Steve Homan isn't one to follow trends or make grand statements about "all in the cloud" or similar. He looks to take each need and work out its fit with the general direction of that strategic period. Last year was about starting the journey, but also doing the heavy lifting to be able to create organisational focus on future revenue lines. His replatforming of the company's digital assets for enhanced revenue and customer experience leaves him free to focus on the fast-paced delivery of the major revenue-enhancing projects that land this year.
Name and job title
Steve Homan, CIO, DMG Media (DMGT plc).
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I am working closely with the CMO and CEO to define our future products and roadmaps while also playing an instrumental role in the work to transform parts of the group to become product-centric in thinking and delivery.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
I have effected cultural change to a good degree with the relevant functions: leading by example, supporting them through change, and I'm now starting to get to a position whereby they lead themselves (early days so far but we have made good progress).
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
Replatforming of digital assets for enhanced revenue and customer experience (eg MailTravel material percentage improvement in £40m business), rebuild of the Daily Mail loyalty programme (supporting a cost saving and delivering enhanced customer experience), end-to-end prospect-to-fulfilment for advertising sales on the SalesForce platform (supporting cost and efficiency transformation), delivery of what is very likely the world's largest editorial digital asset management platform – capable of a daily load up to 300,000 images in parallel to four locations (risk mitigation and supporting global growth).
The impact on performance has varied from growing existing revenue lines to supporting major strategic shifts. Having done that, we are now able to focus on fast-paced delivery of major revenue-enhancing projects which land this year. Last year was about starting on that journey, but also doing the heavy lifting to be able to create organisational focus on future revenue lines.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
We always try and use the maximum data available to make decisions – be that from our own data sources or by working with our customers. This year I drove the setup of a customer lab where we bring in customers on a regular basis and do everything from product research/viability to product evaluation through the delivery cycle.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have repositioned the IT department to a tech team. When I joined three years ago there were constant operational problems and trust was very low. We did the hard work to get the operations rock-solid and trusted, along with solving some long-term "too hard" problems. This has allowed tech to be repositioned from the back-office; it now joins in the top-table discussion on strategy. In recent times I have been driving much of the debate on the relevant areas of product/customer strategy, so we are a big part of building the strategy.
Tech is organised into two teams – operations (keep it running) and delivery (new stuff). We provide a wide range of services to a number of different businesses – be that working very closely to set the strategy in one business to back-end service provider to another, so we are skilled at changing hats and fitting to the local mindset without letting our high operating standards drop.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
As a large publisher we have three strands to our digital strategy which are consistent over our businesses: content, advertising and e-commerce. The content strategy is defined by our editorial teams with support from us where required. We play a partnership role with the advertising strategy to support shaping and delivery of plans. In e-commerce we play a very active role in setting the strategy. The positioning of each is as much to do with timing as it is structure.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
We have replatformed the way our advertising sales teams work with technology, allowing streamlined and smart processes. We have been on a crusade to get all of our product teams to use consistent tech and processes to describe what they want to achieve, then manage the ongoing delivery, and it is starting to work really well. Some of our core business processes are heavily underpinned by tech – to such a degree that it's clear to all that there is little more we can do unless we go for seismic structure changes.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
I believe that the best way to communicate in a medium-sized organisation like mine is face to face as much as possible. I will sit down on a regular basis with the stakeholders (often one to one or with their teams) and share what we are doing, but also talk about their current challenges and thoughts for the future. When trust is built over time, this becomes a natural conversation.
When we are working intensively with a stakeholder group, I will have bi-weekly 1:1 meetings to make sure we are aligned. However, outside of this, I actively encourage staff at all levels to share thoughts, worries and ideas face to face or by other means. I constantly remind people that if you go home thinking you have overcommunicated you may just have done enough – wise words from a wise person I have proudly copied!
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
This is something we are starting to do in earnest. Following a period of working hard on ourselves we now feel we have a meaningful story to tell and are actively working on ensuring we can access the talent we are always looking for. We have an in-house recruitment specialist who joined recently and is leading this work with me. Early outcomes have been really good.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
It all starts with trust, which you earn. If you have it, then it is a natural dialogue that happens and you can push the boundaries hard during the debate. This happens in a number of ways, from wide ranging one-to-one debates with the CEO and board execs to bringing together relevant functional or cross-functional teams. The key to it is to be absolutely clear that tech is there as a partner and what our current focus areas are and why.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I use a wide range of digital assets to do this – daily Google searches, blogs, LinkedIn, TechCrunch, etc. I also have a network that I will often reach into to learn more about a topic I am not sure about. As the learning curve is shallow these days, I am perfectly comfortable asking someone to teach me about a subject.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
I have dramatically changed the diversity and culture of my team. We have a very open communication style where I update the whole team face to face bi-weekly – we use the same session to learn a new topic or about something we are working on. I know we have a good culture as this often has many questions and open debate, which to me is a sign that the team feel comfortable to ask questions. With a number of daily standups on various topics, open and candid communication is our norm, which our business is now taking on more and more.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I spend a lot of my time ensuring I am listening and understanding where my peers and their team are at. If you have trust, you can have a different conversation, which allows fears and concerns to flow freely, enabling us to work together to do something about them.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills
As an ex management consultant focused on large-scale, complex turnaround, I had to learn fast how to get large teams under pressure to work together to deliver. Part of this was learning from those around me (I am a big believer in stealing with pride) and also some structured support in my last role. I am clear with those I work with that I have things I need to work on – and what they are and will often seek feedback or leave an open door to it.
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Data analytics is a big part of our world. NoSQL – yes. Enterprise apps, IoT, automation, sharing.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
We have a design process that is smart and quick and includes our key technical stakeholders. We don't follow trends or make grand statements about "all in the cloud" or similar. We take each need and work out its fit with the general direction of that strategic period vs time to MVP vs specific needs vs cost vs performance. To me tech these days is knitting, so you do what makes the most sense with the time but importantly ensure you are not closing any doors down the line.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
It's part of the team objectives and we have an open culture around this. The team are empowered to explore and learn as they see fit; we mark homework not school uniform.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
The sourcing strategy is linked to our design process. It's about what makes the most sense for the strategic period in hand. Key suppliers are some industry players (Atex, OpenText, CCI) and then general tech companies (Oracle, VMware, AWS, EMC, Microsoft, Level3, Equinix, SalesForce, Stripe, Demandware, etc etc – it's a long list after this).
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
A customer experience lab – fast, direct and cheap access to learn from our customers – a huge innovation in our digital platforms. And a product management platform – it sounds simple but it has given us a way to have a common language and place to describe and keep our product assets.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
Nothing too major. We like to be under the radar.
Rank in order of importance your sources for innovative technology suppliers
1 Media. 2 CIO peers. 3 Analyst houses. 4 Consultants. 5 Industry body.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
£24m P&L, £6m capex – but capex changes each year and through the year.
What is your budget's operational/development split?
75% BAU, 25% innovation.
How many users does your department supply services to?
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?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?