Before Sharon Cooper's arrival at The BMJ all technology product development costs were allocated as overhead, with no correlation between the cost of development and the impact on profit/success and no understanding of business value. That has all changed. The organisation now has an agile delivery framework, with a simple but understandable cost per sprint measure. There are no more unnecessary tweaks, and most people understand the cost of build and the revenue they need to earn to deliver profit.
When did you start your current role of CTO at the BMJ?
What is your reporting line?
Direct to CEO.
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Exec board of a subsidiary company, BMJ Informatica.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
No. A lot of the work a CDO would do is covered by my role, which is more digital product than IT.
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Along with all executive colleagues, I am responsible for the overall commercial and strategic decisions that the company makes, including all investment decisions.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
What number of users does your department supply services to?
500 staff/users and tens of millions of customers/users.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
Spend time with staff in the business, meet and spend time with customers, get feedback from specialist industry bodies.
British Medical Journal technology strategy and agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
I've disrupted the way in which we spend money on digital product development. Before my arrival all technology product development costs were allocated as an overhead, divided equally over 12 months of the year. There was no correlation between the cost of development and the impact on profit/success, no understanding of business value.
After moving to an agile delivery framework, once product owners were familiar with the terminology I developed a simple but understandable cost per sprint measure with a few simple rules.
All investment over a sprint had to be prioritised and approved by the executive. No development work can continue for more than three sprints without a checkpoint with the executive. To uphold our company values of transparency and trust, the exec priority sessions are filmed and the footage uploaded to our company product owner community. Within weeks the focus of product development became very closely aligned to what features would add the most user value, deliver the most commercial gain for the company, etc. Lots of unnecessary tweaks have been stopped. Now most people understand the cost of build and the revenue they need to earn to deliver profit.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
The move to Google Apps for Work was completed a year ago. A fundamental shift is now under way to expand its usage. In the last six months we have started to use Google+ communities, which has reduced the amount of internal email sent, and created a place for staff to share and discuss things that matter to them, both professionally and for leisure. We will be pushing hard to move all of our straightforward office-type activity to Google over the next year.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
Above all it's about creating a community. As the company expands internationally, most of our growth in staff is now overseas, but the company still has a very head office UK culture. There is no local network or London-based IT team – all of our staff are all in the same shared cloud space.
Using free software that is easy to use, most staff can just do it for themselves. They don't need the IT team to come and set something up for them. For example, using Google Hangout for training is reducing our costs for webinars for internal staff, and in 2015 we will start to trial this with paying customers. We can run our biannual 'Town Hall', with all staff meeting via Hangouts on Air; at no cost the entire organisation can choose to join in. The hardest part is trying to find a time in the day that works for the US, China, India and the Middle East, but because they all feel included, it doesn't matter. Some staff will join us in the middle of their night just to be part of it.
Also, the cost of our network storage and archive backups is reduced dramatically, the cost of videoconferencing is almost non-existent, the ability to share and co-create on documents has only just started to transform the way we do business – for example, completing complex government tender documents, or drafting the 'editor's choice' in our weekly flagship publication The BMJ. The tools that allow staff to work together in real time to tight deadlines without any technical failure are just starting to make a difference.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
Being able to see past the sceptics, being confident in the difference that it could make, being focused on the detail, and being careful not to push too fast too quickly but able to judge the pace of the organisation and its appetite for change and ability to cope with it.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Anything that enables real-time collaboration and working that feels as easy to use as consumer apps and software but can assure the business of the security of its staff, its customers and its data.
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 are just starting out, but the data and analytics vision has to support the business vision of 'A Healthier World'. Our vision is to be able to assist our customers/users in practising better medicine, in whatever form that takes, from the moment they decide to become a doctor to the moment they are no longer practising, which might be when we publish their obituary in The BMJ. To do that we need to be able to recognise that individual as they study medicine, then practise it through many different institutions across the globe.
It will be enabled by technology such as AppDynamics, allowing us to understand actual product usage as well as growth in our understanding of customer data and purchasing behaviours.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
The current trends continue to grow, we see social networking and mobile affecting how users access our content and products, and how our staff choose to work. There has been no radical change, but a steady growth. Some of our products now see more than 50% of accesses via smart devices, but we still have many subscribers and sales of printed products. In some countries, such as India, we are even distributing digital-only products to satisfy the demand that the market expresses.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
We have accepted BYOD across the executive. Our use of Google has actively enabled all staff to use their own devices to access corporate systems whenever and wherever they are. In a very recent study we compared the cost of a BYOD paid-for stipend policy for staff vs continuing our corporate mobile/smart device provision, and have decided for now to continue with the corporate provision because it is cheaper to administer.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
Google via Appsbroker. AppDynamics for performance monitoring. Highwire for our journals hosting.
Who are your main suppliers?
Google, Highwire, AppDynamics, NTT.
BMJ IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
What is the IT budget?
IT as in spend on kit for staff is approximately £1m a year. Product development technology costs are approximately £5.5m.
How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
• To ensure that the team delivers the best software development capabilities so the business can drive up revenue and commercial opportunities.
• To ensure we are able to deal with security incidents effectively and efficiently.
• To continue to focus on streamlining costs to ensure that the service functions contribute to overall company profitability.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
BMJ technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Strong, decisive, flexible, open to new ideas from others, supportive/nurturing of junior talent, able to talk to all levels of the organisation.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
By rigorously focusing on where technology delivers business value and helps the business achieve its goals. By taking what feel like very abstract concepts and making them real, enabling both board and executive to understand the impact of new technologies, cost savings, etc, using business scenarios so they understand how those technologies can help. At its simplest, by taking the time to sit with them and explain how things work, why some simple-looking things are not quite so simple. By setting out a clear direction of travel, reporting in on that regularly, focusing on delivering the priority needs of the business, showing actionable results for each step, and delivering cost savings when not required to.
How many employees are in your IT team?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?