Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

InformationWeek 500: 20 Great Ideas To Steal

Southern Puts Worker Data In Its Place
Southern Co. operates 76 power plants with more than 12,000 craft workers, many of them contractors, rotating among different plants as needed. Until recently, it kept records on worker certifications, training, drug tests, background checks and other information at each plant. When a worker switched plants, it was often easier to redo tests and training rather than chase down information at another plant. But that approach was costly and annoyed workers.

Last year, Southern centralized all the worker information with a Web application that provides a central repository of worker data. Now, workers can easily move from plant to plant, using technology like hand scanners to gain entry. The system will save the company $5.8 million over 4.5 years in labor and drug-testing costs. It's also being sold to other utilities.

Emergency Room Waits Worth Advertising

Healthcare services provider HCA's East Florida division is so sure patients won't have to spend a long time waiting to see a doctor at its emergency rooms, it advertises average wait times on digital billboards around communities where its hospitals and surgery centers are located.

The billboards evolved out of an effort to streamline the workflow in the East Florida division's emergency services department. The division developed software that extracts ER wait times and averages them over a rolling four-hour window. This gave staff a way to easily monitor workflow and wait times.

Once that was accomplished, the division decided to make wait-time data available to the communities it served. Using RSS feeds, it posted wait times on its hospital Web sites, created an iPhone app and provided text messages, along with the billboard messages.

"This type of transparency is not common in the hospital industry and required great confidence in our emergency services operations," says HCA, which runs 163 hospitals and 105 surgery centers in 20 states.

Generally, 65% of a hospital's inpatient activity is derived from ER admissions. The ER wait-time service is credited with helping increase emergency room admissions at HCA's East Florida division by nearly 7%.

POS Data Drives Products To Shelves

Del Monte had two problems: It didn't have a consistent demand forecasting process across the company, and its sales team had a lot of information about customers but wasn't synthesizing it well.

First the company created a single demand planning process using i2 Technologies' Demand Manager. This improved forecasting efficiency and accuracy, and took five days out of the sales and operations planning cycle.

Then it worked with One Network Enterprises to create a software-as-a-service-based system that combines daily point-of-sale and forecast data to directly drive replenishment processes and prevent its products from going out of stock on store shelves.

Wet Seal's Project iRunway

Teen clothing retailer Wet Seal's iRunway iPhone app takes personalized marketing to a new level. It lets customers scan product bar codes in Wet Seal stores and see all outfits that other customers have put together with that item.

IRunway links to Wet Seal's social media platform, where customers post outfits created with the retailer's clothing. Eighty-five percent of all items in a store have customer-generated outfits that are rated by their peers.

Wet Seal uses products customers scan to create personalized notifications and product offers for them.

Data Visualization Speeds Up Eli Lilly Drug Trials

In developing new drugs, Eli Lilly devotes significant time to drug and disease modeling. Before its Modeling and Simulation Explorer effort, referred to as MuSE, generating and packaging simulation results was a manual process that took a significant amount of modeling experts' time.

MuSE created an interactive environment that makes it possible to extract and visualize model-derived information in real time. This information makes it easier to pick drug compounds and doses, as well as to optimize study designs.

Executing simulations and compiling results, which previously required days or weeks of modeling experts' time, can now be done in minutes. And Lilly clinical trial designs are benefiting from improved dose/response relationships, better trial dose starting points, and the ability to simulate multiple trial endpoints. All of these contribute to more efficient clinical trials with fewer failed designs.

Data On Demand From P&G's 'Cockpit'

To enable its employees to collaborate more effectively, Procter & Gamble created the Decision Cockpit, a digital platform that supports faster, real-time decision-making across all brands and business units. Users design their own portals, identifying relevant business intelligence that's available in real time, on demand.

In some businesses, 370 tracking reports have been reduced to 30. Overall, there's been a 50% to 70% reduction in reports and touches, with 16 fewer data requests on average from each person using the cockpit. P&G has seen a 30% to 50% cost savings in some markets, improved data sharing security, and a savings of more than 400 miles of paper in just one year.

McCoy's Helps Contractors Sell Themselves

Building supplies and farm equipment retailer McCoy's provides its best contractor customers with customized Web pages where they can advertise services they offer, their qualifications, licensing, warranties, and pricing, as well as photographs of their work.

McCoy's retail customers can go to the network, plug in a ZIP code and see a list of participating McCoy's contractors in the ZIP code specified. They can view the customized page of each contractor and contact them about a project. What makes McCoy's Contractor Network intriguing is that contractors must be invited to join; it's not a "pay to play" program. Also, customers seeking a contractor don't fill out a form and wait for responses. They contact contractors directly.

