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Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
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Editor's Note: Keep Innovating, No Matter What

Last week, as we celebrated the most innovative users of business technology for 2004, we also spent a lot of time discussing what innovation is, which companies are yielding the best returns for their investments, how innovation can be applied to important business processes such as customer service, who is using IT to create killer businesses, and more at the InformationWeek Fall Conference in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Few companies earned a good return on the IT investments they made in the 1990s, argued Ray Lane, general partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Only a handful of companies such as FedEx, McKesson, Merrill Lynch, and Sabre Holdings are exemplars of profitable tech investments. And those examples pre-date the '90s tech boom. "Those are precious few for the work that's gone in," said Lane, who previously was president and chief operating officer at Oracle, where he spent eight years. "Who's our IT bell cow today?" he asked.

Innovation, of course, isn't a one-size-fits-all package. While it comes from the many "next big things" that our industry has consumed, it also comes in increments that help improve productivity, increase efficiency, drive new revenue, and make customers happier. But one thing is certain: Innovation can't stop just because business is slow or the economy is weak.

"The metabolism of business is speeding up--you need to keep innovating," said Don Tapscott, author of The Naked Corporation, who spoke about "business webs" that engender IT-enabled relationships, IT-embedded products, increased intelligence, and strategic controls, among other attributes.

Stephanie Stahl,

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