Here’s why the Warner Music Group CTO thinks time to business value is the most important IT metric

Technology is driving change faster than most organizations can adapt. Many IT leaders struggle to add value to the business and must evolve their thinking or risk being disintermediated. It is not enough for the CIO and CTO to evolve their thinking in isolation – the entire organization must transition to a mindset of continuous value delivery and innovation.

I recently spoke with Jonathan Murray, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Warner Music Group. Jonathan-Murray-Head-ShotWarner Music is a major global record company and one of the largest music conglomerates worldwide. Murray shared with me his views of why time-to-value is the only metric of importance that matters for an IT organization along with his forward-thinking vision to move to a platform architecture strategy.

We also discuss the concept of continuous value delivery to achieve business outcomes to the benefit of your employees, partners, and customers. Murray’s insights are grounded and thoughtful in nature giving much consideration to the past, present and next-generation technology trends that are impacting how to achieve better business outcomes – no matter what industry you are in.

Brian Clendenin:  You’ve written that time-to-value is the only metric of importance for an IT organization. Why is that?

Jonathan Murray:  “My view can be summarized in a fairly straightforward way … you’ve picked up on the first thing which is … that the most important metric for anybody who’s responsible for technology in an organization is time-to-value. And, how you solve for that, how do you shorten the gap between demand coming in from the business and that demand being satisfied with technology solutions. Then, how do you move from delivering value every 18 to 36 months, which is typically how large scale IT projects are delivered, to a continuous stream of value delivery.”

Clendenin:  How do you solve that problem in order to move to continuous value delivery?

Murray:  “The solution to that problem has to be treated as a system. You have to look at the end-to-end system through which technology is delivered to the organization and is mapped to the demand of the organization. Unfortunately, very few organizations ever get the chance to take a system wide view. They’re constrained in multiple ways to just look at parts of the problem. So, it could be they are running on legacy platforms that need to be re-platformed. Their current database technology isn’t keeping pace with growing volumes of data or they have to implement a new complex business solution. IT organizations tend to be fairly project driven as opposed to strategy driven.

The unique perspective that we have, and that we are putting into practice, is that we started with time-to-value as the driver (as the key metric) and then analyzed all the aspects of the system that get in the way of us optimizing for that metric. We took a long, hard look at the people, process and technology needed for a continuous value delivery process. You have to start by figuring out how to build an organization that is optimized to delivery against that metric. Then, essentially, figure out how to streamline the delivery processes – everything from working with the business through to the delivery and then management of the solutions that get delivered. And, ultimately, you have to figure out what technology platforms are causing the friction in the system and then you have to go solve for that. Over the last couple of years we’ve developed a very clear view of what is needed and gone a long way to putting the system in place.”

Clendenin:  What typically gets in the way?

Murray: “On the front-end, it’s typically governance and decision making. And then it goes all the way through to project life-cycle methodologies. Waterfall does not work in a world where you need to deliver continuous value. At the platform layer, it is everything from the most recent development in agile software platforms. We made a commitment to a cloud-based platform as a service architecture a few years ago. The technology stacks underpinning most enterprise organizations today were built as islands of automation without the agility, scaling and integration capabilities needed for today’s rapidly changing business landscape. That’s very different than if you go look at any of the best-in-class software and services companies out there today such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Their platforms and processes are built to scale and they’re built to be highly automated and they’re built for continuous value delivery. We’re taking those principles from best-in-class public cloud service providers and applying them to the business of delivering enterprise software.”

Clendenin:  What advice would you give IT leaders exploring a platform architecture strategy and how to gain critical support from their CEO?

Murray:  “There are two realities that you have to deal with if you are trying to resolve this issue for your organization. First, you have to start with a position that all organizations (it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in) are going to be disrupted by highly agile, highly automated competitors who leverage technology to be the disruptive force in the sector. And, businesses clearly have a choice as to whether they are going to be the ones doing the disruption or whether they are going to be the ones having to respond to the disruption. But in either case, it depends on your ability to adapt, change and to compete. We live in a world that is increasingly digital and where technology is the lever through which much of that computation takes place. My advice to IT folks is that you’ve got to be able to have that conversation in the voice of business leaders – you’ve got to be able to articulate that reality in a language that can be understood. This is not a technology conversation, it’s a business and a competitive strategy conversation.”

Clendenin:  What’s the second reality for IT leaders to come to terms with?

Murray: “The second piece of the puzzle is to realize that the old models which is typically how most IT organizations have evolved of just band-aiding what you have and trying to muddle your way through by incrementalism are no longer fit for purpose. I have a very firm view that the days of being able to do that with any chance success are gone. And, that the companies that are going to be successful are the ones willing to make the commitment to a blank sheet of paper strategy which says, ‘OK, that legacy stuff has got us as far as we can and it got us to where we are today, but to be able to compete on the terms that I just laid out in the future you’re going to need a fairly radically different approach to how you deliver value continuously to the organization.’ Band-aiding your legacy infrastructure is unlikely to get you there.  You’ve got to figure out how to incubate a new way of doing things while at the same time keeping the lights on and keeping the organization running. Building a new model that you can evolve to isn’t optional any more, it’s an imperative.”

Clendenin:  Is there anything else you think critical for CIOs and CTOs to understand?

Murray: “The third piece of the puzzle is that you better start hiring talent that understands this new world because it’s very unlikely that the talent that you have in your IT organization today, that’s working your legacy environment, has the skills and/or has the knowledge of how to build, manage, run, and deploy these types of new modern scaled highly performant architectures.”

Having the right talent on your team is critically important and highlighted often by the analyst community whether it is cloud computing or emerging digital business technologies. For example, Gartner recommends to “Hire or identify individuals with the new skill sets associated with digital business technologies. Consider employing (or contracting) a few individuals with these skills as you assess the potential impact of digital business technologies for your enterprise.” * Organizations need thought leaders that are able to provide guidance of how to leverage cloud-based technologies for better business outcomes.


*Gartner, How CIOs Need to Think About Digital Business Technologies, Hung LeHong, Stephen Prentice, Kristian Steenstrup, May 14, 2014

Brian Clendenin
Brian Clendenin
Innovating the Canadian Enterprise at Box. Prior to Box, I served at the research firm Gartner and write on the topics of leadership, IT strategy, and the future of work. Invest my time speaking with engaging thought leaders.

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