In late 2008, Monsanto licensed a seed coating that helps corn, soybean and other seeds fight insects and disease during the tricky germination stage. By early 2009, company scientists had finished work on that cocktail of fungicides and insecticides, dubbed Acceleron, and the company wanted to get the coating to market in time for the 2010 planting season. "We were going after that opportunity very aggressively. If we don't hit season, that opportunity is another 12 months away," says CIO Shirley Cunningham.

But pretreating seeds for farmers was a new business for Monsanto. The company didn't have any internal processes or related IT to support it. The $12 billion agriculture company had six months to define a new supply-chain process and build the needed software for ordering, shipping, quality control, usage reporting and training outside seed treaters. The company hit its target, winning a 2010 CIO 100 Award for its effort.

The typical order-fulfillment process for Monsanto is to bag seed, package it and ship it. But Monsanto sells Acceleron in a variety of formats, including applied to the seed before it ships from Monsanto, and on its own, to be applied later by distributors or other qualified individuals. IT and business leaders had to collaborate to develop the procedures and underlying technology required to deliver these options.

New business, new systems

Seventy IT staffers-in particular those with business analysis, project management, SAP and Java skills-worked on the Acceleron project. The team used Java to build add-on components to Monsanto's SAP systems. The company needed modules to monitor how much Acceleron it had in inventory and to track which seeds in which orders should get the coating, and it had to establish a pricing system that accounted for the new ordering options. Monsanto also had to create web portals to provide training and information about the new product to 500 seed treaters. "We were in a great position to help drive business processes and help people understand the complexity of their idea," Cunningham says.

Supporting new revenue growth should be an integral part of the CIO job, says Gopal Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management, a management consultancy. But some IT organisations are unable to step up this way because they are weighed down by maintenance of existing systems. "There's no breathing room to think strategically," Kapur says.

At Monsanto, however, IT responsibilities are more balanced, Cunningham says. She takes pride in having business units "involve IT early and often" in new strategic endeavours such as the introduction of Acceleron.

The company booked more than four million orders for the seed coating in its first two months on the market last year and projects "significant gross profit" from the product. As to the IT project itself, Cunningham expects to achieve full return on investment this year.