Financial Times CIO manages media shifts inside and out
From the hot metal press to desktop publishing and broadcasting via radio or television, the media has always been driven by technology. You could argue that technology created the media, enabling the dissemination of information with an ambition greater than any town crier could have mustered.
As it turns 125 years old the Financial Times (FT), the media organization best known for printing the "pink paper," is continuing the trend of using the latest technology to distribute information, while being challenged by other, younger, organizations using the same tools to publish their news and views to an ever-widening audience.
Citizen journalism, social media, search, and the decreasing power of advertising agencies are threats and opportunities to an organization like the FT, as a 2012 report from media regulator Ofcom confirmed.
"In March 2012, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Independent, the Times and the Financial Times all reported year-on-year decreases in headline circulation, which includes subscriptions, overseas distribution, and bulk sales," reads the report.
But readers are not just changing format and ditching print for digital versions, with the report adding that the online versions of the Times and the Financial Times both experienced double-digit declines in the same period.
One year on, and the picture is not too different. Social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit are providing everyone with a platform from which to disseminate information. And it's not all showbiz gossip or dancing cats—the Arab Spring demonstrated to the world that these tools can be used to instantly distribute information about world events before a journalist can get to the scene, and can be used to shape an event into something more powerful than any media organization ever achieved. As a result, the public no longer has to align to a brand for its news, or wait to hear what happened today on the News at Ten or in the next day's newspaper. News is constantly and instantly available and users choose to get it from individuals with direct insight into a topic.
Against this dramatic change, media organizations have slashed the teams that create the very products they offer to readers and continually blur the lines between genuine information and advertising. New skills are clearly required, but many media products fail to offer the customer anything of real value.
New tech, new roles
"Technology has moved people's habits," says Christina Scott, CIO at the Financial Times. Scott joined the FT in May 2012 as the financial news provider looked to put technology at the heart of its future plans.
"We don't really call it a newspaper anymore. We are a news organization," she explains. "The FT is not about the quick-breaking news, we are the comment, the analysis, and insight and you can only do that with good journalism," she says of the company's commitment to its most valued product—information and context.
But with that statement comes an admission that the consumption of media has changed for good.
"We are launching Fast FT to provide more soundbites to our analysis," Scott says of how the FT is reacting to the rise of Twitter and the change in consumption it has caused.
"We are good at trying things out. We spend a lot of time thinking about community. In the past people talked about their affiliation to a newspaper. Moving that to digital means that readers are not just paying for a subscription, but as social media users they are part of your communications and you can take advantage of that.
"The focus is on driving engagement and there are a lot of people who buy the FT subscription and need help getting more value from it," she says.
In digital media, Scott explains, the strategy is nothing like broadcast mode of producing an item of news and optimizing the way it was put in front of readers without any feedback. Today the strategy for Scott and her organization is to enable the reader to have conversations around the content with peers and the media organization, to share thoughts and—most significantly for the media organization—to actually know and understand its readership.
Many editors and media organizations lay claim to knowing their readership, but the truth is often very different. Today the customer is more powerful than ever and media organizations live or die by the connections they have with their consumers. Organizations must prove to consumers and advertisers alike that they really can engage with the audience.
As a major user of Google enterprise applications, the FT has been using Google Surveys to collect data in return for access to its knowledge and expertise. Scott explains that data collection and analysis is a key theme at present.
"We are moving to telling advertisers if their advertisement has been viewed and the type of person viewing it, whether it has really driven value. We are really trying to be open," she says. In the past the FT had different technology leaders for its outward-facing technology and internal systems, but with the demand for greater efficiencies and the value of information created by the FT increasing, the organization sought out a CIO to lead the digital agenda.
"My remit is the technology for the core FT; that goes across print and digital," she says. "The opportunities are at the front end, while at the back end it's about efficiencies, process, and ensuring employees are able to do the job with the right tools.
"My role was created as technology had been split between operations and FT.com, but that was not working for them," Scott says of her board-level role—she reports directly to CEO and former journalist John Ridding. "The mission I have is to reduce complexity, speed delivery, be cost effective and sustainable. We are focusing on getting rid of myriad architectures."
It's the customer-facing technology that really interests her.
