A Top-Line Focus
Growth needn’t come from risky new-market ventures; a competitive edge in an established line of business can drive up the top line as well.
For universities, corporate-sponsored research is a major source of growth, but during recessions, such funding becomes more scarce. Purdue University President France A. Córdova looked to Vice President of IT and CIO Gerry McCartney to shore up its portfolio. To make Purdue more visible and attractive to sponsors, McCartney’s team created Web-based research hubs (there are 20 so far) that scientists worldwide can access to find information and expertise, and to collaborate with Purdue researchers on such topics as biofuels, earthquake engineering and nanotechnology.
“The hubs have helped leverage research grants from many agencies,” Córdova notes, including funds to build and enhance the hubs. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency will be funding a new hub on environmental modeling.
Student academic performance also affects a college’s growth potential by influencing its reputation: The more successful the students are, the more attractive a school is to potential enrollees. So McCartney also develops tools to help students achieve their best grades.
His team adapted the familiar decision-support dashboard into an online system called Signals that informs students (and their professors) how well they are doing in their classes and suggests resources they can tap to do better. Another system, Hotseat, allows students to use social media tools to post questions and comments to lecturers inside and outside the classroom, generating discussions. “These were developed by our CIO, working with the professors,” says Córdova, “They’ve improved student retention and are an important differentiator.”
At Reliance Capital, CTO Phanasgaonkar has developed portal-based services to boost competitive advantage with its insurance distributors and retail customers. But in India, where Reliance is based, the Internet doesn’t reach every potential customer. So IT has developed and deployed laptop applications that salespeople can use to collect data and upload it from Internet cafes. Employees can also use text messages to relay customer leads and collection data. These technology workarounds enable Reliance to do business in places where it would otherwise cost too much.
Fluor CIO Ray Barnard helps his company differentiate its services in an unusually direct way—he participates in the sales process as an account executive sponsor. By working directly with his assigned clients on sales and conflict resolution, Barnard can more easily come up with ways to deliver projects faster and less expensively, says board member Woolsey. “In our business model, you negotiate the price with the client, then once you get the project, you look through every possible way to be more efficient and share that savings with the client.”
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