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9/7/2011
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Stacey Peterson
Stacey Peterson
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20 Innovative IT Ideas To Steal

InformationWeek 500 innovators have creative solutions to not-so-unusual business problems. How can these help your company?




Innovative IT is what gets companies ranked on the InformationWeek 500 list. As part of the IW 500 application process, companies tell us about the most innovative business technology initiatives they completed in the last year. It's a treasure trove of great examples of IT solving problems, providing value to the business and even generating revenue.

Among this year's bright ideas is Allstate's use of contests in which employees from all over the company spend 48 hours conceiving, designing, and coding mobile apps. Other winning ideas include Dunkin' Donuts combining point-of-sale transaction data with its security cameras to cut down on employee theft.

Biotech firm Amgen went completely paperless in its lab. Mercer put complicated pension calculations in a private cloud. Convergys, which provides outsourced customer service, has its managers using Web-based tools to more effectively coach its call-center agents. Valmont Industries is using virtual desktops to recycle old PCs into kiosks that outperform thin clients.

This has been a banner year for healthcare innovators. Check out Lehigh Valley Health Network's use of virtual reality to relieve burn patients' pain, and Christiana Care Health System's use of large touch-screen monitors to better manage its emergency department's trauma rooms. Kaiser Permanente is taking telemedicine to the next level, providing same-day specialist consultations. And Texas Health Resources has integrated an automated risk-assessment tool with its electronic records system to cut down on blood clots, which are a leading cause of hospital deaths.

Not every one of these ideas will work for your company, but they're sure to spark your team's creative problem solving.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



The Salvation Army needed help distributing relief supplies after Haiti's devastating earthquake last year. UPS adapted UPS Trackpad, a handheld mobile device originally designed for campus environments. Using just two handheld scanners and a laptop, the Salvation Army was able to streamline supply distribution at a makeshift camp of more than 4,000 refugees. Families presented a laminated bar code identifying the number of people and the supplies needed. Even after the camp was dissolved, the Salvation Army continued using Trackpad to help with the rebuilding effort.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Timken, a provider of automotive products, has built a business intelligence tool to help its distributors better track and manage inventory. The service uses a vast database of vehicle registration records, part numbers, and industry repair rates. With this data, Timken projects demand for each part based on the year, make, and model of registered vehicles. It also provides its customers with inventory recommendations by product category and individual part numbers, helping them avoid stockouts and reduce unused inventory.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Marriott wanted a more automated and scalable way to offer personalized search results to its online customers. So it came up with a taxonomy-based application that better matches information the system has about a customer with offers and site content. When Marriott Rewards members log in, the app tells the enterprise search engine what it knows about them, describing them with a taxonomy that's common for all systems integrated with the app. Six early tests showed a 250% improvement in bookings per click, and Marriott thinks it can improve click-through rates long-term by around 80%.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Kaiser Permanente is using telemedicine to help patients connect remotely to specialists for same-day care in areas such as dermatology and orthopedics. It has launched the service in several regions and found it's cutting wait times. When a primary care physician determines that a patient needs to see a dermatologist, he or she takes high-resolution photos of the patient's skin conditions and transmits them to a specialist, who then contacts the patient for a phone consultation. Kaiser has also piloted another service, called the Virtual Roving Dermatologist, that offers patients video consultations with specialists at the time of their primary care visit. For orthopedic care, primary care doctors connect with specialists using mobile video carts. To date, Kaiser Permanente has found that 47% of patients requesting orthopedic teleconsultations are connected with specialists on the same day or the next day. With the Virtual Roving Dermatologist, Kaiser has found that 67% of patients received same-day consultations, with 90% receiving care within 25 minutes.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



AMD's private cloud handles all of the semiconductor maker's design projects worldwide. To make it happen, AMD put more than 15,000 servers and storage devices on the same releases of OS, file system, storage management, and cluster software. AMD's cloud runs on more than 115,000 CPU cores and more than 4 PB of storage. The cloud architecture means AMD can quickly reprioritize resources. Last year, it needed to shift massive amounts of compute power to a team working on a new x86 processor core. IT reallocated capacity over night to give the team about 45% of the cloud, letting it do two months of testing in five days.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Lehigh Valley Health Network Regional Burn Center needed a better way to manage burn victims' pain during treatment, since opioids and sedatives can increase hospital stays and costs. One possibility: virtual reality, which controls pain by distraction. But head gear and hand controls hurt patients with burns on their faces, arms, or hands. Lehigh customized a virtual-reality helmet on a mechanical arm so there's only one point of contact with the patient. The $50,000 unit has an infection control mouse and keyboard and is on a mobile cart. The helmet immerses patients in a snowy environment, where they can throw snowballs at animals and other characters.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



