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Avengers, Assemble!

Marvel's first strategic IT plan comes from superpowered collaboration between the CIO and the lines of business.

by Aaron Lazenby, May 2008
Media conglomerate Marvel Entertainment is best known as a comic book publishing powerhouse, but the company also markets its more than 5,000 characters as toys, apparel, video games, screensavers, cell phone wallpaper, TV shows, and more. Since 2006, Senior Vice President and CIO Glenn Magala has worked to update Marvel's information technology (IT) operations to emphasize strategy and collaboration. This new focus is giving the company a strategic advantage in the media marketplace.

 

According to Magala, Marvel several years ago made a wise investment in Oracle E-Business Suite Financials to manage corporate finances, but the majority of data gathered and created in the lines of business (LOBs) was not connected to Marvel's central financial information. As a result, systems were not linked together to obtain new forms of insight and intelligence about the business. Magala, with the support and input from Marvel's LOBs, has implemented an IT strategy that focuses on a single datasource for the company using business applications that facilitate collaboration among the LOBs.

Read how Marvel is working to expand its existing Oracle footprint to merge and unify existing data with the ultimate goal to improve data accuracy and reduce the time to market of data. Magala wants to provide new data-mining capabilities and give visibility to information that the verticals have had trouble accessing easily. The data set is still evolving, but the user interface, which is an intelligence dashboard that enables users to get information specific to their job function, is already generating new value. In addition, Marvel is already achieving significant benefits with its brand assurance system built on Oracle's Stellent content management system.

The drama of modern business sometimes operates at comic book scale—larger-than-life characters, heroic risks, struggles for dominance, and sometimes even crushing defeats. So it should come as no surprise that Marvel Entertainment, Inc.—the progenitor of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men—has undergone its own dramatic transformation over the past six years. Nor is it surprising that Marvel has an IT superhero operating behind the scenes of the media conglomerate.

Senior Vice President and CIO Glenn Magala came to Marvel in 2006 with a single goal: to transform Marvel's IT approach from a siloed, tactical operation to one that favors collaboration and strategy. And with the help and support of executives across the business—from Publishing, Studio, and Licensing to Human Resources and Finance—he's on his way to doing just that.

 

Tales of Adventure

Founded in 1939 as pulpy Timely Publications, Marvel grew during the post-war years into a comic book publishing powerhouse, creating many of the legendary characters that grace the big screen today. Indeed, Marvel's indelible mark on global popular culture extends well beyond the Hollywood blockbuster. Besides broadening the influence of pulp and comic publishing (and creating some legends along the way), Marvel's more than 5,000 characters appear as toys, apparel, video games, screen savers, cell phone wallpaper, TV shows, and more.

 

Despite the company's obvious influence and success, in the late 1990s Marvel was facing challenges—ensnared as it was by complicated long-term licensing deals and a reorganization in bankruptcy court. Marvel was still in possession of some of the most-recognizable characters in popular culture, however, and ultimately a change of ownership reinfused the company with energy and focus. Within a few short years, Marvel relaunched several of its most popular titles, digitized its back catalog for release on the internet, negotiated new and lucrative licensing deals, and created a movie studio to directly capitalize on the opportunities that film presented for the company's properties under a unique financing structure.

Early in this period of dramatic change, Marvel invested in Oracle E-Business Suite Financials to manage corporate finances—and ultimately manage the company's increasing receipts. But before the system began processing the financial results of Marvel's turn-of-the-millennium renaissance, the system simply churned away, handily processing Marvel's payables and receivables but bringing little added value to the business. Indeed, with only one exception, the data collected and created in the lines of business (LOBs) was not connected to Marvel's core financial information—preventing managers outside the finance department from gaining new insight and useful business intelligence. Mostly, LOB information was combined with financial data only during Marvel's quarterly close, a process that manageers realized was too time and labor intensive.

"Marvel had much of the information it needed to successfully run the business," says Magala, who was hired for his experience with Oracle and in the media and entertainment industry. "But we didn't connect our systems together to get new forms of insight and intelligence about the business."

When he arrived, Magala began the process of leading Marvel through an adventurous—and ambitious—IT transformation that Marvel executives feel will give the company a strategic advantage in the media marketplace.

 

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