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WNZ Media Corporation

 

Case description
In the late 1990’s, the WNZ Media Corporation, then an international chain of newspapers and magazines with publications in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia media markets, and with well over two billion dollars in stock market value, experienced a steep decline in its readership globally. The five-year forecasts coming from its regional business units suggested that the future for business as usual was not toorosy either. Subsequent analyses of consumer trends suggested that the advent of an internet-savvyconsumer was creating both business opportunities and a culture of digital information consumption that was by-passing WNZ. According to WNZ’s CEO, Zackary Michaelson, the organization’s long-term plan included:
…..an entrepreneurial approach to information and media production design, creation, and distribution where the Internet and other emerging global information technologies would play a commanding role….At the same time WNZ will refocus its product offerings towards younger, more high-tech oriented consumers….And since time is of the essence, we plan to leverage our current market position and stock value to rapidly acquire the breadth of global capabilities required to compete in the Internet Age.
Expanding the Business
To understand the possible causes of the decline of WNZ one must first understand its traditional business processes. WNZ began as a major newsprint company, collecting news, writing stories and editorials, and selling ads and reader subscriptions. Over time, WNZ transformed itself into a multi-media giant, distributing “free” newspapers like Boston’s Metro as well as standard subscription-based daily and weekly newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines in major urban markets, world-wide to its English-speaking audiences. More importantly, WNZ created an array of Web sites that disseminated local, regional and national news and other information. These sites operated two pricing models, view for free with advertising and view for a fee (with special value-added content) and less advertising. In the 1990s, WNZ Media went on a ten-year strategic and well-researched buying frenzy that left many of its competitors in the dust, acquiring cable television production companies, satellite radio stations, and multi-media design firms in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. During that same period, the corporation reduced the number of its paper-based publications, learning how to produce and distribute digital content over the Internet and via broadband, and how to make nice profits in the process.
As the firm expanded and acquired new companies, its backend processes and application specific (functional) software became more diverse and less integrated. These developmentsmade it difficult for management to collect timely and accurate data from WNZ’s various locations across the globe, and it pushed up the total cost of ownership for IT. It also impacted information sharing across the enterprise.
Designing and Producing Information
WNZ designs, produces and distributes high quality sports, entertainment, and news content. Its team of highly skilled journalists and program directors seek out and collect information concerning interesting, engaging, and timely events; its camera and video crews capture footage on site; its experienced editors cut and edit this footage and related informational content; and its producers ensure that everything comes together in quality programs, delivered on schedule and in keeping with market demand. The video footage is one of the most engaging types of media but it is also the most expensive to produce. For example, the production process for a typical television broadcasting firm accounts for fully half of the operational costs, excluding licensing costs and cost of personnel. The leadership team expects that the deployment of an end-to-end digital production process will radically reduce costs (original production as well as content reuseand repurposing costs) and help the firm expand more aggressively into new markets.

In the considered view of WNZ insiders, a new digital production process would afford producers, editors, and journalists access to content located anywhere within the WNZ organization at anytime. Once the proper content is located, the aforementioned production system would enable the fabrication of products for either live distribution via WNZ cable or satellite channels or via WNZ content-streaming Web sites. Production locations around the world would also benefit from the seamless sharing of these digital archives. In response to the requests of subscription-paying customers, the organization’s Web sites were strengthened to provide more personalizeproducts andfeatures. Finally, the overall plan called forthe expansion of WNZe-commerce Web sitesto sell pay-per-view magazine, book, music and movie downloads to consumers.