After PNC's 2008 acquisition of National City, the company converted 6 million customers--along with 1 million mortgages, 16 million accounts, and 1,300 branches--to PNC systems, processes, and brands. A key part of PNC's integration strategy was a new in-house system for migrating customers in four waves. National City accounts were assigned to a wave based on customer characteristics, such as geography, branch transaction behavior, and account type. PNC completed the integration in 18 months, six months ahead of schedule, and exceeded initial cost savings estimates by saving more than $1.8 billion on a run-rate basis.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



C.O.R.E., Yahoo's content optimization and relevance engine, leverages user data to fuel a set of algorithms aimed at delivering more personally relevant content. C.O.R.E. tests content's popularity by displaying it to a small user group, and then displays the most popular items to the majority of users. Every 5 minutes, the system processes 100 GB of user feedback and updates its algorithm to direct stories to the right users. C.O.R.E. can optimize for multiple objectives, such as revenue, user engagement, and personalization. It has resulted in a 270% improvement in click rates at Yahoo and contributed to a billion clicks on Yahoo's home page in both January and March.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Christiana Care Health System was intent on improving its emergency department's communications system, so it implemented an automated call routing and logging system, with workflow rules for call priorities and escalation. Christiana Care also added a 21-inch touch-screen monitor outside one trauma room. When a call is received, the monitor displays details of the case along with an interactive diagram of the room that shows the clinical positions around the patient. Before entering the room, responders touch positions on the monitor and scan their ID badges. This logs them in to selected roles in the room, and their names and photos appear on the diagram. A noninteractive 42-inch monitor inside the trauma room shows the same information. The outside monitor ensures that only necessary staffers enter the treatment area, and the inside one improves communication among staff in the room, letting them easily identify colleagues behind their surgical masks.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Looking to harness the energy and passion of its employees to solve problems, Allstate wanted a way to challenge people to come up with new mobile apps that would help them do their jobs better. That led to the App Attack contest, in which 100 employees on 43 teams competed to conceive, design, and code a mobile app in just 48 hours. Entrants worked at Allstate's Technology Innovation Lab and remotely, some as far away as Ireland. Tech experts provided guidance, and teams included coders and people outside IT. Company execs judged the initial 43 entries, picking eight finalists from which winners were selected. The success of the first App Attack in 2010 spawned App Attack II in January. Seventy-four teams were challenged to design a mobile app to help people be safer drivers. Many entries applied game mechanics to driving behaviors in order to reward safer driving. In the end, 13 finalists were picked and two took home prizes. All of the ideas could be picked up by a sponsor inside the company, and one now has a patent pending.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



InterContinental Hotels Group's reservation processing system gets 45 million room availability and rate requests a day, with a 44% year-over-year increase in requests. In 2010, IHG forecast the system would reach capacity by the third quarter, requiring a $1.5 million upgrade. That spurred IHG to develop Smart Cache Services, a data caching model that let its partners and online travel agencies like Travelocity more efficiently manage IHG's room rates and availability information. The system alerts them when a rate or availability changes, so partners don't have to constantly ping the system to check for changes. With Smart Cache, requests from partners to the hotel group's systems dropped 95%, from 4 million per day to 200,000. Its look-to-book ratio (number of site visits compared with number of bookings) went from 2,000-to-1 to 80-to-1. And instead of keeping this innovation to itself, IHG has released it to the open community. OpenTravel Alliance, a nonprofit trade association, has made one of the services--the Change Discovery Service--part of its 2010B specifications, so other hotels can adopt it.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



In financial services, employee communications must be archived for seven years and all client account information safeguarded. That makes using social networking tools for business a challenge, but Vanguard's Enterprise 2.0 initiative is overcoming the obstacles. Its Crew Think program uses social media to solicit ideas from employees. It recently collected several hundred ideas for themes that should be covered in Vanguard's constitution--the core principles used to govern the company. Other E2.0 efforts include allowing the company's email and calendar on personal mobile devices, with more than 2,300 employees doing this. A multimedia center lets employees create videos, animations, and webcasts. It's making extensive use of videoconferencing, which by itself has saved more than $2 million in travel costs. Next up: Vanguard will expand use of some E2.0 tools to its clients.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



