Tristan Boutros Structures Change at ASCAP

Chief Technology Officer Tristan Boutros highlights his affinity for innovation and his strategies for managing evolution

Photo: Erik Philbrook/ASCAP

Tristan Boutros innovates. As far back as he can remember, Boutros has felt compelled to streamline, improve, and organize everything around him. “I’ve always looked for efficiencies in everything I do, whether it be at home, school, or in my professional career,” Boutros admits. But at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)—a performance rights organization that collects and distributes music royalties for its songwriter, composer, and publisher members—those tendencies drive Boutros’s success as chief technology officer.

According to Boutros, his achievements at ASCAP are due in large part to his ability to see problems from varying perspectives. As a former scrum master, engineering manager, chief process officer, and chief operating officer, Boutros built a broad-based tool kit to use when approaching organizational opportunities. He also holds more than fifteen professional certifications, is a professor at Columbia University, and is the author of The Basics of Process Improvement and award-winning The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change & Increasing Organizational Performance.

Even as a University of Windsor student, he experimented with different business practices and approaches while earning a double major in marketing and management and a minor in computer science to learn how modern companies operated. He started his own small business—a “miniature Amazon” that sold entertainment products—with no formal experience in project or product management, supply chain, logistics, or financial operations.

Tristan Boutros ASCAP
Tristan Boutros, ASCAPPhoto: Juan Patino Photography

“It was a fantastic learning opportunity for me,” Boutros says. “I was solely responsible for my own back-office needs and designing and developing all consumer-facing web experiences for customers. Combining that with my education and mentoring from friends and family was invaluable.”

In 2017, Boutros saw his passion for innovation and improvement mirrored in the mission at ASCAP. “The company has been around for over one hundred years,” Boutros says, “and yet there remains an extraordinarily strong desire to innovate within its culture and keep the company on a path of evolution.”

ASCAP’s new phase of evolution, Boutros says, is moving away from a traditional media organization to a product- and technology-driven organization that prioritizes member and licensee experiences. Member experience is especially critical because the board is entirely composed of member songwriters, composers, and publishers.

“That gives us a unique advantage,” Boutros says. “Our members want to make sure that they’re reimbursed fairly for uses of their music, and all of our internal motivation and design thinking is geared towards that.”

ASCAP is one of the most successful organizations of its kind. Operating as a nonprofit, the membership association hosts information on more than 11.5 million musical works, has more than 720,000 global members, and processes trillions of performances each year.

That exponentially increasing volume of data creates some challenges for Boutros and his team. “In order to handle the demand, we need scalable infrastructure and systems,” he says. “But the processes and practices we’ve been implementing on the ground have also allowed us to drive a more agile mindset across the entire company.”

“Our members want to make sure that they’re reimbursed fairly for uses of their music, and all of our internal motivation and design thinking is geared towards that.”

All of those processes and practices are collaborative and “socially oriented,” Boutros remarks. ASCAP holds quarterly planning sessions attended by hundreds of employees, providing an opportunity for everyone to cooperatively develop their priorities and strategies. Boutros and his team also help tech employees track their team and quarterly progress on visual dashboards available across the floors where their product development teams work.

“That’s what makes us so unique and successful,” Boutros says, “the combination of our Agile planning processes, starting at the individual level and tying upwards to corporate priorities and vice versa, as well as our organizational governance and dedication to our mission.”

Jim Torney, president of Essextec, has seen the partnerships that Boutros cultivates to further ASCAP’s evolution. “It’s an absolute pleasure working with a leader who understands the value of true partnership to drive towards his vision for the future,” Torney says. “By instilling trust and accountability, Tristan seamlessly motivates for the greater success.”

Boutros is also leveraging ASCAP’s wealth of data to enhance the member experience: the most-used features, how often those features are used, and what members like the most about the ASCAP digital experience. “We want to make sure that whenever anybody is interacting with ASCAP, whether it’s on the phone or online or even on-site, they’re getting the most robust experience we can provide,” he explains.

The bottom line is to keep innovating and ensure you have the right foundations and processes in place to do so. “Never underestimate the need for continuous education and culture change,” says Boutros, whose own culture change achievements have been featured in Forbes, CIO Magazine, and HuffPost. “It is critical that you respect the history of your organization and its culture, while driving innovation and evolution in order for your firm to stay relevant. It is a delicate balance, but one that is critical for any organization that wishes to differentiate itself from competitors.”

Build the right technologies, provide the right training and education programs, and let stakeholders know why change is needed, he advises. “As long as you manage culture and technology change well, balancing various needs and aligning them to the mission and mandate of the organization, while involving employees and the voice of consumers along the way,” Boutros says, “these journeys and transitions will be successful.”