In Depth: How The InformationWeek 500 Cracks Businesses' Toughest Problems

It's not the frothy dot-com days. But new technologies and opportunities for change have made IT fun again.
To accomplish this feat, Harrah's modified its IT architecture and data structure in a number of systems, including those supporting operational transactions. BI systems analyze consumer behavior in real time: Customers swipe a card in a reader before they play a slot machine, and the IT system tracks each spin, letting employees react if a guest hits the jackpot or crosses a spending threshold that brings a new reward level. Stanley credits the new systems with helping boost Harrah's share of each guest's gaming budget by 30%.

Similar systems are being developed for poker and blackjack tables, where optical cameras, radio frequency identification technology, and bar-code scanners will watch every hand played. RFID chips embedded in gambling chips will track the amount wagered, won, and lost. A tiny bar code on the edge of each playing card, not discernable to the eye, will identify each hand of the dealer and players. The data collected will help account for cash flow and prevent chip fraud. Harrah's also can use the data to show customers that the casino provides adequate freebies based on the amount gamblers bet--a not infrequent complaint, given casinos' comp culture.

Services That Keep Customers

The ultimate measure of success for an IT shop is customer impact. More than half of InformationWeek 500 companies say they're directly involved in creating new products and services. Printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons, No. 53 on the list, created a service for its magazine and catalog customers called Co-Mail to combine multiple publications into a single mailing system sequenced to carrier routes. Titles produced at various printing plants are shipped to a single facility, where they're bundled for specific postal routes and sorted in the order they'll be delivered. That earns big discounts from the U.S. Postal Service, while still providing customers with track-and-trace capabilities to monitor deliveries. The service leverages existing material handling, warehouse tracking, and load management technologies with new interfaces based on Microsoft C# and .Net, linking various legacy systems. Co-Mail has saved customers millions of dollars in less than a year, Donnelley says.

World ViewTiffany's IT department is trying to take something away from customers--the unseemly lines that can pile up in November and December as people wait for gifts to be wrapped in the trademark blue box and white bow. This month, at its San Diego and New York stores, the retailer is testing Symbol MC50 wireless PDAs that let sales staff scan a product's price code and swipe a customer's credit card on the store floor. Data is wirelessly transmitted to a printer for the receipt, and integrated into Tiffany's point-of-sale system using technology from Cornell Mayo Associates. If the tests succeed in reducing lines, the technology will be rolled out at a number of Tiffany shops this fall.

Tiffany is among the 63% of InformationWeek 500 companies that see the innovative use of technology as a way to make business processes more efficient, and the 35% that use IT to improve customer service.

Employing the handheld device will require Tiffany to alter a long-standing business practice--no prewrapped gifts. But the top sales items--perhaps a $55 full-lead crystal Hampton candlestick, a $150 two-heart pendant on a 16-inch-long sterling silver chain, or a $1,500 Swiss-made Tiffany grand quartz watch--could be prewrapped and boxed to further speed the checkout process. "The technology sometimes is the easiest part," says CIO Robert Davidson. "Changing processes can be the toughest."

This year's InformationWeek 500 isn't much for shying from tough challenges. Spurring sales, managing global workforces, increasing productivity, creating new products, all on a budget that's tighter than ever? Yeah, that's their idea of fun.

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Selecting The InformationWeek 500

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Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Terry White, Associate Chief Analyst, Omdia
John Abel, Technical Director, Google Cloud
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer