IT Confidential: It's A Small Tech World, After All - InformationWeek

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Commentary
2/18/2005
06:45 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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IT Confidential: It's A Small Tech World, After All

Lines are blurring in what is I.T. and what is not I.T., Scott says.

What's it like at the Walt Disney Co. these days? Let's just say, there's a lot of heat.

Earlier this month, the company had its annual shareholders meeting, where embattled CEO Michael Eisner was re-elected to the board despite fierce opposition by certain factions, including a Disney family member. Eisner has said he'll step down next year, mainly because of internal pressure, which has led to a very public search for a new CEO. All of this inside stuff--and more--is chronicled in a new book, DisneyWar, by investigative journalist James Stewart (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

So why would you want to step into the executive suite of a company in such turmoil? Maybe because it reminds you of your first job experience.

"My first full-time job was in the theme-park business," says Tony Scott, Disney's new senior VP and CIO. Scott, who left General Motors to go to Disney, says his first job out of college in 1976 was at Great America Park in Santa Clara, Calif. Scott worked his way up to engineer at the park, in charge of planning, forecasting, scheduling, and HR systems.

Is the changeover at the top related in any way to his coming on board at Disney? "Unrelated, mostly," Scott says, except that "a desire to have a stronger and more focused IT vision [is] reflective of what's going on at a management level." Scott says he'll be Disney's first CIO with responsibility for all corporate IT systems, including the divisional units: ABC, ESPN, cruise lines, resorts, theme parks, and movies. One of his most strategic initiatives will be to standardize systems across the company. "The mandate is: figure out where synergies exist and leverage them fully, but don't destroy the uniqueness."

Also, Scott will work on ways "to use IT to enhance the guest experience." That's something he knows more than a little about, having developed GM's OnStar telematics system.

Scott isn't worried about the executive shake-up. "I've been through that before, as a management experience," he says. And who wouldn't jump at the chance to work with Mickey Mouse? "If you're my age, you grew up with Disney," he says. "Disney is one of those unique companies and brands that are even larger than life."

As long as we're waxing nostalgic, where were you in 1975? Remember: the fall of Saigon, the debut of Saturday Night Live, Led Zeppelin released Physical Graffiti, Jaws devoured movie screens, and Jimmy Hoffa disappeared. Also, Gerry Cohen founded a company that year called Information Builders. This year, the business-intelligence software vendor, known for its loyal user base, is celebrating its 30th birthday, still private, still going strong--quite a feat in today's business-technology market. Hats off to you, Mr. Cohen!

Uh-oh--I don't remember 1975, or much of it. It's either old age or bad karma. If you know what I was doing in 1975, or have an industry tip, send it to [email protected] or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about IT and business alignment, meet me at InformationWeek.com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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