• 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.

These interviews have either identified or confirmed a great number of what might politely be called challenges, including a preponderance of manual, spreadsheet-based processes, which greatly impede cash-flow reporting, say team members. Also, due to a lack of front-end tools on the financial databases, it’s very difficult to provide timely “what-if” financial analysis. For example, one recent request—to determine how much MTV production staff spends on taxis—proved impossible to answer. Another big problem has been the ad-hoc adoption of software without the approval of IT. Interviews with the television production teams, for example, revealed that they use four separate finance-software packages, none of which are designed to communicate with the others. “It’s a real pain point,” says topic leader Peter Capozzi, a former vice president of advertising finance.

An obvious place to bring some order to bear, of course, is with ERP software. One of the first major systems decisions MTVN made was to stick with its current system (provided by J.D. Edwards, which was recently acquired by PeopleSoft), although the team will also recommend that MTVN upgrade to the latest version. That may not prove to be easy. “We need to make sure that we won’t need to customize it too much,” says CIO Simon. “The whole point of buying a package is that the vendor has built it around best practices; as the package evolves, you keep moving up and enjoying new benefits. But if you’ve hacked the first version to death, as we have, it becomes very difficult to move up to newer versions. We don’t want to go there again.” Simon says a process of “educating as we go” should help business managers understand the pitfalls of bringing in software under IT’s radar.

Other technology decisions will have to be made, and systems bought or built. But before that can happen, MTVN will have to reengineer broken financial processes. Topic leader Cliff Cree, a former vice president in the IT group, has already had an inkling of how difficult that will be. He hired an experienced project manager to help document the finance department’s workflows, which number nearly 100. The manager did so, and told Cree, “Maybe I don’t understand your business processes, but these workflows look wrong.” Cree’s reaction? “When someone who is fresh to the business says it looks wrong, that’s an eye-opener. I told him, ‘They are wrong; that’s why we’re writing them down.’”

Project FORE is in its infancy; in fact, those close to it can’t even agree on the true costs and amount of time it will require. Ferrari puts the price tag at “tens of millions” and the time line at two years. But other team members throw around time lines of four or five years, saying that as new process problems are uncovered that extend beyond the initial four areas of focus, they will have to be fixed as well.

Will the team succeed? As MTV’s veejays like to say, stay tuned.

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