Not Your Father's IT

Today's IT leaders are helping to design, evolve and innovate new business models

As CIO and senior vice president of engineering and development at Reynolds & Reynolds, Yen-Ping Shan's calendar listed a regular weekly meeting with the Ohio-based company's CEO.

At Sonora Quest Laboratories, CIO Bob Dowd has a list of assigned customers -- mostly big, multilocation health clinics -- that he visits each quarter.

On any given day, Darryl Lemecha, ChoicePoint's CIO and senior vice president of shared services, is just as likely to be meeting with a venture capitalist to get information about a small but promising technology firm as he is to be walking a key client through ChoicePoint's business strategy.

Three different calendars tell strikingly similar stories about the changing role of IT executives. No longer are CIOs and other IT leaders simply supporting their companies' business strategies. Instead, many of this year's Premier 100 IT Leaders are helping to design, evolve and innovate business models as their companies increasingly look to IT to create revenue streams.

"Anytime you go to market to sell some new business, technology is always a topic, whether it comes up as speed of delivery, service quality or product innovation," Lemecha says. "I don't believe you can talk about business strategy independent of a technology strategy anymore. They are one and the same."

"IT is embedded in everything we do," says Monsanto CIO Mark Showers. "The idea of [systems] integration and needing information across all components to effectively run the business is absolutely mainstream now." What's more, "IT is all about helping the company to grow, not just run the business," he adds.

Monsanto's new pricing model, which enables the company to charge for various agricultural and biotech products based on their value to customers in different agronomic zones, is a prime example. The model was developed by combining and optimizing customer, product and market data previously contained in separate data silos. Now, for example, the St. Louis-based company can charge a premium to customers whose corn crops are susceptible to European corn-borer insect larvae, because Monsanto's seed contains a trait that kills off the crop-eating predator. Buyers in other areas of the country pay less for the product.

"Depending on where you are in the country, the insect pressure varies substantially, so you'd like to charge more in places where there is a high insect pressure, because those customers get more value from the product. It's a classic price-to-value scenario," Showers explains.

"It's a far more complex pricing model than has ever before been used in our business," he adds, "but we've been able to increase revenue through this very information-intensive model."

Indeed, managing information -- as opposed to managing computer systems and software -- is a recurring theme among this year's Premier 100 honorees.

"The evolution of IT is clearly moving away from the management of technology to the management of information," says John Hinkle, vice president and CIO at N.Y.-based Trans World Entertainment, which operates more than 800 music stores nationwide. Among the company's latest IT-enabled revenue streams is its "mix and burn" service, which enables customers in stores to create customized CDs by compiling digital music tracks from various artists onto a single disc.

Managing information requires different abilities than the purely technical skills associated with IT, Hinkle says. "The IT organization has to marry well with the business organization, not just the business goals and objectives," he says. That requires matching the right personalities and IT staffers with sales, marketing and other business functions at the company.

To accomplish this, Trans World has developed a project management office that includes managers who have developed expertise and a special rapport with the specific business functions to which they are dedicated. As CIO, Hinkle oversees this PMO in addition to serving on the company's executive board, and he is deeply entrenched in all business decisions.

"I'm involved in merchandising, store planning and in every other core strategic meeting at the company," he says. "I'm expected to be very well versed in these things, and I'm also expected to answer more than the IT questions. I'm part of the strategy brainstorming."

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