Fowler and Sharma decline to disclose just how much revenue their software brings in, but they do confirm that the products both add to the company's bottom line and increase GE's competitiveness in the marketplace. "We think about it as driving profitable growth," Sharma says.
How to Cultivate Revenue-generating IT Teams
• Be spot-on in delivering internal IT services and support. If your department isn't delivering the basics with excellence, higher-ups aren't going to trust you to try innovative projects, says GE Oil & Gas CIO Anup Sharma.
• Forge strong relationships with other departments. An IT team that has a deep understanding of the company's business is much more apt to be able to spot opportunities for external revenue-generating projects. Once they get the green light, technologists will most likely be required to work closely with experts in other departments to identify customer needs and market products.
Sharma's team was able to identify opportunities for products because he had IT workers embedded in business units. "We had a level of industry domain and technical expertise to really make it happen," Sharma says.
• Foster an entrepreneurial culture. Employees -- and their leaders -- must feel comfortable taking risks, Sharma says. "A CIO can drive this by having the right environment by encouraging people to be curious," he says.
At the highest corporate level, GE has established a software center of excellence to support innovation in IT departments across the various GE divisions, says Jim Fowler, CIO for GE Power Generation Services.
The center of excellence will enable GE's various IT teams to share components, such as user interfaces, that could be used in multiple products designed for client use.
"It will help us grow faster," Fowler says.
Purdue University: IP Generates Revenue
Despite such success stories, Constellation analyst Scavo says he doesn't expect revenue generation to become the norm for IT departments. "Many CIOs don't have the skills or interest," he says.
Chris Curran, chief technologist for the PricewaterhouseCoopers advisory practice, agrees. While successful CIOs will continue to collaborate with C-suite colleagues to create value internally, he says, only a small number of CIOs are able to bring products to market. Such ventures tend to be one-time results of opportunistic activities rather than ongoing objectives.