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A Tale of Disney’s Digital Transformation, Told By Bob Iger

As big as it is, not even The Walt Disney Company can ignore the mounting pressures that have been pushing businesses worldwide towards digital transformation. Such was the message delivered by Bob Iger, Disney’s former CEO and one of the figures behind the company’s biggest changes over the past two decades, during the virtual “Converge” event organized by digital transformation giant Globant last week.

“In Disney, when we talk about reinvention, it always started with the fact that there was no choice but to reinvent, because the world is not staying the same,” said Iger during an interview with Globant’s Co-Founder and CEO, Martin Migoya. “You have to train an organization and develop a culture that is willing to perform well today but also consider what tomorrow will bring and perform well tomorrow.”

It seems as if every top executive in every company agrees that the urgency of digital transformation is not letting up. According to a study by EY, for example, 47% of CEOs see tech as a key tool to improve customer engagement and maintain or improve margins in a context of high inflation. Top executives surveyed by KPMG say they have an aggressive digital investment strategy (72%) and see a need for a faster shift towards digital opportunities (70%). 

Nevertheless, the current approach by most companies differs considerably from the philosophy that carried Iger’s Disney forward. In a recent survey by consulting firm Baker McKenzie, 69% of respondents said that they see digital transformation as a tool for the improvement of process efficiency, with less than a third stating that transformation can push their businesses towards a model change or new ways to sell products/services.

According to Iger, for over a decade, Disney has been using tech to re-inveint its many businesses. Back in the early 2010s, for example, the company began to rethink its parks and resorts experiences, an exercise that led to the creation of MagicBands.

“In 2010, nothing had really changed [in Diseny’s parks] other than we had added attractions and shows. The world was very different, but what’s really important is that the customer was very different,” explained Iger to Migoya.

“You have to train an organization and develop a culture that is willing to perform well today but also consider what tomorrow will bring and perform well tomorrow”—Bob Iger, former Disney CEO

That philosophy echoes through one of the company’s latest technological leaps: its incursion into video streaming, which brought profound changes to its strategy for content creation and distribution. 

“We were responding to a very obvious change in global media, both in terms of creators and distributors, but also the consumers. Looking back on it, then it seemed really bold; I view it today as really necessary,” said Iger.

“As we were considering creating a streaming platform, the biggest challenge that we had was the technology,” he added. “Did we have a platform that could serve the consumer well globally? Which meant not only high quality video presentation, but also billing, credit cards and all the different formats that you produce and distribute.”

Not everyone is ready to make that leap, though. There’s still convincing to be done on whether digital transformation should happen and on how, when and towards where should the company move in its technological journey.  

“There’s built-in resistance in any organization to change. When change is so big, the resistance is even greater,” commented Iger. “You need to be incredibly clear about what you want to accomplish and why it is important, and be clear about what it means for everybody who helps to deliver that change. If you show any hesitation at all, or any lack of clarity, you lose the organization.”

Surrounded by Techies

Though shifts in strategy seem to happen at the drop of a dime –and even more so now, with the feeling of urgency chasing companies of all shapes and sizes–, Bob Iger’s digital plans were actually the result of a slow burn. 

“You need to be incredibly clear about what you want to accomplish and why it is important, and be clear about what it means for everybody who helps to deliver that [technological] change”—Bob Iger, former Disney CEO

Much has been said about Iger’s relationship with Silicon Valley. Disney’s former exec was close with some of the biggest names in the tech world: Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey, just to name a few. 

Industry analysts see Iger’s dealings with Silicon Valley as more than mere networking. Being in the midst of the conversations happening in big tech positioned Iger –and Disney, by extension– perfectly to leverage the knowledge and relationships which would eventually lead to the company’s digital leaps. 

Given Disney’s plans, it seems like the media giant will need to leverage those tech relationships even further. Current CEO Bob Chapek spoke recently about the company’s intention to use data from park visits and streaming habits to personalize user experiences in “next-generation storytelling”. 

Disney’s also making moves towards the metaverse, in which it sees one of the next frontiers of content. The company has already begun hiring and applying for patents for what seems to be one of its next digital leaps. 

Looking Nearshore

As Disney prepares to push its digital transformation even further, it is looking Nearshore in an attempt to leverage the availability of digital talent in the region. 

Disney’s posted several tech-related job offerings for both on-site and remote duties in countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, which would work on its streaming platform.

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This wouldn’t be the first time that Disney relies on Latin American expertise to advance its digital plans. Globant has been working with the company for over a decade, specifically in its Parks and Resorts Online division. 

Disney is now one of Globant’s biggest customers, accounting for about 10% of its annual revenue at least since 2019, according to the firm’s own financials.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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