CIO Update Q&A with Scripps Networks

The Scripps Network is home to such familiar cable channels as the Food Network and HGTV as well as their online counterparts. Parent-company E.W. Scripps also publishes daily and community newspapers in 18 markets, operates 10 broadcast TV stations, five cable and satellite television programming networks, and an online search and comparison shopping services.

Scripps Network’s new CIO, Ron Johnson, just took over the job in April after serving as VP of IT for three years. CIO Update sat down with Johnson to find out what it’s like to be in charge of IT for such a behemoth, what it takes to make a diversified media-entertainment company successful, and what role IT plays in that success.

The answer, unlike many industries, is it quite a bit.

CIO Update: How is IT viewed by the business side of the house?

Johnson: IT is evolving to be viewed as essential as it has become clear that the continued growth of the company is dependent on creating a digital infrastructure that will enable us to respond quickly to market opportunities and to develop new online/interactive revenue streams.

When did it become clear that the growth of the company was tied to IT?

Scripps Networks, Inc. (SNI) is a division of EW Scripps. The division started with HGTV a little over ten years ago. Until the last few years SNI has traditionally focused primarily on the growth and operation of it’s linear broadcast (TV) business with IT functioning in a less strategic support role. Our online website business was supported by our corporate IT group along with online properties of other divisions of EW Scripps.

I came onboard as the head of IT for SNI in August, 2003. In 2004 we moved the IT development for our online business into our division as the growth and strategic relevance of online/interactive began to explode.

In 2005 we initiated a five year strategic media asset management (MAM) initiative to develop and deploy an IT infrastructure to support the scaling of the business and enable SNI to leverage our media properties to take advantage of new and expanded business opportunities, consumer platforms and distribution channels.

(An original MAM strategic plan was sanctioned in 2001 but did not get significant traction due to 9/11 and the resulting economic downturn.)

This year we are developing and deploying application systems and services on a number of critical business fronts including business intelligence, online content management/delivery, financial accounting—driven heavily by SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act) compliance requirements—and our first phase of key infrastructure systems for MAM.

Our strategy is to buy versus build and deploy these systems within an SOA (services-orientated architecture) architectural framework. We are also working closely with our Broadcast Operations group as they are rolling out their next generation IP-based platforms that will interoperate with our MAM infrastructure.

To aid this progression, are efforts under way to better align IT with the business?

Yes. We are tightly linking IT with strategic business initiatives in our five-year strategic plan (and) annual budgets. We are forming steering committees around major application areas to enable our business users to prioritize and guide our development efforts.

IT senior managers are also proactively working with their business counterparts to develop roadmaps for IT initiatives that map to strategic objectives. Our five-year plan is revisited annually. Our annual plan/budget is revisited quarterly.

What technologies/methodologies are you employing ‘on-the-ground’ to add this linkage between IT and the business?

We are aligning our IT initiatives with our business counterparts developing business cases to address short- and long-term solutions for the most critical areas of opportunity. We have a five-year, phased MAM initiative underway that will put a digital infrastructure in place to enable the business to scale efficiently, drive out operating costs as brands mature and improve content accessibility to exploit opportunities for new services and distribution platforms.