Michael Tasooji became Walt Disney’s first corporate CIO in May 2000. Since then he has faced a formidable assignment: Cut costs, improve IT services and deliver business value through technology projects. Nothing new there, but Disney has always relied on a decentralized model. Each of the roughly two dozen business units (including theme parks, consumer merchandise, film studios, cable TV and broadcast networks) had its own IT chief. When you add it all up, it wasn’t such a small world after all. The company’s IT groups owned more than 1,000 projects, with responsibility to support more than 4,000 systems using products from 1,300 vendors.
So what’s a CIO to do? Early in his tenure, Tasooji assembled an operating council of eight CIOs called the CIO Board to meet every six weeks to review ongoing and proposed IT projects. Those members also meet quarterly for two-day workshops as part of a 30-member IT Executive Management Council, made up of business unit IT heads and Tasooji’s department. This council approves every IT program in the company and is responsible for seeing that decisions are implemented, Tasooji told the Gartner IT Symposium held last October.
Tasooji also formed an IT architecture committee last year. That led to a new enterprise portal that produced standards for business-to-employee and business-to-business information sharing, he said. The idea is to share costs and risks of existing and proposed IT projects across Disney while also allowing for new uses of technology to produce new customer services.
Executives accompanying Tasooji cited two examples. Tony Tamburo, ESPN’s senior vice president of MIS, said the cable sports network created an onscreen, sports-score line for viewers with data fed by scoreboards at 229 professional and college sports venues. Roger Berry, senior vice president and CIO at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., showed a demo version of a Mickey Mouse doll equipped with sensors that can direct visitors to attractions at the park where crowds have thinned. These innovations drive Disney forward, but the new set of centralized IT budget controls have signaled a cultural shift. “I have to say no, and that has been difficult,” Tasooji said.