For 27 years, as InformationWeek celebrates the very best in tech innovation, our focus has always been on practical, measurable use of technology to drive real business value. We're not impressed by gee-whiz tech for tech's sake, and that continues with this year's Elite 100 ranking.
But don't confuse practical use cases for humdrum technology.
You want virtual reality, big data analytics, Internet of Things, and mobile apps used in breakthrough ways? The Elite 100 companies are applying all these and more, in ways that will rewrite the rules of business.
I emphasize this point as an antidote to the misuse of the "consumerization of IT" idea of recent years. Consumerization is undeniable -- the average person can buy NASA-worthy personal and mobile computing power off the shelf and connect it to world-class online resources.
The colossal blunder of consumerization, though, is thinking that IT's role is remotely diminished by this trend. Here are a few examples of how this year's Elite 100 are applying emerging technology in new ways:
Virtual reality: Boeing is testing an augmented reality system that lets a mechanic look through a tablet's camera at an airplane's torque box and see the actual box overlaid with digital elements such as assembly instructions. Big data analytics: ConocoPhillips is collecting and analyzing data to understand how effectively the oil and gas company is using new hydraulic fracturing techniques to tap unconventional oil fields. Data from just a single well can include more than 100 million records. UPS, the No. 1 company in this year's ranking, is constantly analyzing an ever-rolling stash of near-real-time operational data to spot potential package-delivery delays as they're happening.
[ Want more innovation ideas? Read about all the Elite 100 winners. ]
Mobile apps: Allstate has put its driver-monitoring system in a smartphone app, giving people feedback on their car-handling skills -- and parents updates on their teenagers' driving. Intermountain Health has put a myriad of healthcare app functions into one location, along with medical record data, for its patients. Cloud: NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is using public cloud computing resources to make critical calculations like what functions the Mars Curiosity Rover has enough solar power stored up to use. MetroHealth is using online medical records, combined with online video consultations, in treatment of Cuyahoga County inmates, reducing the costs of caring for prisoners and the risks involved with moving them. Internet of Things: You can't have an Internet of Things without a good Internet connection.
Royal Caribbean is using a new generation of low-orbiting satellites to bring fiber-like connectivity speeds to a part of the world that has never had it -- the middle of the sea. Royal Caribbean is expecting a bonanza of free publicity from social media posts direct from the ship, and crew members are enjoying being able to Skype home to family for the first time during their months at sea. There's a potent mix in all of this, combining still-emerging technology with painful business problems, plus a ruthless pursuit of ROI.
Add it up, and you get business applications of technology that are changing our world.