Deere's Big Machines Get Health Service

John Deere's construction and forestry division has introduced Fleet Care, a service that relies on actual data from the machine to drive when fleet maintenance gets done, rather than relying only on scheduled intervals.

Fleet Care leverages an existing telematics platform called JDLink that transmits data to and from a machine over wireless cellular--soon to be satellite--data networks. Machine operating data is transmitted to John Deere daily, and higher-priority error and problem indicators are sent on demand.

The telematic data along with laboratory analysis of machine fluids is automatically fed into an expert system. Other inputs into the system include preventative maintenance schedules and visual inspections of machines. The data is processed through a flexible rules engine that codifies Deere engineers' vast experience and understanding of how to interpret complex machine data. The system translates this data into plain language and suggests how to proactively maintain machine health.

Vans Creates Unique Shoe-Buying Experience

VF, maker of Wrangler, North Face, Lee, and other clothing brands, redesigned its Vans e-commerce site to make it easier for customers to create customized sneakers and then share the experience.

Vans had a customization app on its site, but it was difficult to use and had a dated interface and limited social capabilities. The site now offers live chat, a scratch pad where customers can save shoe ideas while trying out new designs, and support for multiple-angle viewing.

The site also lets Vans pre-configure shoes to give customers a starting point. The project resulted in a significant increase in Van's custom shoe sales and Web site traffic.

GPS-Equipped Garbage Trucks Cut Waste

Waste Management has put GPS tracking and on-board touch-screen computers in its Seattle garbage trucks to capture real-time route status information and provide wireless communications between drivers and dispatchers. The system includes custom mobile software running on ruggedized touch-screen tablet PCs with a Web-accessible custom dispatch application.

Mobile software provides a map of collection service points, replacing a paper address list. The system reroutes drivers when dispatchers add stops midroute. It gives dispatchers real-time updates on a vehicle's progress. And it lets dispatchers reassign work and automatically notify drivers of changes through instant messages.

Under the new system, missed pickups are down 60%. And Waste Management has exceeded tightly defined service levels in its contract with the city of Seattle. Waste Management also has cut paper consumption by more than 1 million sheets per year.

SAS R&D Gets Boost From Cloud

Cloud computing has let SAS streamline its R&D development, testing, and delivery. The analytics software developer's Remote Access Computing Environment, called the RACE Cloud, provides on-demand computing for sales and other mobile workers. It has an extensive image library of server configurations. IT and R&D recognized that SAS's product testing groups could benefit from the image library's repeatable and reusable capabilities.

A small group of developers now build library images that are used by all testers, resulting in faster testing cycles. Developers no longer spend weeks staging and preparing servers for testing. SAS already is provisioning more than 4,000 environments a week. At any time there may be 1,200 environments running, and that's expected to double by year's end.

Data Mining Reroutes ER 'Frequent Fliers'

Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, a non-profit managed care provider, launched a data-mining project last year to cut costs for services provided outside of its own clinics. Among 17 potential targets that the group identified was what became known as "emergency room frequent fliers"--just 98 of the cooperative's 62,000 members who visited ERs more than six times a year, racking up charges of $2.2 million.

The cooperative's Care Management and Community Services departments contacted each of the frequent fliers and discovered that many didn't understand the importance of having a primary healthcare provider. They also didn't know about the company's urgent care facility, a lower-cost alternative to the emergency room. In the program's first six months, costs associated with ER frequent fliers decreased by $481,000.

Interface Helps GM Collaborate Across Factories

General Motors has developed a user interface for its factory systems that has transformed its factories from highly manual, isolated places into more collaborative environments. The Assembly Processing System bridges the gap between engineering and manufacturing users. Its interactive software frees users from time previously spent on step-by-step communication and laborious manual tasks, like compiling inconsistent spreadsheets.

The system has an information portal that contains engineering part specifications, process and quality mandates, and local process specifications. The portal ties in social media, including blog-like information sharing. The system also provides mashups of some previously unavailable data streams.

GM credits the system with assembly time reductions of 15% annually, resulting in savings of several million dollars per plant. The company plans to sell the system commercially next year to other manufacturers.

United Stationers' E-Commerce Breadth

United Stationers, a wholesale distributor of office products, is transforming itself into a provider of broader, revenue-generating services, such as online marketing and technology, to resellers.

