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InformationWeek 500 winners share all sorts of bright ideas with us--ones they use to solve problems, make their employees more productive, and bring in more business. We've cherry-picked the best of them for you, particularly the ideas that have applicability beyond just the company and business where they originate.
Mobile apps are big this year, and many companies are using them to make customer-facing employees more efficient. Hyatt Hotels, for instance, is stationing iPad-equipped front-desk clerks at airports to check in guests well before they set foot in the hotel. Intermountain Healthcare has put iPads on the aircraft it uses to transport critically injured patients so flight crews can enter patient data directly into the healthcare system's network rather putting it on paper first.
Commercial real estate firm Simon Property Group has swapped the stacks of paper its leasing agents used to carry to customer meetings for an iPad app that gives them access to the company's entire portfolio. Ralph Lauren has given its store staff an iPad app to more easily take down a customer's measurements for a tailored suit, replacing spreadsheets.
Other companies are using technology to directly improve their customers' experiences. AG Interactive, which makes American Greetings cards, is letting people create digital cards and then press a button to have them printed and mailed. Priceline.com has an app that lets customers point smartphones in any direction and discover what hotels are in the vicinity. Truck maker PACCAR is giving truckers a mobile app that lets them find out what's wrong with their trucks before they have to pull off the road and find a mechanic. Royal Caribbean Cruises is giving iPads to passengers that they can use while onboard its Splendour of the Seas ship to increase their exposure to the ship's services. The Home Depot has incorporated PayPal into its payment choices in its brick-and-mortar stores.
Is retooling tech support in your company's future? Consider these ideas: Accounting and consulting firm BDO USA has turned its help desk from a dead-end job into a place where people enjoy what they do and have a career path. Software maker Intuit set up its own version of the Apple Genius Bar that employees can just walk right up to for tech support. Procter & Gamble organized overnight PC upgrades for 60,000 employees, complete with a training fair the next day.
Now it's your turn to take these nuggets and come up with your own great idea. You might not have 60,000 employees, but is there something in the idea of scheduled, overnight PC upgrades that would be useful to your business? Rethink and recreate these 20 great ideas to fit your needs and problems.
Intermountain Healthcare's Life Flight unit operates four helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft that are essentially flying intensive care units outfitted with emergency equipment and systems. They're staffed with medical teams that include adult, pediatric, neonatal, and respiratory specialists. The aircraft often transport critically injured patients to Intermountain's 22 hospitals across Utah and southeastern Idaho.
Among the most recent additions to the equipment on these aircraft are iPads with an application to help flight crews quickly collect patient information. Instead of scribbling information on paper with all the inefficiency and risk of human error that entails, flight personnel enter patient data into the iPad app where it can be quickly transferred into the hospital's network upon arrival. Flight crews also can share information from the application with other clinicians when necessary.
The iPads don't take up much room, a critical concern in the cramped, weight-constrained space of the aircraft. Besides reducing data entry errors, clinical decision support on the iPads is helping eliminate medical errors while in flight. The application framework was built to ensure that it can be reused in other critical care situations.
Some 16 million Americans will book a trip using a mobile device this year. Priceline.com is going after their business with mobile apps built from scratch to take full advantage of mobile hardware's unique features.
These travelers are extreme last-minute planners: 58% of them book their hotels for check-in that same evening, compared with 39% of desktop users, and 41% rent cars for same-day pickup.
Priceline builds native apps for Apple and Android devices, and one of its most popular apps is Hotel Negotiator. People can shake their phones to determine their location and show nearby hotels along with distances, descriptions, photos, and prices. A radar feature lets users point their phones in a particular direction, and the beeping "radar" sweeps the area to locate hotels.
At the busy Hyatt Regency O'Hare, guests can wait 10 minutes or more to check in. To ease that crunch, the hotel chain used technology to refine the role of its front desk staff at the Chicago hotel.
