Airwave Innovation

Bill Pratt of SIRIUS XM Radio tunes into forward-thinking IT.

by Ann C. Logue, May 2009

Radio may be the oldest broadcast medium, but it’s kept up with the times and survived the invention of television and the internet by embracing change. In 2001, SIRIUS XM launched its satellite radio service, expanding programming beyond the AM and FM bands. The company now offers subscribers more than 300 different channels (more than 170 from XM and more than 130 from the SIRIUS side).

Bill Pratt, senior vice president and CIO at SIRIUS XM, has built a collaborative IT strategy that supports critically acclaimed programming and award-winning customer service—while simultaneously handling the demands of a business that zoomed to more than 9 million subscribers, even before the July 2008 merger of SIRIUS with XM. Pratt now handles a subscriber base that has doubled to more than 19 million and created the second-largest subscription media business. That’s why Bill Pratt is Profit’s Innovation Award winner for 2008.

A New Generation in Radio

SIRIUS XM’s sports, news, talk, and entertainment draw nearly 20 million customers, whether their preference is Howard Stern or Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart or the PGA Tour. And all of the company’s music channels—including artist-branded channels from B.B. King to Jimmy Buffett, Frank Sinatra, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as exclusive shows hosted by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Lou Reed—are commercial free. No more spending hours on a stretch of rural turnpike with nothing worth listening to, and no more sitting through 10 minutes of ads just to hear your favorite song. SIRIUS XM customers can have the same radio quality at home or in the office, and they can stream the radio channels to their smart mobile devices or to their computers with premium-quality internet radio. SIRIUS XM has even found a way to bring family-friendly video to vehicles with its Backseat TV service, which delivers Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network shows over the same system as the audio channels.

 

Satellite radio is a high-tech business. In order for Howard Stern to broadcast uncensored programming on his two SIRIUS channels or for Jimmy Buffett to fill the airwaves with chill-out vibes on his Radio Margaritaville channel, the content has to be produced and transmitted. Radio equipment must be built and shipped, the customer must be billed, and marketing partners ranging from major automakers to local audio boutiques must be paid. Information technology is at the heart of these activities, and Oracle solutions are at the core of the company’s IT system and applications portfolio.

At SIRIUS XM, more than a billion transactions flow through the IT infrastructure each year. Orders for new subscriptions come through online self-service applications as well as through an award-winning customer care operation. Subscription orders and radio equipment transactions also arrive through a complex message exchange infrastructure that connects the company to all of the major automobile manufacturers and retailers throughout the U.S. Of course, SIRIUS XM also wants to retain existing customers while adding new ones. Working closely with the marketing department to plan, track, and analyze marketing campaigns, Pratt and his IT department have developed a series of business intelligence (BI) capabilities that provide data mining, marketing analytics, and campaign management solutions. “Subscriber retention and IT’s business intelligence capabilities are critical for our business,” says Pratt. “We’re constantly testing and measuring the effectiveness of our marketing programs and asking how we can improve subscriber and conversion rates in the most economical fashion.”

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