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Sony Music’s Miles Braffett: Singing a New Song in Corporate IT

July 10, 2013

Not so long ago, IT departments were tasked with the care and feeding of mainframes, desktops, and enterprise software.  With much of this work increasingly outsourced, and hard-wired physical offices giving way to those that are both mobile and virtual, the IT function now has a very different set of challenges: social media, big data and the “cloud.”   As Chief Information Officer for Sony Music Entertainment, Miles Braffett has had a front row seat to this remarkable transformation and he shares his views on how the IT world is continuing to evolve.

Miles Braffett, SVP and Chief Information Officer, Sony Music Entertainment

Miles Braffett is SVP and CIO for Sony Music Entertainment, with global responsibility for its information systems and technology (IS&T) organization.   He previously served as CIO for BMG Music Entertainment and played a key role in successfully integrating the systems when the company merged with Sony Music in 2003.   

Braffett holds a music degree from the University of Texas – Austin and an MBA from the University of Miami.  He also serves as a Mentor in Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education.

How are corporate IT strategies and policies keeping pace with social media? 

I think most companies are still experimenting with Social Media in the corporate world and doing so on two levels.  First, there is some desire to have “social like” technology capabilities for users in the corporate and workgroup setting.  I think the usefulness of that is still to be proven.

Second, and more important, is the focus on social media as a marketing tool for a product or service.  The effectiveness of this is pretty directly related to the type of product a company has.  For entertainment or hobbyist-related products, the amount of engagement with individuals or consumers in the social media space can be quite substantial.  For companies which make these products, this represents a very direct and immediate consumer feedback channel that could potentially be very useful.

So companies still need to figure out what to do with the feedback.

That’s right.  I think most companies now have some sort of social media presence with very good feedback and metrics available regarding user activity with the social media space.  Most are really now in the process of digesting that information and trying to figure out how it can be used to adjust real world product and marketing strategies to improve satisfaction and drive sales.

Given how quickly technology evolves, are there any core skills and competencies that you expect your IT staff to possess? 

I encourage my staff to focus on their more general IT management skills such as business analysis as well as project, financial, and technology/vendor management.  While technical skills are often the entry point to a corporate IT career, corporations increasingly rely on vendors, specialists and outsourcing companies for the bulk of their purely technical work.  What really is important to a corporation is having an IT team that truly understands the inner workings and operations of their business.  They need an aptitude for the application of technology to improve the business, recommend appropriate investments in technology, and most importantly, manage those investments through to successful implementation.

So what are the “inner workings” an IT professional needs to master at Sony Music Entertainment?

Because our recordings are digital straight from the studio we now have the ability to capture metadata about the recording that we can then distribute to outlets like Spotify and the Apple iTunes store.  We also receive an enormous volume of sales and payment information, from hundreds of distribution outlets.  This information forms the basis of the royalty payments we need to make to our artists and songwriters.

My teams need to deeply understand these complex and evolving business processes  to ensure that we properly support it with the necessary IT tools.  It really is a challenging, interesting and really fun business environment for an IT professional.

Is “big data” just a marketing ploy?

Yes and no.  There is no question that businesses are generating  a volume and granularity of data that has never been available.  Consumer products companies now have access to very rich purchase data from online consumers or very granular sentiment data about their products from social media.  Logistics companies are generating real-time operations data from their connected and GPS-enabled vehicles that can prove to be enormously useful in their business model.  Certainly there are a long list of technology companies offering products to store, transform, and report or “visualize” that data.

But you don’t feel companies have extracted the value yet.

What is probably still tripping up many corporations is not having the executives,experience and skills to control this fire hose of new data, to be able to distill important insights and actions which can be taken to increase sales or improve products.  There is definitely a shortage of people with experience and capabilities in creating meaningful business advantage out of “Big Data”.

What is your take on cloud computing? 

To me Cloud Computing really speaks to the ability to acquire computing capabilities (servers, storage etc) in a very flexible “on demand” way with an “as used” price.  In the strictest sense, this usually implies using technology pools that are shared with others, with all of the implications that come with that.    It is a very interesting concept, and to the corporate IT organization it represents one end of a continuum of operating models with the big, company-owned and operated data center occupying the other end.  In between, we will see a range of outsourced and managed services models.

The Cloud Computing hype has done a lot to force corporate IT execs to re-think the sourcing strategies and in the end, most companies will need to develop their sourcing based on their requirements for cost, predictability, service levels, flexibility and security. The “Cloud Computing” term has unfortunately become a little tired and overused because technology companies  use the term to enhance their product offerings by branding them “Cloud.”

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