DMG Media is better known for its brands than the holding company, and these don't get much bigger than those under CIO Steve Homan's business technology leadership watch. It publishes the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday newspapers, as well as its increasingly successful online brands.
We meet at the imposing DMG headquarters on Kensington High Stree. The 1930s Art Deco building is a testament to the wealth and power the media industry formerly possessed. Once through security, you rise to the media pantheon on an escalator to a blend of 1930s grace and a 21st century collaborative working environment, with coffee shops and lounges. To your right a classical architectural portico takes you through to the Editors Hallway where black and white portraits of every editor of the DMG newspapers grace the walls.
Homan's office is neither Art Deco or classical; it is surrounded by huge whiteboard walls where the CIO and his team have been bashing out ideas moments before we meet. He talks about his team, recruitment and training a great deal, and it develops into one of the major themes of our discussion. Two-and-a-half years in the media has enthused the CIO about the challenges of omnichannel publishing.
"Newspapers are our UK product, while online is a global product, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Sydney and here. We also manage the technology estate for the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers," Homan says of the quality publication and free London titles that sublet office space and services from DMG in Kensington. The arrangement stems from Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev's purchase of 75.1% of the Evening Standard from DMGT for £1 in 2009, buying the Independent titles for the same price the following year and basing his newspapers out of the same west London building.
"A lot of what I do here is getting the talent and people right," Homan explains of the role of a CIO in an international media business.
"We have business analysts that do the scrum meetings, as well as traditional requirements gathering, and they can also provide support for most of our products. We have poly-skilled people, who can do a multiple set of roles," he reveals of how he has trained and engendered skills diversity across his team.
"IT is a meritocracy and people are performance based in their assessment. What that has meant is that there is not a legacy team here. The guys running our legacy systems are also supporting the latest customer technology," Homan says of how he is challenging the Bimodal IT model sold by some vendors and analyst houses.
"My first 12 months was about maximising our support operations," the CIO says, which then allowed him to focus on skills to ensure IT and the organisation moved forwards. "We've worked with our HR team and they are really good at getting the story of what we are doing out there into the market," he says, bucking a challenge many CIOs have reported to me of challenges of working with HR.
"I interview everyone other than those on the help desk," he reveals of his personal time investment. "A job interview is 50% are you good enough for me and 50% sales pitch to them. For me, it's all about the mindset; we can teach the skills."
Homan doesn't reserve teaching skills to new recruits; he's taken his team with him on a journey and invested in their development. Staff from Homan's help desk team have developed and joined engineering, and executives have joined the scrum team. "That is exciting as you are developing people. We have a culture that is really growing, as people come together and are looking for help from each other."
To engender this, the CIO changed the physical environment of his team to reflect the modern needs of IT staff, with lots of collaborative break-out spaces. He has also flattened office dividers and the management structure. "It is very, very flat structure," he explains. "If I know my Head of Operations needs something taking care of, we all sit in each other's roles."
"Like a lot of groups, when an asset gets to a certain size we break them out, so the MailOnline and Wowcher (a vouchers and deals online service) have their own Dev teams," he says of how he colocates skills into the products operates by DMG. Homan's team also delivers underlying services to the whole business, from core technologies such as networking, but also unique tools, including picture management platform.
"Pictures are so big, I long for a financial system," he jokes of the data management differences and their challenges. His team has also been integrating the advertising management tools with Salesforce. "Now we can focus on the customer with the delivery we are working on. We work with our marketing teams and the lines between departments are very, very blurred," he says.
"We are incredibly lucky to have an ownership that thinks long-term. There is a culture that wants to invest in the things that really matter," Homan reveals of the DMG business, adding he has an Opex of £25 million per annum, which he says is on the benchmark for his sector.
"We tend to engage with people through the paper brand most. We have tested that and regularly ask them what they want to see us doing," Homan says of the omnichannel business, and in particular the strength of a physical product. He adds that customer loyalty is something DMG spends a great deal of time on; it operates a customer loyalty programme with a barcode on the back of every single newspaper that he says delivers strong engagement. For the CIO, the use of Salesforce to enable the marketing teams to continually manage the loyalty has been critical.
"As a CIO, the role is about putting the best technology in the best place that makes the most sense," he explains. "When it comes to loyalty programmes, my role is to support the CMO and CEO." These have helped direct business opportunities around travel, motoring, gardening, health and homes.
Homan is clear though, the editorial stance of the newspaper and its editor Paul Dacre are set in stone. "In a business with such a strong editorial voice, it's a different conversation, they are world class at what they do," he says of where data and editorial divide. The 66-year-old editor in chief Dacre has been at the helm of the Mail titles since 1992.
As well as major Software-as-a-Service tools such as Salesforce, Homan has brought in niche tools to help teams deliver on customer expectations.
"If you look at what we have with Salesforce, it is a rich exhaust of sales and a complex world of fulfilment," he says of bringing in tools to help advertising teams manage the ever increasing array of sales targets, as well as difference sales vehicles they have available to them. "We can do stuff with the sales teams to allow them to do things simply," adds the CIO.
It isn't just simplifying enterprise tools to free sales teams to spend more time on the road and with clients that enthuses Homan. Our conversation moves on to the latest consumer devices, and the CIO is fascinated by the potential of the iPad Pro for media organisations.
"You can see it is a rich experience and what that will do to dwell times," he says of trying to retain online readers on websites for enough time to justify an advertiser's spend. Homan believes the true power of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Amazon consumer product set has not yet been fully realised.
Homan joined the DMG Media business, first as CTO for what was then called A&N Media from gym and fitness organisation Fitness First, where he was CIO for four years.
"At Fitness First my role was to build a core platform for a global business and then to take that across 21 countries. It was a core platform that had to deliver billing, sales, club management and the group's digital services.
"The pace was fast as it was preparing for an IPO in 2010," he says of his time there. Although on the face of it a Daily Mail reader may appear radically different to a Fitness First member and customer, for a CIO the information and technology challenges are pretty similar. It's about the team, using information to increase customer loyalty and uses a range of tools to ensure that teams are working with customers, not processes.
"It is where you want to be. It is tough creating a performance culture," Homan says of the challenge and enjoyment achieved so far.
Away from headlines and deadlines of omnichannel media, the CIO has a young family, and loves music and cycling.