Over the past year, mobile traffic to Grainger's site has increased 400%.
At Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels, IT is "the real thought leader" in developing new services that differentiate the hotel chain in what John Prusnick, director of IT innovation and strategy, calls "the sea of sameness" permeating the hospitality industry. One recent innovation: an airport-based check-in service that lets guests bypass the front desk and go directly to their rooms on arrival. The iOS application, which was designed and built by IT, can scan credit cards and encode room keycards at the airport shuttle center.