New Product Lines

WNZ’s new lines of business included premium, pay-per-view Web sites, cable and satellite radio programming, downloadable media products from past releases, and dynamic, real-time “community” sites for the entertainment and education of the now vast base of world-wide WNZ content consumers. These changing circumstances also allowed for more subscriber participation in the creation and design process. In addition, otherWeb services allowed the public to submit content of their own, thus allowing theWNZ personnel to shape these contributions as well as material of their own to create offerings to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for WNZproducts and services. To complement these IT-enabled new services, process changes and new ways of thinking within WNZ production departments fostered opportunities to make use of individual pieces of content across many different platforms and “products” -either through the simplereuse of content or by repackaging WNZ content to produce news and event compilations, retrospectives, and even computer and web-based games. This repurposing of content produced products that sold as additional online services or as standalone CD’s, DVD’s and computer games.
As WNZ rode the emerging Internet wave, these changes in approach also led to a dramatic shift in the focus of the company. As CIO Russ Brucestone points out:
Our success within WNZ now depends on our ability to effectively capture, tag, store and retrieve all these different information artifacts, and to reuse and repurpose them in a timely manner in keeping with production requirements. This sort of capability requires a methodical process and a considerable investment in enabling content and knowledge management tools….The organization has also made a point of providing incentive compensation to our writers and editors based upon the reuse and repurposing of their archived contributions.
Involving consumers in the creation of WNZ content was not without its challenges – operationally, financially, and in terms of legal and ethical compliance with the high standards of the organization. However, consumer content creation was very good for business. Customers were encouraged to comment on most WNZ offerings and provide input for continuous improvement of what WNZoffered the public. Rather than create content from scratch, many WNZ employees now served as the aggregators, “harvesting” content from customers including blogs, discussion forums, and so on. The activity of journalistic interviews and news gathering still goes on but only as a sub-set of a much broader array of enterprise media production processes.
As the CEO Michaelson observed in a recent interview:
We now view our customers as our partners in creating and sharing content of wider interest to the global community that we serve. With this partnership comes challenges and responsibilities for all parties. For its part, WNZ must be ever vigilant to protect the privacy and confidentiality of its customer/content providers while ensuring the quality, reliability, and viability of the content that they are sharing with us. Our “partners” are glad to share but they also must act responsibly and consistentlyfollowethical and legal standards in these exchanges. The process isn’t perfect but it is robust. We will learn and improve as we go forward.
New Ventures Division
In this same spirit, WNZ established a New Ventures Division within its organization. The mandate of the new ventures division was to identify opportunities that WNZ might exploit to expand and diversify its business. Through a partnership with Google, they studied user behavior on the world-wide web to identify reader interests and communicated their findings to the editorial and reporting staffs across the globe -who in turn responded with just-in-time and targeted content for information-hungry readers across the globe. Similarly, the new ventures team examined developments in telecommunication, information technology, fashion, vacation patterns, culture, and social networking to identify new business opportunities for WNZ. As new technologies such as Twitter, the iPhone, and crowdsourced journalism websites became popular, New Ventures promoted ways to exploit these developments. For example,WNZinvestigated the use of tweeting to promote its products and distribute certain content.
For CIO Brucestonethe MIS work associated with these opportunities (and possible threats) continues to raise any number of concerns and issues going forward. He states:
How do we add sufficient value to the “customer experience” of our products and services so that the customer is willing to pay for Web-based content? How do we control rapidly escalating IT costs, including the cost of adding highly expert and hence expensive media developers to the IT organization? How can WNZ get a leg up on the competition in terms of exploiting the emerging generation of portable media/telecomm devices? How do we maintain a well aligned and integrated organization within a corporate culture and work processes driven by continuous innovation? These are some of the challenges WNZ faces over the next 5-10 years .
Case Assignment Instructions
The WNZ case is intended to make use of most of the materials and concepts that we have covered in MISM 2301. In particular, the case serves as the context for the student’s application of the MIS Integrative Framework to assist in the determination of WNZ’s information requirements that will in turn drive the design of its business processes and the selection of appropriate information systems, personnel and organizational structures. In preparing your case analysis, you should look at the class schedule and the list of “Specific Topics” to get the larger view of the scope of perspective that might be included in your assessment of WNZ. Then use the class slides and your notes to answer the questions cited below.
As the MIS Integrative Framework suggests, the business choices made by WNZ dictate the types of information required to operate its production and service delivery processes, to manage the firm profitably and to ensure the quality of process outcomes, and to learn and innovate so as to keep WNZ competitive in its market place.
Note that your responses to Question 1 will influence your work on subsequent questions. Continue to refer to these responses to ensure that your answers align (i.e., are consistent, congruent) with one another. To this end, read the case study with care. Every detail of the WNZ narrative carries implications for the business, its competitive positioning, and its management. At the outset, read all questions to get a sense of the problems to be addressed in your analysis. Then, as you tackle each question, make sure you read the whole question and answer it fully and specifically. Be prepared to go back and revise previous answers as you answer later questions, developing a clearer and more extensive sense of WNZ’s situation. Use the answer formats and tables provided by the instructor to help facilitate your analysis but feel free to adjust them to better reflect the needs of your responses. Add rows or columns to any table as you deem necessary. Create additional tables if you feel that would help you structure your answer. Include graphics if you feel doing so will enhance your answer. Your answer can extend beyond the single page, but resist the urge to write in narrative / paragraph form.
This is an individual assignment. Be sure the work you submit reflects your faithful efforts and provide citations for any external sources you use (including websites assigned for course reading). Consistent academic integrity helps keep the market value of your Northeastern University diploma high.
This is your final assignment due for this course…you’re almost there.
[See below for questions]

