Interview: Dunn Sets Broad Agenda at Time Warner

Michael Dunn, chief technology officer (CTO) of media mammoth Time Warner, knows his way around the technology operations of Fortune 500 companies. Before taking over the reigns at New York-based Time Warner in August -- where he provides companywide leadership for technology research and development, architecture, and standards -- Dunn worked as CTO for Dell Computer's online division. Before that, Dunn worked at Turner Broadcasting, where he spearheaded all of the company's technology efforts on the West Coast and Asia/Pacific regions. Dunn spoke with InfoWorld Editor at Large Ed Scannell about the issues he faces as CTO.

What do you feel is the outstanding difference between being a CTO in a Fortune 500 company versus a smaller company?

The scope and focus. In my experience, CTOs of enterprise-level companies must focus on very broad and diverse technology solutions that support multiple lines of business. Smaller, single line-of-business CTOs, such as the individuals supporting start-ups, can specifically hone in and focus on one integrated set of technologies to support their unique line of business requirements.

In your opinion, what has given rise to the CTO's level of importance in most companies, particularly the larger ones?

Technology advances and utilization are being conducted at a frenetic pace. This requires individuals who are generalists, but who can drill down deep when needed. This allows them to understand a broad range of technologies, judge them quickly -- especially emerging ones -- make decisions about them, champion direction, and provide leadership ... without losing track of the core business objectives.

How are roles defined when developing Web-based projects?

The CIO tends to work closer to the business focus, the CTO tends to work closer to the technology focus, and the two work in tandem to create the right teams that can support the right solutions. Primarily, the CTO is more short-sleeved, more likely to dive into technology than a CIO. On the other side, we have non-IT technology people we work in partnership with across our organization.

What are the big advantages and disadvantages to working as a CTO at a company of Time Warner's size?

The big advantage is that you get exposed to a wide variety of businesses and requirements for technology solutions. You have to be very broad in your comprehension of technologies. Aside from that, it takes a little longer to get some technology projects done, just because of the breadth of what you are implementing.

What are your top technical concerns when piecing together an electronic-commerce strategy?

Customer focus is one: creating an environment that delivers a high degree of customer satisfaction via the methods that we utilize to capture, and then leverage, our consumer and business partnership information. At the same time, we must deliver irrefutable privacy and security. Architectural integration is another [area] where we must create maximized new-revenue streams out of our existing and planned high-traffic Web efforts. We do this via a tight integration between both our online and traditional business systems. Emerging technologies is another issue where we must create a leveraged, technologically focused culture across our enterprise.

What are your top business concerns?

Comprehension is one. Business leaders, especially those responsible for driving and supporting their company's e-commerce strategies, must partner with and embrace the technology community of their enterprise or company. Also, partnership is important. The days of throwing it over the wall to IS are over.

How does a brick-and-mortar company formulate a marketing strategy and establish brand recognition via the Web?

Cross promotion. For Time Warner, it is via the strength of our relationship with our customers across our various formats of interaction, including publishing, cable, broadcast, film, the Web, and broadband. We can also do it through distribution; our brands are among the strongest in the media and entertainment industries.

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