Dolby Laboratories CIO, Exec. Discuss How to Prioritize IT Projects

Dolby Laboratories
REVENUE: $328 million
IT CHIEF: Mina Millett, CIO
BUSINESS COLLEAGUE: Ed Schummer, president of subsidiary Via Licensing Corp.
IT/BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Manage double-digit growth, deploy an ERP system and build a custom application
UPSHOT: Prioritize IT projects based on strength of the business case

Engineer Ray Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories Inc. in 1965, and before long the company changed the way the world listened to music and experienced movies. If you've ever played a cassette tape, heard a train roar in a cinema or had your walls shaken by your neighbor's home-theater system, then you've experienced Dolby's technology.

The company's first breakthrough was a new form of audio compression called noise reduction, which eliminated much of the background hiss in tape recording. It soon became the standard for the recording and film industries.

Today, San Francisco-based Dolby employs more than 800 people. The company went public in 2005 and is experiencing double-digit annual growth, fueled by the worldwide boom in digital media and consumer electronics.

Dolby's business is split between two divisions: professional, which makes and leases audio equipment for the film and music industries; and consumer, which licenses audio technology to electronics makers and software developers. In addition, in 2002, Dolby created a wholly owned subsidiary called Via Licensing that seeks to leverage the company's intellectual property expertise (three-quarters of parent Dolby's revenue comes from international royalties). The new business processes licensing transactions for third parties, but it also competes with Dolby's other units for finite IT resources.

Dolby CIO Mina Millett is responsible for an IT organization that serves both Dolby and Via. Deploying a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, managing growth at both units and establishing a key business application for the startup have driven her agenda. Creating and administering the so-called patent pools for non-Dolby technologies such as the IEEE 802.11 wireless standard meant that the IT department had to create a Web-based application for patent holders that links up with Dolby's legacy system to process licensing transactions.

Meeting those challenges are Millett and Via President Ed Schummer.

This was first published in April 2006

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