Hyatt renamed its desk clerks "hosts" and untethered them from the desk, arming them with Apple iPads equipped with a Hyatt-designed, custom-built iOS app. It also gave them custom-built PCI-compliant credit card readers, RFID encoders to provide room keys, and bar code scanners for reading guest confirmation slips.
Now Hyatt hosts can greet guests throughout the hotel to check them in and out. Hosts also are stationed at O'Hare airport, where they check in arriving guests at shuttle bus stations before they set foot in the hotel.
In a few weeks, the hotel went from being 107th in the company in terms of guest satisfaction scores to No. 5. Hyatt plans to have all its hotels onboard next year.
PACCAR used an ongoing partnership with Seattle University's engineering and business schools to develop a physical prototype of a new mobile tool. It developed the business plan for producing, distributing, and marketing the tool in conjunction with the university's business school.
The tool is aimed at long-haul truckers, who can't easily diagnose every problem with their trucks out on the road. PACCAR, the No. 1 company in the InformationWeek 500 last year, soon will provide a vehicle diagnostic tool on a mobile phone.
When a warning light flashes on a truck's dashboard, instead of taking time off from routes to work on the truck or find a mechanic, the driver can connect the Android-based app to the truck's computer using Bluetooth. The app provides easy-to-understand vehicle health information so the driver can make a fast, informed decision about servicing the vehicle.
Ralph Lauren has transformed what its staff can do for customers with initiatives on both ends of its tech environment.
On the front end, a new iPad app shows high-definition 3-D models of all the color, hardware, and inscription combinations available for the popular Ricky Bag. Ralph Lauren's retail stores can't stock all 90 possible combos, but the app can show them all.
Another app replaces printed spreadsheets to more accurately collect measurements for a tailored suit. Salespeople can point at the part of a garment on the screen that needs altering, and a tape measure pops up to enter the data with a slide of the finger.
On the back end, a new point-of-sale system has reduced transaction time. The standardized system also makes it easier for the retailer to add new and even temporary stores. Ralph Lauren also integrated its wholesale and retail inventories so they can be now be sold interchangeably.
Simon Property Group's leasing agents used to carry stacks of paper into sales calls. If they needed more info, they'd have to access multiple systems. Those days are over now that the commercial real estate firm has an iPad app that provides access to Simon's entire portfolio, including a sales presentation, photos, video, and even 3-D walk-throughs of some properties.
Simon launched the app nine weeks from project kick-off. And it's actually helping close deals. In a meeting with one large restaurant chain, Simon closed two unexpected deals because its executives could use the app to showcase properties in a few states of interest to the client. The tenant's CEO was overheard asking his real estate executives, "Why don't we have an app like this?"
AG Interactive, maker of American Greetings cards, set out to close the gap between customers who like digital greetings and those who prefer paper cards. The company believed the gap was partly generational.
So AG created the JustWink Print-on-Demand initiative, sending a team of developers and businesspeople to a separate work area for a month to design, develop, test, and deploy a new system.
The effort required the creation of a new scalable vector graphic specification and the development of a custom rendering system that merges the card's spec with the customer's photos, messages, and other content. Once the card is created, the customer can send the card electronically or press a button to send it to a third-party vendor who assembles, prints, and mails the card to the recipient.
Sabre's new app marketplace is giving travel agencies and other travel buyers, such as corporate travel management companies, software to provide better service and work more closely with customers. The travel technology company's Red App Centre app marketplace provides apps that can be added to Sabre's platform to upgrade reporting, quality control, training, traveler profile management, and more. The apps integrate with Sabre's point-of-sale software used by more than 200,000 travel agents.
Third-party developers can apply to get Sabre's developer toolkit and sell apps in the store. The Carbon Emission Calculator is one example. It lets agents estimate how much carbon will be burned on a trip--including air, hotel, and car--in order to help travelers pick environmentally sensitive options.
The store has seen more than 5,000 downloads, and Sabre has received more than 100 Red App developer applications.