As the parent company of DeVry University and other educational institutions, DeVry Inc. needed a way to quickly respond to prospective students' inquiries and streamline admissions. It deployed Salesforce.com to make these changes, but more importantly built customized workflows with hundreds of rules to automate the routing of student inquiries to the right adviser. It developed more than 40 integrations to other cloud and on-premises systems, possibly the most of any Salesforce customer. DeVry says the automation of various tasks is saving it $3.1 million annually. The system has slashed customer service response time to online inquiries and cut the time needed to complete the admissions application from about 10 minutes to three. The simpler processes resulted in more students applying last year.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Fiserv, a financial services technology provider, launched ZashPay last year to help its bank and credit union clients compete in the growing person-to-person payments market against the likes of PayPal. The payment service lets anyone with a U.S. bank account send or receive money without needing to know the other person's bank account information. The big upside for customers is that they don't need to create a holding account, since the money can come right out of their existing bank accounts. ZashPay is accessible through participating online banking sites and at ZashPay's site. To send money, users need only know the recipient's name and email address or mobile phone number. Payments can be delivered in as little as one business day. Fiserv's financial institution clients have the option of charging a fee, creating additional revenue for them. More than 500 financial institutions have implemented ZashPay.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Texas Health Resources, which operates 24 hospitals in north Texas, is using clinical decision support software to identify patients at risk for venous thromboembolism--blood clots that are a common cause of hospital deaths. The interactive Web application is based on a modified Caprini Risk Assessment model, which is used to assess the likelihood that a patient will develop the dangerous clots. When a clinician clicks on VTE risk assessment, the tool is populated with data from the patient's electronic health record, including diagnosis, procedures, and lab results. The clinician can select additional risk factors, and the app calculates a risk assessment score and suggests treatment to meet the patient's needs. The VTE risk assessment tool has contributed to a more than 20% reduction in postoperative blood clots since its implementation. And physicians are more actively engaged in VTE prevention as patient risk assessment has become more automated.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Dunkin' Brands' Dunkin' Donuts chain has put the kibosh on employee theft by combining point-of-sale transactional data with its surveillance security system. Every time an employee touches the POS system, dynamic keystroke transactions are saved and transferred to the surveillance system. When certain transactions are performed, a video clip is generated on the right side of the surveillance system's screen, while the actual employee keystroke transaction is shown on the left side. This lets managers see what's happening at the counter or drivethru, and how the employee is operating the POS system. The system also lets managers review specific types of transactions, including voids, deletes, under-$1 total sales, and discounts, to see if product was given away for free or if money wasn't properly accounted for during the transaction. Dunkin' Donuts makes the technology available to franchisees, and restaurants that utilize the integrated technology have significantly reduced theft, recouping 2% to 6% of sales on average.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



The biotech company Amgen has created a paperless lab software system that fully tracks and documents the analytical laboratory process, from specimen registration to reporting results to other systems within the company. The system uses automated workflows to ensure that lab staff collect and store the requisite data and metadata, use validated analytics, and record approvals. Data reporting and business intelligence tools are integrated into the system, and it supports many aspects of laboratory management, including security and role and workload management. Employees access it via a browser, so there's no client-side software to install, which makes it easier to deploy worldwide and be used by contract labs. With the new system, Amgen has increased the number of specimens analyzed per day by as much as 200%, with a 40% reduction in labor. The lab decreased its project timelines by weeks, letting it process more projects.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Valmont Industries initially deployed a virtual desktop infrastructure on thin clients to cut repair response time in its manufacturing facilities and lower the total cost of ownership for its systems. The company, which manufactures lighting, traffic, and utility poles as well as irrigation equipment, got all that from VDI, but its users complained of performance problems. So Valmont turned to 5- and 6-year-old computers that it was about to discard and used VDI to turn them into kiosks. The older computers provide video processing that outperforms thin clients, and they also have multi-monitor capabilities that the thin clients don't have. On top of those advantages, they eliminate the cost of recycling the computers, lower capital costs, and provide a greener footprint for the company.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Mercer does the complex calculations that let companies know how much money they'll need to fund their pensions. When a legacy system needed upgrading, the company instead developed Retirement Studio, using the Microsoft .NET framework. But that system underutilized the processing power of newer multicore processors and couldn't distribute jobs across multiple servers. So Mercer rewrote the calculation engine as a private cloud, using Microsoft high-performance computing and Windows Compute Cluster Server. Retirement Studio now uses more than 1,000 cores across five data centers, processing more than 5 million records daily. It improved processing time by a factor of 100. Next up is setting up public cloud capacity in Microsoft Azure that Mercer can tap for added capacity during times of peak usage.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage



Convergys, which provides outsourced customer service, has more than 65,000 employees in 67 contact centers worldwide. Its agents handled more than 295 million calls last year, so helping these employees improve their skills is vital to its business. Enter Convergys's eCoaching portal, a Web-based tool that captures agents' performance data and provides performance improvement information. Team leaders get a scorecard for each agent they supervise that shows five-week trending on various metrics. They use the summaries in coaching sessions and can select development activities from the portal that will help agents improve their skills. Team leaders report spending more time on face-to-face conversations and less on administrative tasks.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage

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