Why the 2008 CIO 100 Winners Are Focused on Operations and Controlling Costs

The 2008 CIO 100 honorees are focused on operational innovation—transforming their infrastructure, analytic tools and business processes to control costs and enable the next level of competitive advantage.

Josh Morton almost has to chuckle when he thinks about the IT demands of yesteryear. The customer wanted quality, speed and cost-effectiveness, of course. But back then, you could comfortably tell the user he'd have to pick two, because you certainly couldn't deliver all three.

In 2008, that sounds almost quaint.

"The business reality today is you have to be better, faster and cheaper," says Morton, vice president of IT Operations and enterprise testing for Sprint Nextel. He regularly reminds his team—without a hint of hyperbole—that its goal is to provide the same great quality of service at half the cost and 10 times faster. "You can't say, 'Pick two,'" he says. "That's not the reality of our world."

The better, faster, cheaper focus led to a revolution in how Sprint's IT organization delivers infrastructure support to the business, ultimately enabling the company to be more nimble and improve its own time to market. The effort, a server and storage farm with an integrated infrastructure management layer to automate the provisioning of resources, garnered Sprint Nextel a 2008 CIO 100 award.

A look at this year's CIO 100 honorees reveals the pervasiveness of Morton's mind-set and where that way of thinking has led CIOs to focus their creativity. One-third of this year's CIO 100 honorees—who are being recognized for delivering business value through IT innovation—categorized their projects as impacting operations, while 28 percent said their project had strategic benefits. More implementations contained an element of business process management than any other kind of project, followed closely by service-oriented architecture and network-related work.

While a focus on operations, infrastructure and process may sound like a step back for IT, there's something more at work. These projects aren't aimed directly at disrupting business models or capturing new markets (the innovations that excite academics and analysts), but they have potential, nevertheless, to change companies. "The next round of competitive advantage for businesses will not be provided by capital, labor or raw materials, but resilient business processes," says C.K. Prahalad, coauthor of The New Age of Innovation and professor of corporate strategy at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. If IT is to enable the business to compete, says Prahalad, CIOs must concentrate on IT architecture, business process agility and resilience, and analytics that focus on business-critical data in real time.

Given today's tight economic situation and increasing global competition, IT must accomplish such transformation in more innovative ways. "We're being asked to do more with less so we have to ask, Is that adding value or is there a more creative way that will cost less and provide additional functionality?" says Marriott EVP & CIO Carl Wilson.

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