Case questions
1. Based on a careful reading of the case…

a. What is the primary business focus/value discipline forWNZand what evidence do you have to support this choice?
Answer:

 

What would be the most important secondary business focus/value discipline for WNZand what evidence do you have to support this choice?
Answer:

 

b. In the table below, list in column 1 the most important operational activities at WNZ as it operates its business and competes in its markets. Then in column 2 describe the information required to enable or support each of the key operations-levelbusiness activities/transactions.(reminder:add rows to the table as needed)

Key operational activities/transactions Associated information requirements

2. a) For each information requirement you identified in Column 2 of Question 1b, describethe relevantapplication softwareand how itis used to meet/satisfy these operationalinformation requirements for WNZ. Since applications are not valuable unless used, in the last column describe how to improve the likelihood of use and end-user satisfaction for each software application.

Information Requirement Application software
and how it is used Ways to increase application use and user satisfaction

 
Note: A single information requirement might be met/satisfiedby multiple application software implementations and a single implementation could satisfy multiple information requirements.
b) Assume WNZ needs to initiate a new IS development project in order to build one of the application software/systems you mentioned above. Select the most complex of the information systems you mentioned above and complete the table below to identify likely project management challenges and ways to address them. Assume some external IT vendor resources will be needed to complete the project and make your assumption about the outsource contract explicit (i.e., the contract pricing model and duration).
Application software/system:
Outsource contract:

Project management challenges Way(s) to address

3. In addition to the applicationsoftware/systems you listed in Question 2;WNZ needs an information technology (I/T) infrastructure. This consists of the hardware andsystem softwareused to support the applications mentioned previously – as well as the networking hardware/software to enable connectivity.
a. Fill in the table below with your recommendations for the various components of IT infrastructure to support or enable the application software you listed in Question2.

Application software/ information system IT infrastructure component(s) and role in supporting the application software/information system.

 

 

b. Given the application software and IT infrastructure components you mentioned, what recommendations would you suggest to address WNZ’s likely information security issues? Keep in mind internal and external vulnerabilities as part of your recommendations regarding what WNZ can do to reduce the riskof data breach/compromise.

4. a) Describe in Column 1 how WNZ could use information systems for tacticalmanagement and control. For each information system, identify its role/use in terms of enabling and assessing performance improvement.

Information System Performance improvement

 

 

b) Assume that WNZ needs capability and capacity assistance from external IT resources in developing information systems at the tactical level. What IT governance approach would you recommend and why? Include in your answer treatment of business units, IT units, and external IT vendors. State your assumption of IT sourcing explicitly.
5. WNZ is concerned about riding waves of popular trends and also getting in front of them. Describe your recommendations for how WNZ could use MIS capabilities to innovate for the future.

a) For each item, identify its use and what benefits these uses will provide to WNZ.
Information System Strategic/Learning Benefits
b) Since part of WNZ’s strategy involves aligning and integrating its various business units and processes, what are some ways WNZ can assess and improve strategic IT alignment for its information systems investment?

 

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