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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Technology, Innovation & Business Edge

Too often the issue (however dry it looks) of IT's contribution to business success is always raised and we see opinions swinging from one extreme to another - while most of the IT fraternity wholehearteldy beleivess in the inevitability of IT in business environments and marshall substantial facts and figures as evidence. The nay sayers highlight that IT is a commodity and can not provide business with competitive differentiation. The CIO magazine writes, The intelligent use of bold technology can offer companies a chance to achieve significant competitive advantage or save significant money. The keys to using technology boldly and successfully, according to those honored in this year's CIO 100, are risk management, change management and gaining the trust of your users. The references look neat and are unique in the way they have leveraged IT for business benefits. Excerpts with edits & comments from the three cases cited in the article.

- In the slow moving beverage business, Healey’s groups uses IT to revolutionize the business, and to do it quickly. Local autonomy is built into the wine and spirits business because distribution is highly regulated, and state liquor laws vary widely. The sales and marketing efforts are localized by state, and silos of data grow up around state lines. Healey wanted a solution balancing local distribution and autonomy. Healey's group bucked the industry culture by creating a centralized application that he says reduced headcount for managing brand content from 16 to four while simultaneously increasing the overall quality of the product materials. Instead of numerous regional content managers designing sales materials—often with varying outcomes—now a single person with a strong background in the spirits industry and a knack for creating compelling content can, leading a small team, put together sales and marketing materials for reuse throughout the operations. An application called E-Pride lets salespeople visit one site and retrieve a wide range of product information and backup material—including real-time access to ever-changing sales promotions—quickly. It also gives them another competitive advantage - They can look up information about competing products.

India’S Reliance Infocomm needed to grow quickly if it were to compete with entrenched providers & forced it to use technology as its prime agent for growth. Part of Reliance's business goal was to provide wireless data services, not just voice. And CDMA offered the company both more reliable data transmission and what it saw as a smoother transition to advanced data services down the road. Reliance’s dramatic growth created dramatic challenges. Part of Reliance's strategy depended on spreading franchises throughout the country, including in places where network connectivity was limited or even nonexistent. Reliance had to move from batch upload of data to real-time transaction processing. For real-time performance, Reliance was going to need a faster network. So it turned to the only other option available—its own wireless CDMA network. Scale was a challenge and the option was fraught with risks. To reduce the danger, it made several critical decisions.
- First, it decided to offer franchisees initially only a small piece of its overall customer processing suite—customer bill payment posting—while it continued to develop the rest of the technology behind the scenes.
- At the same time, Reliance was working on a backup plan that would allow for real-time updating via fiber optic links in 20 percent of its locations, with the remaining 80 percent allowed to use the old batch system until the new version became operational.
- It then created a stripped down application that made more efficient use of bandwidth. Through careful support services, within 90 days of implementation 100 percent of franchisees were using the new system. The project brought down the overall customer acquisition cost and cost of service throughout the customer’s lifecycle.
- The fast growing city of Phoenix saw its public safety wireless communications system—encompassing police, fire department, EMT and other radio systems- stretched to the limit. To smooth the process of technology vetting and adoption, the city's IT department led a coalition of agencies, including fire and police as well as a variety of technology providers. Unfortunately, the coalition had few if any best practices to guide it. Standards for such public safety networks are still developing. To reduce the risk involved with adopting the relatively unproven Project 25-compatible technology, the group sent representatives to other cities and towns that were already using similar wireless systems. They also spent considerable time quizzing technology providers and other experts on the state of the burgeoning Project 25 standards . Very nice examples - more details like investments, time period rollouts, efforts and agencies involved and quantified benefits & derived business value could have made these references more rounded & complete. Phoenix's success with this bold and critical initiative has also inspired them to contemplate other bold moves in the future. The article rightly concludes by highlighting that three very different organizations. Three very different technologies. But one common theme: the willingness to boldly use IT tools to deliver outsized business benefit.

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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
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