• Strategy
  • CFO IT

Behind the Music

MTV's explosive growth prompts a substantial financial reengineering effort, one that even the most buttoned-down companies can learn from.

At stake, then, is nothing less than MTVN’s ability to continue to grow and prosper. “Everyone talks about this as a finance project, but I don’t think of it that way,” says Simon. “I think it’s a company project. Because we’re going to change the way people behave.” Vastly improved IT systems will be a major part of that. Ferrari says the goals are to have fewer and better-integrated systems and faster turnaround time on requests for information, and to develop a budget process that requires only one month versus the current four-plus. Although the project is in its earliest phases, MTV’s approach and commitment already provide plenty of discussion points for any organization contemplating a similar overhaul of finance and IT.

Teeing Off

The seeds for Project FORE were sown late last year and built upon an end-of-2001 internal reorganization. A team from financial-management firm Parson Consulting conducted an “operational assessment” of MTVN’s business pro-cesses and systems. Its eight-week engagement resulted in a 75-page document that outlined and prioritized some 25 recommendations, according to Anne Swaller, a practice director at Parson. Among the findings: an overreliance on manual systems (most involving macro-loaded spreadsheets); the implementation of software without the buy-in, or even the knowledge, of the IT department; and what Swaller implied was a gross lack of financial documentation.

Presenting its recommendations to MTVN executives, including Ferrari and Day, last October, Parson made it clear that fixing the problems would be, as Swaller says, “a major undertaking.”

Too major, perhaps. The executives opted to bite off only the top 4 of the 25 recommendations. Today these 4 financial processes form the basis of Project FORE’s to-do list. Because they address and will almost certainly alter a number of key workflows, a reorganization of the finance department is possible, although it is likely to be months or even years away. In the near term, the processes and systems used to accumulate financial data will be overhauled.

The four areas are:

Chart of Accounts. With a special focus on the general ledger system, in-cluding coding, visibility, and reporting.

Policies and Procedures. How well are these communicated throughout the company? And, with an eye toward the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, how well are they documented?

Systems Rationalization. Assessing MTVN’s IT structure: Are there too many systems? Duplicating systems? Systems that should be sharing data but are not?

Planning, Reporting, and Analysis, a.k.a. forecasting and modeling. How effective and efficient is the overall annual budget process? Can the annual budgets be done more quickly? Also, since MTV produces most of its own programming, can financial planning and reporting on productions be improved?

With priorities set, then-CFO Ferrari assembled a full-time team of people from various levels and areas of the company. The decision to create a dedicated, full-time team was based on an earlier attempt to overhaul the chart of accounts with a part-time team, an effort that company insiders unanimously agree was a failure. “I’ve learned that the only way to get something done is to have a dedicated, focused team,” says Ferrari. “So I said, ‘We’re not going to do it part-time or piecemeal. We’re building the foundation for the future, and if we don’t get it right, we’re not going to be able to help lead the company.’”

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