Tired of employees' complaints about ineffective, phone-based internal tech support, Intuit stole an idea from Apple's Genius Bars. Employees with computer problems now can walk up to a TechKnow Bar in the company's cafeterias and get personal help.
Some execs at the personal finance software company were skeptical of this approach for internal support. But the TechKnow Bar is saving about $1.4 million annually in IT-related costs and handles complex problems in a fraction of the time they were resolved remotely. Average resolution went from four hours to less than 30 minutes.
Employee surveys indicate the TechKnow Bars are working on the customer satisfaction front as well: "They're efficient, enthusiastic, highly responsive, and tremendously knowledgeable," one employee says. "I love these guys."
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia implemented a role-based system for its entire network. With more than 9,000 users and nearly 500 different roles in its Epic electronic health records system, the project wasn't simple.
Roles were developed in Epic using role-based template functionality. The project team also developed a custom table in the hospital's human resources database that maps a person's job title and department to his or her Epic role template. Tied to the hospital's learning management system, the table automatically assigns training based on a person's role and links to an approval system that routes IT request forms to managers.
Now hospital staff can have the same access anywhere in the hospital's network. Provisioning access for new employees is faster, and clinicians don't have to request new access when changing jobs as long as their titles remain the same.
BDO USA's help desk was a dead-end job where employees spent nearly all their time answering calls and emails, without a clear career path or challenge.
The accounting and consulting company has helped employees change that environment. Help desk staff now take turns creating the group's support schedule, attend 1.5 hours of tech training a week, and work with mentors. They're expected to create wiki content on tech topics, and high performers are coached in leadership skills. They now spend only 60% of their time on the phone, relying more on instant messaging and SharePoint.
Turnover is near zero as BDO created clearer career paths. And BDO is supporting more end users with the same number of staff.
Royal Caribbean Cruises has put iPads in all 100 suites of its Splendour of the Seas ship and lets passengers use them anywhere onboard.
The iPads come with customized applications that can be used to access the Internet, watch movies, view ship activity updates, create a daily schedule, sign up for shore excursions, monitor onboard charges, order room service, and view restaurant menus.
The device opens new revenue channels, giving guests more exposure and access to the ship's services. It also lets the cruise line more easily provide guests with customized offers. The ship has a dual-band wireless infrastructure that's both voice- and video-ready anywhere on the ship.
Royal Caribbean is working on a similar app that passengers will be able to use on their own devices. It's also planning more social interaction, such as helping guests with common interests connect. The cruise line plans to put iPads in all of Splendour of the Seas' staterooms and eventually deploy them on other ships.
When you operate in 180 countries, with a variety of software, hardware, and connectivity, and employees with varying digital expertise, maximizing employee productivity with technology can be a challenge. Procter & Gamble's ambitious answer: upgrade 60,000 P&G employees' digital capabilities in six weeks, with minimal disruption, while providing everyone with relevant training.
P&G called the program AMP IT UP. PC upgrades had to happen overnight, one location at a time. "Save the date" messages went out four weeks in advance, with information on how to drop off PCs, pick them up, and receive one-on-one and small-group training on the new tools at an on-site event.
Among the upgrades: the ability to boot up faster, 25 times more inbox capacity, easier password management, desktop and file sharing tools, and a range of new videoconferencing capabilities.
Coca-Cola Enterprises' 2,500 field sales representatives were spending too much time assessing whether stores were effectively displaying the company's products and too little time selling.
The company turned to an iPhone app and photo-recognition technology. Now when a rep visits a store, instead of counting the bottles on each shelf and entering data into a spreadsheet for later analysis, the rep takes photos of the displays. The app sends images to a cloud storage facility and a photo-recognition vendor for overnight processing. The vendor sends results back to Coke's CRM system, which generates a report with objectives for the next call at that store and sends it to the rep's iPhone.
Stores report increased sales of as much as 18%. And sales reps say they're more efficient: In Great Britain, they're making 100,000 additional calls annually.