The company provides a range of services to help 25,000 resellers with e-commerce, including cross-media content for print, the Web and e-mail. Its search engine is embedded in hundreds of reseller Web sites.

Increasingly, United Stationers also is selling technology. It offers resellers a wholesale distribution software suite that they can customize. And it recently acquired MBS Dev, a software and services provider to resellers, so it can provide more services, including integration of e-commerce and other business functions, such as customer service, purchasing, finance, credit and collections, and analytics.

Next, United Stationers plans to create a development laboratory for online marketing and merchandising techniques for office products. It's also planning a private cloud that will provide a revenue-generating ERP and e-commerce offering to resellers.

Royal Caribbean Links Digital Signs And Data

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is the world's largest cruise ship, measuring almost 1,200 feet long, 213 feet tall, and 208 feet wide. That's nearly 50% larger than the previous largest cruise ship, with a maximum capacity of 6,300 guests and 2,200 crew. A ship this size requires detailed planning to help passengers get around and its guest mobility system is a ship-wide digital signage network to do just that.

It consists of a network of more than 300 46-inch monitors strategically placed to provide information to passengers. The displays vary from passive screens with safety demos and information on activities to fully integrated and interactive touch panels that provide real-time information regarding activities on the ship. For example, the monitors can display which restaurants have open tables and which have a waiting list, based on data captured using shape-recognition cameras. They support multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese.

Verizon Wireless Makes Selling Simpler

In mid-2008, Verizon Wireless needed to make a drastic change to its retail sales system. The existing one lacked the speed and flexibility Verizon's more than 2,400 retail outlets needed. The company decided to create a streamlined sales-order processing system, called SHOPP, aimed at reducing the sales transaction time and improving efficiency.

SHOPP's interface provides a simple and intuitive view of everything sales reps need to complete an order, including a real-time credit module, pricing and discounting modules, and a payment and signature module that makes sure a device is ready to use when the customer leaves the store. SHOPP can be used on a mobile tablet PC, letting sales reps move through the store while completing the entire sales transaction.

SHOPP has cut order processing time by at least 40%, saving about 500,000 hours of order processing time across the company. And within IT, it has replaced four separate order processing applications, resulting in a single code base. This has driven operational efficiencies across the technology group, while reducing maintenance, development, and training costs.

Performance Catches On At First Horizon

First Horizon National, a Tennessee financial services provider, implemented a company-wide performance management system called Bonefish--so named because its financial metric diagram resembles a fish skeleton.

One part of that effort, MyPlan, makes Bonefish goals transparent across the company. It lets First Horizon cascade those goals from the CEO down to the bank branch tellers. All employees participate in goal creation and alignment, and as a result are more focused on the bank's profitability.

SOA Expands Insurer's Marketing Options

Progressive has developed an e-commerce system that lets a competing car insurer send customers to Progressive for motorcycle, boat and RV insurance, but keeps Progressive from trying to sell those customers car insurance.

Using a service-oriented architecture, Progressive integrated its apps with those of other insurers. It writes rules so the site recognizes when customers are referred from an auto rival site, and suppresses information about Progressive's auto products.

The system also lets Progressive carry other insurers' products, so it can sell partners' homeowners insurance, for example.

Users Show CenterPoint How To Manage Data

CenterPoint Properties, an industrial real estate developer, was wrestling with out-of-control growth of unstructured data. Critical information was locked up in people's in-boxes, hurting overall productivity.

When content management systems didn't solve the problem, CenterPoint looked closer and discovered that employees preferred Outlook folders for storage because of the proximity to e-mail. It was easier to drag and drop a message to a folder.

Instead of fighting e-mail's popularity, CenterPoint leveraged it by creating Cubby, an Outlook add-in that exposes everything that a user works with, including objects in ERP, CRM, and custom systems, as a folder structure. Cubby filters the objects so users only see what they're working on. They drag whatever they want to save to the appropriate "in-box" folder, and Cubby takes over.

FedEx Sensor Pairs GPS And Collaboration Capabilities

FedEx SenseAware combines a GPS sensor with a Web-based collaboration platform to let customers shipping sensitive, high-value goods know not just where their packages are, but what conditions they've endured.

Customers put the SenseAware device in a FedEx package, and it provides near real-time data on the vital statistics of the contents, including location, temperature, and when it was opened or exposed to light.

Customers can get alerts when any of those conditions change, and share data on their shipments with supply chain partners. FedEx has done limited release of SenseAware to life science customers, such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies.