For media businesses in 2016, the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has become both increasingly important and increasingly challenging, taking responsibility for building platforms and optimising content delivery in a constantly shifting environment. At PPA Business Class: The Tech & Data One on November 18, we brought together a panel of CTOs from leading companies in publishing to share their experiences and challenges.
Just a stone’s throw from the thriving Tech City district to the east and a short walk north of the historic City of London, the M by Montcalm hotel cuts an angular, ultra-modern shape in the changing landscape of London’s Old Street.
As a symbol of regeneration and transformation, it makes the perfect setting for a discussion of the tech strategies that are underpinning the Business Media companies of today and shaping how they are evolving for the future.
This is a sector of well-established businesses that have experienced huge digitally-driven change in the past decade. The model dominated by controlled circulation print magazines and classified advertising has been displaced by new models where technology is enabling a very different and much closer relationship with audiences across multiple platforms.
At PPA Business Class: The Tech & Data One on November 18, we brought together Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and digital specialists from some leading publishers to explore how they are managing this transition and aligning their businesses’ content and platforms for the future.The opening panel discussion was chaired by Chris Fosberry, CTO of Argus Media (below), and included Mark Brincat, CTO of The Economist Group; Mike Fraser, CTO of Wilmington plc; and Jonny Kaldor, CEO of Pugpig and former CTO of News UK.
Brincat explained how The Economist has pursued a content strategy that aims to engage readers both on external, non-owned channels and also through its own domains. In both cases, the brand wanted to be faster to market and expose its content better, which required analysis of its multiple CMS systems and greater connectivity between them. In parallel, it sought out quantitative and qualitative feedback to provide an understanding of how content was being used, with this insight informing activity around customer acquisition and retention.
Fraser underlined the importance of audience data in shaping content, saying that Wilmington uses feedback from students as intelligence to help optimise the content of its training offering. Pugpig’s Kaldor echoed the sentiment, saying that audience data, captured through tools such as social sign-in, gives publishers the ability to harness valuable information that can then be used either to inform a publisher’s own activity or as the basis for generating revenues with commercial partners. He added that some publishers were looking to go further, using intelligence to segment their audience into sub-brands with known, loyal followings that potentially have much greater value than the unknown transient audiences on many digital platforms of scale.
Kaldor’s point emphasised the importance of publishers creating strong relationships with tech partners to achieve these complex goals. Fraser said Wilmington was increasingly partnering with organisations that have development capability rather than being the architect of its own solution, and mastering everything in-house. “Our core capability is around the content, and that’s currently what’s giving us competitive advantage. Partnering enables us to test before making significant investment,” he said.
And when it comes to making that investment, the panel agreed on the requirement for strong commercial leadership higher up the chain. Sales teams, they said, need to get as close as possible to customers in order to gain a greater understanding of the challenges they face and the content they need. With this in place, there can be more confidence that any costly tech investment mistakes further down the line can be avoided.
For CTOs, presenting the business case for where to make those investments remains a challenge. “Focusing in on the areas that can add value is ultimately most important: it’s working out which areas to focus on,” said Fraser, who added that cost-reduction was probably an easier case to sell but one that doesn’t present itself too often.
Brincat added that it’s a case of accentuating how any investment would optimise a process, whether that’s from the perspective of mitigating risk, opening up new opportunities, or providing a platform to trial new concepts. As for identifying where to invest, he said decisions will increasingly be based on insight coming out of the business as data embeds itself deeper within the operation. “The challenge is around value prioritisation - around quality metrics and what the data is telling you. It’s a case of digital mastery rather than digital transformation.”
For full details of the PPA Business Class events visit www.ppa.co.uk/businessclass.