By Bob Violino, TechWeb

The business world is becoming much more mobile, and the workforce more technologically savvy. At the same time, new opportunities are arising in cloud computing, social media, “Big Data” and data analytics.

CIOs who take advantage of these trends have a chance to add value to their enterprises, and be seen as strategic business partners, like never before. Those who choose to ignore them risk having their organizations be trounced by the competition.

Companies that want to create lasting value “must be able to reinvent themselves and adapt to near constant change,” says Julio Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “It's critical for organizations to build teams that can identify opportunities and adapt quickly to this new world.”

Adopting this strategy can have a significant impact on organizations. For example, business intelligence (BI)/analytics and Big Data—extremely large volumes of structured and unstructured information—can help uncover new insights and magnify the value of knowledge; the cloud can be a platform for innovation and cost savings; and mobile devices can give users unprecedented access to applications and information and boost productivity.

“Information technology has already entered a Big Data era,” Ottino says. “Our handheld devices have computing power that shames the 1970s-era IBM mainframe, and we finally have the computational power to see simplicity within complex data. From social media to medical revolutions anchored in metadata analyses, we are on the cusp of new markets that were previously unimaginable.”

Avanade, an IT services provider in Seattle, is using technologies such as BI, cloud computing and mobile apps to gain a competitive edge and to make more timely and effective business decisions.  Says Chris Miller, CIO of Avanade, “We actively embrace this data-driven culture where executives, employees and strategic partners are active participants in managing a meaningful data life cycle.”

The IT organization plays a key role in continually evolving the tools and processes available to more effectively collaborate, share information and make business decisions, Miller says. “We are also looking to [deploy] business intelligence capabilities to improve the effectiveness of our sales efforts, including targeting the right level of business development to the appropriate customers,” he says. Avanade has developed a new approach for customer segmentation by using the information from various systems to accurately assess and categorize customers.

Avanade is also developing several enterprise mobile applications, such as a time-and-expenses app for workers to capture expenses and manage their time from anywhere. With mobile applications that deliver business value, “We believe we can increase the productivity and engagement of our highly mobile and connected workforce,” Miller says. “We are also working on applications that will connect employee mobile devices with Avanade’s enterprise social computing capabilities, including employee profile pages, microblogging, video and media sharing, search, communities and blogs.”

The company is also utilizing cloud computing. Over the years it has been evolving its data center environment into a private cloud offering called Dynamic Computing Service (DCS). “Avanade consultants have used the self-service capabilities of DCS to quickly and cheaply develop thousands of solutions for customers,” Miller says. “By providing rapid access to development hosting capabilities and tools, DCS has delivered an important competitive advantage for Avanade that has helped drive the company’s success.”

Another company that’s taking advantage of game-changing technology, Biogen Idec in Weston, Mass., has launched efforts in mobile device usage, app stores and cloud computing. In the past 12 months the biotech company has equipped its sales force and other customer-facing representatives with tablets, and developed the Biogen Idec App Store to provide access to applications the company has created, says Greg Meyers, vice president, global IT.

The apps include customer relationship management (CRM) and specialized apps that show which insurers reimburse for certain medicines and for how much. The mobile applications are making sales calls much more effective, Meyers says. Most recently, Biogen Idec launched an “e-detail” app that allows sales reps to easily show physicians statistical highlights from publications and articles that might otherwise be difficult to find.” This is improving our ability to educate physicians on our drugs and the benefits they offer to patients,” Meyers says.

The company is using cloud computing services in Europe to support the data needs of its European operations. “Rather than having to build out data center capacity in Europe, we've found that cloud computing allows us to provide high-performing applications that are geographically local,” Meyers says. “We've strategically begun to replace premises-based, frequently used applications such as CRM systems and move toward a cloud model.”

As long as there isn't a lot of customization or technical integration needed, cloud-based applications can offer companies such as Biogen lower total cost of ownership, faster deployment times and better usability, Meyers says.

IT in general is under pressure to move faster in today’s business environment, Meyers says. “The speed at which information is available to competitors [creates] a pressure for IT to find ways to capitalize on these opportunities,” he says. “There is just an expectation that IT can implement new capabilities quickly and can do it in a climate where budgets are flat [or] down year over year. It will require innovation and agility to adjust to this new concept.”