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Ready, set, compete: The benefits of IT innovation

Stacy Collett | Jan. 15, 2013
Welcome to 2013. As IT budgets loosen up and new projects get queued up, IT is learning to quickly tap into creative ideas for competitive advantage in a cutthroat marketplace.

Hertz scrapped the kiosks by early 2009. Fast-forward to 2010, when an IT employee learned about a company that developed video integration technology. Team members surmised that if they used the new technology and worked with their key suppliers to put it together, they could create a more interactive, personalized kiosk that would solve the problems they encountered with the basic kiosk technology.

The new kiosks have two interactive video screens. When a customer picks up a receiver, a centralized customer service rep pops up and can complete the entire rental transaction remotely. The rep can even suggest optional services, print the rental agreement and give customers access to their car keys in a safe -- 24 hours a day.

In 2011, Hertz's new ExpressRent kiosks hit major airports and have since catapulted the company into new markets. "This has been a real game-changer," Eckroth says. "We have reduced line waits in most of our major airports and shaved peak staffing requirements. We can serve markets we weren't able to serve before -- we now have these [kiosks and rental cars] at hotels, body shops and parking garages in New York City."

A Method to Their Madness

Though ideas may run wild during brainstorming sessions, the process of refining a great idea into a workable plan usually includes a defined methodology.

Each quarter, the innovation management team at Steelcase, a workplace furnishings and services provider in Grand Rapids, Mich., convenes an innovation meeting with representatives of all areas of the business. The Innovation Management Office leader, who reports to the CIO, poses a single question to the group, such as "How do we create more efficiency in our manufacturing process?" He then uses a methodology developed by Palo Alto design firm IDEO to guide team members toward new ideas.

The methodology is the company's secret sauce for experimentation, says CIO Bob Krestakos. "IDEO is kind of our mentor in terms of design thinking methodologies," he says. "That methodology is applied to various areas of the business. It creates some of the ideas that we follow up on."

IDEO's philosophy is that virtually everyone has the capacity to innovate, but over time, people tend to lose their belief in their own creativity. Techniques such as defining problems through direct observation, developing empathy, encouraging people to come up with many ideas quickly, and fostering collaboration among colleagues with radically different viewpoints all help people regain their creative confidence.

The group comes up with three to five projects that they will work on for three to five months, depending on the experiment's complexity and promise.

The company recently found success experimenting with RFID technology as a way to improve its lean manufacturing model, says Krestakos. As the first deployment of the technology rolls out in North America, the company is developing prototypes of other RFID-based systems in an effort to find more applications. "It has really snowballed into something that I think can be really significant," he adds.


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