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Beware The Faux Innovators

Before we can understand what innovation is, we must first understand what it's not.
What makes InformationWeek 500 companies technology innovators? In most cases, it's not because they've set up a formal innovation organization. It's because they have new markets to conquer and nagging problems to solve -- and a bunch of smart, determined, focused (and financially resourced) people committed to getting from point A to point B.

Here's a snapshot of what our Top Five companies are up to.

-- At UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), IT innovation means not just improving the efficiency and service quality of its hospitals and health insurance plan, but also generating new sources of income in creative ways. Having paid $30.5 million in 2006 for part of integration software maker dbMotion, for example, UPMC sold its stake this year to Allscripts for a tidy $67.8 million, but not before it had refined the software for its own use and for use by other hospital groups.

-- At ConocoPhillips, IT innovation is about tapping new sources of energy, of course, but it's also about extracting maximum value from legacy gas and oil fields. Under its PLOT (Plunger Lift Optimization Tool) initiative, the company already is gathering reams more data from 4,500 natural gas wells, and then applying analytics to that data to increase production as much as 30%. ConocoPhillips is now extending PLOT, which introduced 43 performance dashboards for individual wells and gas fields, to thousands of additional plunger-lift wells in the U.S. and Canada.

-- At Gap, IT innovation involves making the inventory it keeps in certain stores available to people shopping online, so that it's far less likely a Web shopper will get an out-of-stock notice. Gap's innovation lies in figuring out the optimal number of ship-from-store options to offer and how best to integrate those options into its e-commerce operation.

-- At Penske Truck Leasing, IT innovation means becoming a Web merchandising, search and social networking expert to drive a whole new line of business: selling off-lease trucks directly to businesses and other would-be end customers rather than through wholesalers.

-- At Miami Children's Hospital, IT innovation means becoming a telemedicine pioneer to improve care and generate new revenue. It has built a $2 million "command center" equipped with high-def cameras and large monitors to enable physician-to-patient and physician-to-physician communications worldwide, as well as remote reading of diagnostic tests.

Read more on our special InformationWeek 500 site. Trust us: You won't find any salt, sugar or fat.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer