We live in tough times. No argument there. But in the midst of tighter budgets, more frequent business requests, projects that need to be turned around faster and with 3x the return on investment, some CIOs are still finding ways to carry their businesses to the next level.

These CIOs prove everyday that IT can make a real difference despite the challenges they face and for that they are this year's CIO 100.

For the uninitiated, the CIO 100 Awards, a 24-year-old tradition of honoring exceptional work that began in the US, has now become the most coveted recognition among CIOs worldwide. In its seventh year in India, the award has evoked the same aspiration, going by the huge number of entries we received this year.

Four hundred and ninety one organizations filled out the nomination form for the CIO100 Award as well as the seven special awards, totaling an amazing 672 projects. It goes unsaid that the competition was severe.

To be a CIO 100 award winner this year, companies and their IT leaders had to demonstrate technology initiatives that had significant business benefits, positively impacted business process, been technologically innovative, and demonstrated creativity.

These four key selection criteria were identified and given weightages by the six members of the CIO100 Awards Advisory Board. The distinguished members of the Advisory Board were Gary Beach, publisher emeritus, CIO Magazine; Jaideep Mehta, country manager, IDC India; Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan, professor of corporate strategy, IIM-Bangalore; Prof. S. Sadagopan, director, IIIT-Bangalore; Dr. Sridhar Mitta, managing director and founder, NextWealth Entrepreneurs; and, Sudhir Sethi, founder chairman and managing director IDG Ventures India.

Both technology innovation and creativity in implementation were accorded an average weight of 1.6 each by the board; impact on business process edged higher at 2.3, and the average weight for significant business impact judged to be 4.2.

Each application was reviewed by a jury of CIO editors, who evaluated them according to the four selection criteria and then applied the weightages recommended by the advisory board. The awards jury examined how each organization stacked up against the others in the pool, and sought to honor only the most interesting initiatives for the CIO 100 honor.

Organizations and their projects were ranked by score and the top 200 were shortlisted as finalists. These 200 nominations were then subjected to enhanced scrutiny, until the final 100 honorees were identified.

Read on to find out how these 100 winners--and the 100 finalists--impacted their businesses and earned their place among India's top 200 CIOs.

CIO 100 Honorees: Read the project profiles of the 100 most hard-hitting IT leaders of 2012.

The Super League: These 20 IT leaders have the distinction of excelling year after year.

CIO 100 Finalists: They might not be CIO 100 winners, but they're still streets ahead of the pack.