For the new look of business technology innovation, check out the dashboard of a Peterbilt semitrailer truck, which can tell the driver how the engine's performing and whether his rig can fit under that bridge along his route. Or check out a Waste Management trash compactor equipped with a sensor and a mobile device that phones home for pickup when it's full. Or consider a virtual-reality headset at a Lehigh Valley Health hospital that distracts a burn patient while her bandages are changed, replacing heavy-duty painkillers. Or log in to a Vail Resorts smartphone app that lets snowboarders know how many vertical feet they've ridden and automatically posts that information to their Facebook pages.
Some of the most interesting uses of information technology today have it as part of the product that a customer experiences, not just supporting back-end processes. IT as part of the product accelerates the speed at which business technology teams must work, as they need to be out front helping lead the innovation cycle. We also see IT teams adopting technology approaches like cloud computing and agile development in order to meet business needs more quickly.
The InformationWeek 500 data offers insights into the strategies of the U.S.'s most innovative business technology users. Our extensive research includes both statistical analysis and qualitative assessments of these 500 companies' innovation projects. In analyzing the research results of this year's InformationWeek 500 ranking, we present nine critical trends.
1. IT Is Part Of The Product At A Growing Number Of IW 500 Companies
Forty-five percent of companies in our ranking put "introduce new IT-led products or services for our customers" among the top three ways they plan to innovate this year. That's up from 37% in 2009. Perhaps that finding isn't surprising, given the renewed focus on growth as companies emerge from the recession, but even back in 2008, it was just 39%.
This product focus will change how IT organizations operate. Those that focus too much on internal matters--exclusively on operational efficiency and cost cutting--risk losing relevance. IT teams must embrace a build-learn-adapt mentality, a flexibility that lets them anticipate and react quickly to the changing needs of customers.
The IT-as-product movement will also attract new kinds of people into the profession, predicts Vail Resorts CIO Robert Urwiler. Urwiler doesn't require that his people be avid skiers or snowboarders, but that helps, since he needs a core of technology people who think like their customers. No matter the industry, IT organizations will need people with a creative, product development mindset.