A high-flyer in the 2014 CIO 100, Christina Scott has since taken on added responsibility as SVP technology for Pearson Professional, and Chief Product and Information Officer for the FT, with her key aim to drive business value at the earliest possible opportunity.
What the judges said
"It's great that a CIO has gone on to be a product manager." Ian Cohen
"She's really helping drive the strategy for the whole of the FT She is working with them not on an individual digital strategy, it is The Business strategy. She shows an attitude to drive things forward and be the person the FT turns to when it needs to make change happen." Mike Altendorf
SVP technology for Pearson Professional, and chief product and information officer for the FT.
When did you start your current role?
CIO FT, May 2012. SVP technology at Pearson Professional, January 2014. CPIO FT, September 2014.
What is your reporting line?
Dual reporting to John Ridding (president Pearson Professional and CEO FT) and to Albert Hitchcock (CIO Pearson). I report to Albert for non-FT aspects of the role.
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes. We have a one-to-one, but also have a board meeting covering strategy. For the last six months I have been looking after the FT strategy team and driving some business strategy work as the last director overseeing strategy moved to a new role.
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
I sit on the technology exec for Pearson.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Product, procurement, business continuity and, on an interim basis, strategy.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Pearson – 37k. FT – 2k.
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
What number of users does your department supply services to?
Pearson Professional – 5,000. FT – 1,700. However, we develop digital product, so obviously the user base is millions.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
For internal customers, we have feedback loops built into services such as service desk. We do a technology survey every year. Stakeholders sit on our governing bodies.
For external customers, we measure net promoter score, run customer surveys and focus groups, do frequent user testing.
For business knowledge, I have regular meetings with other departments. I chair the product and strategy council. I attend external events to understand FT/Pearson in the context of the industry. I sit on the global product council, investment review board and a number of programme stakeholder boards for Pearson.
Financial Times technology strategy and IT agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Yes, of course.
FT has digital-only competitors such as Business Insider and other companies who should be viewed as competitors for the time being, as well as other traditional competitors such as the New York Times, who have invested heavily.
Pearson has competition from larger companies moving into education as well as MOOCs.
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes. The organisation is open to change.
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
For the redesign of FT.com we are currently working on, we have really challenged existing practices of building something, then testing and launching it when we feel it is ready. We have been doing one-week sprints with user testing every week; we have launched with an internal alpha at a very early stage and this will be going to external alpha soon. The team are focused on achieving outcomes instead of a given solution. It’s a completely different way for many parts of the business to work and some have found it difficult initially, but after bedding in it is really working well and this thinking will be rolled out more widely.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
Not sure I can say just one. There are four major initiatives at FT:
• Redesign of FT.com
• Complete rebuild of content platform
• Complete rebuild of membership platform – Salesforce/Zuora
• Migration to AWS
For Pearson Professional, it was creating the New Student Experience for Wall Street English. This is one of the flagship products for Pearson, bringing a new digital product that delivers learning outcomes alongside redesigned physical centres and new operational processes. The digital product will bring new virtual classroom, mobile, social media and multimedia experiences to the WSE students, driving revenue through reduced churn (currently an issue) and new enrolments.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
The redesign of FT.com will offer a new experience, moving away from traditional newspaper navigation. The article will be made the new homepage and the audience engaged with relevant content. It will be mobile-first and responsive. We are expecting to drive engagement of users, in turn driving acquisitions and reducing churn.
The content platform will have improved metadata to deliver the relevance required for the redesign of the new FT.com. There will be faster delivery, and the ability to deliver new content formats to realise our editors' ‘text +’ vision.
The complete rebuild of the membership platform will increase acquisition numbers as we provide new payment methods and greater flexibility in campaigns around product bundling, pricing and offers. Single views of the customer and improved customer service will introduce new services such as live person.
The migration to AWS will deliver cost savings and remove operational overhead. There will be speed of delivery.
The New Student Experience will increase revenue, profitability and user experience.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I think I have helped bring a clarity of purpose to drive business value at the earliest opportunity. In the past we have spent too long building things that have not driven real business value.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
The obvious we have adopted:
• Cloud – AWS, SAAS, PAAS. Enabling delivery without the operational overhead.
• Mobility – both in customer products and internal business users.
• Social – bringing us closer to our customers and opening up a new revenue channel.
• Linked data – providing more relevance to our readers.
And ones we are considering:
• Mobile payments and micropayments
Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
We have put in place a new data warehouse based on Amazon Redshift with Birst for analytics. The vision is to facilitate more self-service and data capability across the organization to ensure the data scientists are free to do the 'really clever stuff'. We have embedded data analysts across the organisation and focused on providing APIs and the right tools to the data warehouse to achieve this.
Data was introduced to editorial with a dashboard we created 18 months ago, but we are now creating an audience engagement team working with a data analyst sat at the centre of the newsroom.
Specifically within the product team we want to be more data-driven, so we are embedding a data analyst. We have tended to focus a lot on the people we know well - our subscribers. I am pushing us to extend our vision to people who fit our subscriber profile but are not subscribers, and looking at more customer insight data, which is collected across the company from customer services through to marketing. This more qualitative data should complement the existing data sets.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
With cloud and mobile we are able to provide business tools remotely without VPN overheads. This has made the workforce more mobile and we are moving to a cloud-based version of our CMS to facilitate faster reporting from remote locations.
Mobile and social has affected our customers' behaviour, with over half our traffic now on mobile. We have 12 million followers on social platforms, up 54% from the previous year, driving 8% of traffic to our articles online from social media.
As mentioned we are focusing on redesigning FT.com to be a mobile-first responsive site, and will be improving the experience for people entering the site from social media and search. We are also looking at social login to provide a more seamless experience.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
There really isn’t much shadow IT happening within the FT. We have worked hard to help marketing and other departments understand the value of getting technology involved. We have had a BYOD strategy for a few years.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
• Salesforce/Zuora – subscription and billing
• AWS/Cloud reach – cloud
• Nativ – video editing
• Ontotext - Metadata
Financial Times IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Observed attempts, but last intrusion was 18 months ago from SEA.
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes. The turning point was hacking from SEA. We implemented 2FA on email and applications, and ran security awareness across the organisation. We have always run PEN tests but are now more resolved to implement proposed fixes.
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
We are fortunate that Pearson have put millions into a central security team which the FT has access to.
What is the IT budget?
FT – £23m opex, £17m capex. Pearson Professional – £75m capex, £43m capex.
How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
FT – 8.2%.
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
We have kept the mission of ‘driving the FT with strong, simple and open technology’, but have communicated a strategy below that. We are focusing on:
• Infrastructure – creating a smaller physical footprint.
• Architecture – services connected by APIs.
• Data platform – building this out to make it accessible and nearer real-time.
• Universal publishing – providing access to content, data, metadata and membership information through • APIs allowing a consistent experience across all platforms.
• E-commerce and membership – a platform to drive acquisition and subscriber management.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Some areas are difficult such as front-end devs and business intelligence.
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes. We're reviewing our location strategy currently to address this area.
Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
We're considering it.
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes. We also offer student placements.
Financial Times technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Open and action-oriented.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
In the last six months we have focused on leadership training. I am just kicking off some training on how we work better as a management team.
How many employees are in your IT team?
240 FTE in FT. 750 FTE in Pearson Professional.
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
95% in-house, 75% permanent.
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?