The Magical Benefits of Alignment
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As Bud Albers prepared to lead Disney
Interactive Media Group through a transformation that would centralize The Walt Disney Co.'s shared services, virtualize its infrastructure and rethink how it allocates technology costs to the various lines of business, it became apparent that better alignment with the business was needed.
Albers, Disney Interactive's CTO, is responsible for making sure that the wide range of content offered by Disney is delivered to consumers' PCs and mobile devices in the most efficient way possible. That means meeting the needs of a list of entities ranging from theme parks and resorts to movie studios and the ABC and ESPN networks, each with its own distinct content and audience.
So, about a year ago, Albers teamed up with business leaders across those properties to take a few steps that would improve coordination while also ensuring that his group's transformation would result in the ability to satisfy the business's varied requirements.
First, he proposed installing his own staff into the business lines to act as his group's eyes and ears. These embedded folks would stay in constant contact with the business units, helping them to leverage IT by translating their needs back to the shared services team. Albers also helped to spearhead the group's new Program Management Organization (PMO), which establishes a single contact person to manage all communication on any given project.
The impact of both tactics has been clear. "They've improved the quality of dialogue immensely," Albers says. "We aren't dealing in supposition. If people have questions, they know where and how to engage. If they have issues, they see the escalations right away. And we try to minimize as much of the technological jargon as we can in the process."
The newly aligned approach proved its value almost immediately, when Disney Channel officials last year asked the Interactive Media Group--with the help of those embedded shared services emissaries--to help them engineer a 24-hour online promotion in which Camp Rock, a full-length film featuring the Jonas Brothers, would be streamed in its entirety on Disney.com. A PMO representative was assigned to the initiative, ensuring that activities ranging from sponsorship to advertising to content delivery were tightly coordinated.
The effort came together in just 60 days, and the film was streamed 700,000 times in that 24-hour window--with no major glitches.
Albers prefers not to think about what the project would have been like minus the alignment efforts that preceded it. "To pull it off would have required a higher level of heroics," he says, "and heroics involve a degree of risk I'm not interested in taking."
With a seemingly effective communications methodology in place, Albers now has his sights set on improving cost transparency related to Disney's shared infrastructure. In other words, he wants to establish a utility model in which use of the Interactive Media Group's shared services resources can be broken down by business unit. That would give each unit's leadership a clearer picture of resource usage relative to needs and would ensure more efficient use of shared technology assets.
"If I can better show them the cost drivers directly, they can make better decisions on the business side," says Albers. "I want to provide the various business leaders with levers that they can pull and maneuver."
The process of streamlining communication between his group and the various Disney properties it serves has reinforced Albers' view that when it comes to IT-business alignment, the onus is on IT to learn the business, not vice versa. Whether the technology in question is a shared infrastructure for delivering content to consumers or an application portfolio serving thousands of employees makes no difference.
Says Albers: "If you try to run the technology organization as a business much the way your compatriots do on the business side, you're going to find yourself in alignment more easily than you might otherwise."