What happens when you put IT developers using agile methods in the same workspace with business subject-matter experts and customer service representatives, and give them an isolated live production environment? For USAA, it created a faster way to go from idea to prototype to a new service for its insurance and banking customers.
Dubbed Agile Labs, the process quickly turns ideas into new products that service representatives test on live calls with customers. The reps provide feedback that's used to improve the offerings.
USAA got more than 350 product enhancements from its first Agile Lab and realized a sixfold return on investment. It opened six more labs last year and increased the number of projects budgeted for them to 25% of project spending this year, from 2% last year.
The labs' average time to market is more than 40% faster than traditional waterfall development methods. USAA is planning to cut time-to-market goals for all projects by 45% by the end of 2015, as compared with the end of 2010.
As part of an intense focus on improving the customer checkout experience, The Home Depot became the first major retailer to integrate PayPal into its brick-and-mortar point-of-sale system.
Home Depot and PayPal worked together to develop a magnetic-stripe card that would work with PayPal and to offer a mobile device-based PayPal option. Home Depot deployed both to existing checkout terminals. Shoppers also can enter their phone numbers and PayPal PINs to pay, an option that's helpful if a customer has forgotten his or her wallet. Once the transaction is complete, the customer receives a text-messaged receipt almost immediately.
The PayPal payment system was developed and tested over about 11 months. Then Home Depot team deployed it to all its nearly 2,000 U.S. stores in a matter of two weeks.
Medical provider Marshfield Clinic has developed a Population Health Management dashboard that lets clinicians look at trends in large patient groups that they see, and compare those trends with how specific patients are doing.
The dashboard has been deployed to more than 400 users. It helps identify which physicians are leaders in managing care for specific conditions, with the hope that their best practices can be shared to improve those who are lagging. It was developed using commercial business intelligence tools that take data from Marshfield's 12-TB enterprise data warehouse, which has data on more than 2.5 million patients.
To help people get the most for their healthcare dollars, Cigna has enhanced its physician search tool to show the costs of specific doctors and hospitals. When a customer uses the physician search engine on the insurer's myCigna site, doctors and hospitals are listed according to quality designations. Now Cigna also provides pricing estimates based on claims payments. The estimates are backed by more than five years of testing and research.
The tool shows the true out-of-pocket cost for a procedure, factoring in a customer's deductible, coinsurance, and health savings funds. You can look up a knee arthroscopy by doctor and get an estimate for what you'll pay to get care from that doctor--including fees for diagnostics, anesthesia, and other services, as well as hospital and facility costs. The search engine also can compare a physician's costs for performing a procedure at different hospitals.
Introduced in March, the new feature generated 200,000 cost estimates in the first month.
Toyota has developed a social media and CRM tool that ties what's being said online about its cars to customer, sales, and quality data. The software also pieces together information that potential customers post online so Toyota can track them as they go through the buying process.
A California customer tweeted that he was deciding between a Lexus (a Toyota brand) and a BMW. The tool's development team followed him as he tweeted from a Lexus dealer, where he bought an ES 350, and continued following him post-purchase.
The tool took 60 hours to develop, largely using software Toyota already had. Oracle Endeca Discovery handles data discovery and search analytics, WiseWindow and DataSift aggregate social data, and Lexalytics analyzes sentiment.
Toyota is using the tool to improve customer service, product forecasting and quality, and lead generation. It plans to feed information to dealers in the future.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital's Transitional Care Center treats kids with complex conditions that can require tracheotomies or other help with their breathing, and thus need constant observation. The U-shaped physical layout of the unit posed a problem: Patients at the end of the hallway are far from the nursing station and difficult to monitor.
In a recent renovation, the hospital added a central monitoring room with a video and vitals monitoring system. A medical tech watches up to 19 patients on a real-time, high-definition video surveillance system, similar to those used in retail stores and office buildings. The tech also monitors a patient's EKG and blood oxygen levels, ready to notify a nurse if there's a problem.