NEW YORK: Brand owners like Procter & Gamble, Bank of America and IDEX are enhancing their technological capabilities and "big data" systems to boost efficiency and drive sales.

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG group, has created special "Business Spheres" where executives can meet, and which host giant screens on their walls providing data on all aspects of its operations.

The statistics for the firm's 300 or so brands are compiled via a set methodology. Four years ago, 27% of processes at P&G were standardised, a total reaching 80% today, and helping save $1bn in information technology costs.

Consolidating procedures – such as the 55 systems previously used solely to manage promotions –coupled with data modelling and visualisation, has aided strategic planning, while using virtual reality has cut R&D lead times.

"We want frugal innovation at one-third of the cost, with a much faster time to implementation, and following application standards across the enterprise," Jim Fortner, P&G's vice president of IT development operations, told Computer World.

Bank of America, the financial services group, has also established the goal of reducing the amount of applications it employs by 50% over the period to 2014, part of an attempt to globalise the technology available to staff.

"People need to understand the order of magnitude of change you're after," said Catherine Bessant, its global technology and operations executive. "Exceptions and incremental steps are barriers to this. If you go incremental, you don't get it done."

The company balances international and local needs, taking what Bessant called a "Picasso versus paint by numbers" approach, but has certain fixed demands, like ensuring all tools work in every currency for the hundred markets where it trades.

"No matter where you are in the cycle, you should be targeting global business services," said Bobby Cameron, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The agility, flexibility and knowledge of the customer can't be done with disparate data and systems around your core."

Vanguard, the investment management group, is undertaking its own standardisation process, having discovered its product portfolio in 80 markets presented sufficient commonalities.

"If the mission is the same, the products are the same and you want consistency in the business, you should go toward a centralised model," Carol Dow, Vanguard's chief technology officer, said.

IDEX, the industrial conglomerate, is active in a similar number of countries to Vanguard, and accrued equal benefits after building a cloud-based platform letting its various units collaborate and drive joint sales more easily.

"We gained cost efficiencies through a shared services function, but that pales in comparison to the opportunity we have to innovate and capture additional market share in new geographies and markets," said Dave Kamath, CIO at IDEX.

Data sourced from Computer World; additional content by Warc staff