"The excitement is really in driving the business and technology forwards through driving customer relationships via social or mobile," Scott says. "Using our data to understand what the reader wants and what is most relevant to them," she says. "The exciting part is the technology our users use. That is the bit a lot of CIOs don't have," she says of her tech-savvy, early-adopting user base.
The FT is already well on the way to simplifying itself, having moved its sales reps onto the Salesforce platform and organizing a wide adoption of Google for email and collaboration.
"We are already reacting to the disruption in our sector. Using HTML5 and not having our app in the Apple App Store means we retain control of our data. The paywall introduced to the FT website shows that as an organization we have always valued our content and so have our customers," Scott adds. "We have had some restructuring, which was more about moving jobs from print to digital to enable the digital editions to thrive."
The FT uses Google's email, Google+, analytics, and its survey tools, and claims to be the largest media organization using the company's cloud-based software.
"We have a really good relationship with Google. The move to Gmail is one that everybody really liked because of the user experience. You used to get in such a mess with email and it is no longer business-defining to have email. We all have better things to do," she explains.
Like many of her peers, Scott admits that while Google has a positive response from users when it comes to email and collaboration, its spreadsheet tool is "not anywhere near" the dominant application.
Scott describes her CIO strategy as having four main priorities. The first is cloud as she simplifies the organization further than Google and Salesforce have already done. Her second theme is membership as she seeks to uncover a single view of the FT customer on a single platform. She says previously there was a siloed view of subscribers and work has been undertaken to join these up.
Data is another priority and one CIO Scott expects to be an ongoing business driver in the media, while the fourth will be mobile.
"A third of our traffic is from mobile and it's growing. HTML5 is growing too and we are exploring further use of responsive design," she says of the ability for the FT product to render according to the device it is accessed.
To deliver these four constituents Scott has embarked on a re-architecture of technology within the FT business. The single architecture will deliver on her promised simplicity and will enable all content to be created on a single content management system with the journalists and editors not having to consider what type of media the article will eventually appear in when they submit it.
"In the past we have had lots of point-to-point solutions, but our new architecture will use the best-of-breed modular connected architecture rather than a set of monolith systems.
"We have also done a lot of work around supplier management and have an ongoing review of the suppliers so that we can be more agile and focused on the business goals," she says.
Scott's budget is $43.1 million without the capex, which is about 5 percent of turnover for the FT. Her team consists of 240 staff and 100 contractors across London, Hong Kong and Manila.
In the last year she has set up product councils so that the FT can assess its technology products in terms of the business goals. Scott added a CTO to the leadership team to manage IT governance, information security, and that all-important data team.
The FT is the latest media organization in Scott's portfolio. She was head of software development at ITV Digital for three years, general manager of Future Media and Technology at the BBC for six years, and enjoyed a stint at BT before joining the FT. Discussing these roles with Scott it's clear she enjoys the process of creating something tangible for consumers and the organization to get their hands around. She was at the BBC during the launch of the iPlayer, now the U.K. industry benchmark for delivering television or radio content on demand.
"The great thing with something like iPlayer is the information organizations get back from users," she says.
Scott says the lesson she learned from her two stints in broadcasting were that the broadcast sector is much more consumer-focused than publishing organizations. At ITV Scott and her team were developing web browsers and email for use via digital TV services, but whereas today device-agnosticism is taken for granted, in 2000 the technology just wasn't there to support it.
"The thing I like about the media is people are prepared to try things and they are often braver, maybe because they have to be. Also, they are fun organizations that move forward," Scott says. "At the time I didn't realize I would fall into IT, but my first project was a financial systems project." This led to a project at Warner Music where she loved the atmosphere.
"It's an exciting time to be in the media and to see how the future pans out. I'm clear that the FT will be around for a long time to come, but for the whole industry, who knows?" she says as the FT embarks on another 125 years of financial reporting and analysis.
Talk of the FT being sold by parent company Pearson is shrugged off by insiders, she says—that story has been doing the rounds for 25 of its 125 years.
Of all the newspapers entering the new digital world, the Financial Times has always been clearest about how it will engage with readers and at the same time drive revenue. With Scott at the helm of a more centralized and focused organization-wide technology function the FT could well be in the pink.