Putting Best Practices to Work

It takes more than a great idea to make an excellent use of technology. As too many companies can testify, all too often technical, business, or people problems, torpedo the best of intentions.

A collaborative venture between Laurentian Technomedia and the Conference Board of Canada, the ITX awards celebrate our extraordinary successes with information technology. The three winners are exemplars of exceptional practices that have created a winning combination for their companies. What makes these winners special is not only their great ideas, but how they have managed to bring them to fruition. Their experiences will help others to learn and improve their own abilities to deliver technology that will provide business value.

How did these companies do it? What was it that made them successful where others have failed? Beginning this month, CIO Canada takes a close look at the winning firms to try to answer these questions. This month we put the spotlight on ICOM. In future issues we will feature the other two winners, GE Capital and London Life.

ICOM is a Toronto-based company whose business is built on its ability to capture, manipulate and sell data. It serves marketers in a variety of industries by providing them with behavioral data on hundreds of consumer habits and categories. It collects these data through proprietary nation-wide surveys that yield detailed brand-usage profiles of more than 20 million North American households.

Because data is the lifeblood of the company, data collection is a key enabler for the company’s mission. Each department in the company depends on survey data to do its job. In 1994 the development team had to find a solution to a problem that was absolutely critical to the company’s medium to long-term survival.

ICOM’s competitive advantage is based on having the largest consumer database in the industry. By 1993, ICOM had achieved market dominance in Canada. However, the company recognized that, strategically, it had to expand to the United States in order to continue growing its revenue and to deal with new multinational competitive threats. If ICOM could not develop the ability to offer North American products, it faced the increasing erosion of its Canadian business. Unfortunately, the technology to capture the huge increases in source data reliably, quickly, and economically simply did not exist. ICOM’s solution was to develop InScan, a new type of scanning device and the first of its kind in the world.

The InScan Project

Designed, built, and integrated by an in-house team, InScan is a proprietary technology that deals with the high volume and variability of the millions of consumer survey responses received each year. InScan’s objective was to develop an integrated system for data capture, interpretation, and storage that would improve the quality, flexibility, throughput, speed, and cost of its original scanning technology.

The solution had to address a number of challenges: