Frank Gibson has assigned a product manager to each of the main business unit products. They own the roadmap for software product development, and balance user, business and technical requirements to deliver product excellence. It has meant challenging long-held assumptions internally, validating these with real users, and gaining business colleagues’ buy-in by allowing them to see the feedback and decision-making first hand. He has also moved to a dev/ops culture that has allowed the main publishing platform to release every week rather than every eight to 12 weeks, with a completely automated deployment completed in two hours rather than one requiring three days of manual involvement.
Director of technology
Royal Society of Chemistry
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I have introduced the concept of product managers to the organisation. Before this there was no clear or visible owner for any of our software products. The newly formed product management team sit within my technology team and are there to represent the voice of the user within the organisation. We now have a product manager for each of our main business unit products. They are required to own the roadmap for software product development, and balance user, business and technical requirements to deliver product excellence for our users.
The product managers spend time in front of real users performing demand validation, testing, collecting feedback and communicating these results back to the wider organisation to educate and explain roadmap and implementation decisions. This has involved challenging long-held assumptions internally, validating these with real users, and bringing business colleagues along with us, allowing them to see the feedback and decision-making first hand. This has been an exciting challenge to both show and educate the organisation on the value of product management and how important a focus on user experience is to enable us to deliver on our charter.
Coupled with this we have moved to a dev/ops culture where the product managers, developers, QA, web-ops and infrastructure, along with business colleagues, are involved in and form the sprint team. Applying dev/ops principles we have moved from being able to release our main publishing platform only every eight to 12 weeks to being able to release every week. Deployment originally took three days of manual involvement which has now improved to two hours, completely automated, with no human intervention.
This increase in speed allows the product managers to reduce the cycle time between idea, validation and delivering real value through the product to the end users. This in turn has raised the profile of the product managers in the organisation and demonstrates that technology can deliver.
A technique that has helped us further focus on the customer is the introduction of the concept of service blueprints. Service blueprints allow the modelling of customer products as well as internal services, such as the service desk, to be expressed and designed from a user’s point of view, not a technical or business point of view and then delivered accordingly for maximum user value.
Going forward, I am collaboratively authoring our new customer focus strategy with our communication and marketing director.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
- An increase in user engagement, registered users and revenue, via the launch of a new magazines platform. A project that was delivered on time and under budget.
- An increase in internal colleague productivity, via an improvement to speed of resolution and customer satisfaction of our IT service desk. Through a service design approach focused on customer experience, defined via service blueprints, we have implemented ServiceNow as a self-service portal for our colleagues, as their first interaction with the service desk. In the first month of launch the service portal was the primary channel for interacting with the service desk, with a 40% share over other channels such as email.
- An improved customer satisfaction and increase in our main KPI of content downloads on our main publishing platform through an improved and customer validated user experience and brand-compliant redesign.
- Increased management capability, along with raising standards and expectations of general management skills, across the technology department. I developed a bespoke 90-day management on-the-job coaching programme, coupled with self-directed learning. This is a major commitment of my time to help improve all my managers and set the standards of general management within a technical function. The programme was supported by our training and HR team, and is now being considered as a general management training approach for the entire organisation and not just for technology.
- Service cost transparency to aid decision-making and drive organisational change. Implemented and applied a total cost of ownership financial model for all the technology services we support, encompassing physical servers, development, support and everything in between. Making this data publicly available within the organisation has facilitated data-driven decision-making either o to ‘sunset' services or focus investment, which prior to this was only based on opinion. In one example, simply sharing these costs allowed us to sunset 40 applications from one department. This has greatly improved the transparency of technology within the organisation and helped educate the organisation on the scale and cost of operations we support.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
With the introduction and leadership of product management for our software products, I have a direct responsibility for software product innovation. The product managers, working closely with our new data science team (whom I have also formed and manage), focus on user-centric, data-driven product innovation. With our main product now releasing every week we are able to experiment and quickly validate innovations.
We currently support over 200 web applications. With the introduction of product management we are consolidating our products, delivering a superior user experience and reducing complexity. This has involved me co-authoring business strategy and defining digital product strategy, and then delivering on this.
I have introduced the concept of ‘APIs as products’. We have recently partnered with Google on its Edge API management platform (formerly Apigee Edge) to move our data products, which have been traditionally browsable web applications, to computationally accessible chemical data through APIs. This allows companies such as pharmaceuticals to connect our data directly into their drug discovery pipelines and get real-time updates.
Business model innovation
I championed and implemented a new commercial metered-access subscription model for our magazine platforms which had previously been accessible to members only via our membership package.
I introduced the business model canvas as a tool to validate and express ideas emphasising the value proposition for customers and ensuring the following question can be answered for all products: what problem are you solving for whom?
I introduced an API strategy that is new to the organisation to deliver data through a tiered metered-access API management platform, as opposed to a traditional flat-fee annual contract.
By adopting a service blueprint design approach, we have delivered a more engaging experience-centred service desk focused on improving organisation productivity. Through implementing ServiceNow we are automating tasks that were previously conducted manually, and demonstrating to the organisation that we can automate ourselves, thereby improving effectiveness and efficiency and laying the groundwork for a more large-scale digital transformation agenda that the organisation will be approaching over the next five years.
I introduced and fostered a dev/ops culture, where weekly sprint teams are made up of web-ops, developers, QA, product managers and members from the business. The team has moved from a release cycle of eight to 12 weeks to a weekly release cycle, and is tasked with moving toward continuous deployment. At the moment we have moved from a manual deployment cycle of three days to a fully automated cycle of two hours.
I introduced an extended annual development freeze where for a period of six weeks the development and web-ops team were merged, with the objective of automating web-ops. Through various initiatives, the two teams have saved at least one week of manual work every month, which represents a huge total of three months’ manual effort every year.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
With a functional organisation structure within IT, there is an understanding that no team can do all its work without the help from other teams. This has fostered a collaborative working culture in order to deliver. There is also a ‘roll forward – no blame culture’ where colleagues focus on solving the immediate issue collectively rather than ‘rolling back’ and focusing on whose fault it is.
After any critical incident or successful project, I have introduced the concept of a retrospective where we objectively assess what went well and what we could do better. This is all written up and publicly shared across the organisation. We also invite business colleagues into these retrospectives to show that we are both self-critical and analytical in how we are improving. As a result the concept of retrospectives is beginning to be used across the wider organisation, and we have helped facilitate some of those.
To further encourage openness and challenge I have held Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions on persistent chat where the team can publicly ask me anything to invite and encourage challenge. I have subsequently publicly rewarded individuals for asking challenging questions. This technique is now being considered as a communication tool across the organisation.
I have introduced an informal monthly technology town hall meeting with an open invitation to the entire organisation. During the meeting we report publicly on our objectives, and the rest of the agenda is crowdsourced by the team. It typically involves items that showcase work, results of retrospectives, public recognition of achievements and Q&A. This simple act of holding a public meeting has fostered a greater culture of collaboration and challenge as well as acting as a very effective communication tool.
To foster openness and transparency I have included a guest spot for anyone from the wider team to join in the weekly technology management team meeting, which works on rotation. This also acts as a training tool for the guest to see how effective meetings are run and how decisions are made, and provides insight into the role a of technology manager.
With the 90-day management plan, I am training my team and setting the expectations of being a manager, which have seen both personal and team improvements, ranging from personal productivity to effective communication and meeting management. A key component of this is emotional intelligence training, helping typically introverted technically focused individuals communicate more effectively with business colleagues and with their peers within technology fostering great teamwork and greater empathy.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
As a member of the leadership team I have worked to define the RSC five-year strategy to be launched in 2017, with the technology strategy not merely aligned but an integral part of the corporate strategy. My emphasis has continually been on people first, recruiting the right people and upskilling them, on process second, ensuring we are doing the right things in the right way, and only then on technology that can support and advance our colleagues and their needs.
The Royal Society of Chemistry is an organisation that is 175 years old, with a very traditional scholarly publishing business. We are a successful organisation, doubling in size in the last five or six years. With that comes the needed investment in systems of record and systems of workflow to support a larger and growing organisation. I have spent considerable time in working with the rest of the leadership team and our trustees in building awareness of our need to invest in new technology to advance the organisation achieving their buy-in in the form of support and investment.
A tangible output of this work is that the technology strategy is a core part of our corporate strategy, emphasising the need to educate, build and deliver on our digital capability, both internally for our staff and externally for our customer community. Achieving buy-in that the organisation needs to go through a digital transformation has been successful and is a core tenet of our 2017-22 strategy outlining the key digital opportunities to ensure our continued long-term success as an organisation in the face of disruption in the publishing business and the effectiveness of our business processes.
In addition, I introduced and formed a data science team within my technology directorate to provide a function that can manage large-scale data and to foster a culture of data-driven decision-making. Since its early inception it has developed analyses and visualisations to aid current decision-making and provide insights into future trends. This data focus is starting to gain more traction within the organisation, and the team now has a backlog of projects to address.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
We have traditionally been an organisation that has done a lot of provisioning and development in-house, both across our back-office systems and our customer facing products. As we scale in staff and customer base, we are actively looking outside the organisation for partnerships and expertise, allowing us to tailor our internal resource to the most strategically important work.
As a charity, choosing the right partners that are aligned with our values is extremely important, and influencing them to provide the best terms of engagement for our culture and community is essential for the long-term engagements we want to offer. One technique that I have used to achieve this is a conference room pilot (CRP). Bringing new partners in for a day or two, sitting in a room with the project team, sourcing requirements and then actually building products or features allows both groups to see how each other operate, and exposes partners to our culture before signing up for a long-term commitment. It has proved a very effective technique in partner selection and influencing.
Two major examples of these are ServiceNow and Google Edge (formerly Apigee). In implementing ServiceNow, we have sped up our adoption of ITIL, specifically service strategy. However, the main objective was to deliver a customer-centric service desk experience along with automation of processes facilitating an increase in productivity across the organisation with self-service. ServiceNow will allow us to potentially expand the customer-centred service management concept to other parts of the organisation – from marketing, HR and finance all the way to customer service management.
With the Google Edge API management platform we have introduced the concept of APIs as a product and a way to commercialise our data assets in a computationally accessible way. The Google Edge team was very keen to help us deliver on our charitable aims and worked with us to define an appropriate service offering as their its non-profit customer.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
First and foremost, our hiring policy is based on talent and values fit, with each new recruit having to raise the bar from the last. This makes it clear that every member of the team is employed on merit, and collaboration and respect follow. We have very strong inclusion and diversity values as a not-for-profit organisation which has been created to support the global chemistry community. Part of the recruitment process therefore selects for alignment in these values.
In the last year we have recruited 15 staff members from outside the organisation bringing in new ideas, experience and background to the technical function of a scientific not-for-profit. Specifically, we have recruited Chinese nationals to focus on the product development of our Chinese market, technical staff with scientific backgrounds, along with individuals with strong commercial background and startup experience. All of these add not only to the diversity of individuals but of thinking, ideas and approach for the benefit of the organisation.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have thought about the functions needed not only to be an integral part of the organisation but also to support the rest of the organisation. This led me to structure my technology directorate along the concept of the supply chain of IT. The key components are managing the demand from customers and internal staff, planning and building IT services, running the day-to-day operations and the management of supply in terms of suppliers and managed services. Along with the relationships between these functions, the org chart directly reflects these components with a group for operations/run, including managing supply, a plan and build group consisting of software development and data science, a manage demand group consisting of a product management team and a business relationship management team (encompassing analysts and project managers alongside BRMs).
The manage demand group is the first touchpoint for staff and customer requests for new or changes to services, and is essential in the alignment with business strategy. This group analyses requests, validates and plans work, bringing in expertise from the other technology functions, and then will also manage the delivery through the project management roles.
I have introduced a balance and monitoring of budget and activity along the axis of run 70%, grow 20% and transform 10%. This transparency and balance ensures we are aligned with the rest of the organisation, but also balanced in investing in the foundations of business technology but not at the expense of innovation, and vice versa.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Traditionally we have provisioned a lot of our services in-house, but this is gradually changing. Our major strategic deals this year have been for ServiceNow and Google Edge, and we have begun an engagement with Gartner. We have also formed a new partnership with Abacus e-media for our magazine products, and renegotiated our partnership with MarkLogic to reflect our changing needs better, and also renegotiated our Salesforce partnership to move onto its charitable sector terms.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
The technology strategy, in the form of a digital transformation strategy, is part of our new corporate 2017-22, five-year strategy. In terms of broad goals, my key aims for next year are to:
- Create a smart enterprise: Driven by accurate insights on customers as well as internal processes. Using data to gain customer insights through data analytics and using these to drive personalisation and loyalty. Internally this involves operational excellence, digitisation and automation of processes, collaboration and communication tools, performance management through transparency and data-driven decision-making, along with having the right set of processes and infrastructure.
- Ensure business continuity: Encompasses a loosely defined set of planning, preparatory and related activities intended to ensure that an organisation’s critical business functions will either continue to operate despite serious incidents or disasters that might otherwise have interrupted them, or can be recovered to an operational state within a reasonably short period.
- Provide a connected experience: Aim to provide a consistent and uniform customer experience across all touchpoints and the same for services provided to colleagues. Focusing on UX-driven decision-making, engagement, collaboration and communication.
- Innovate to grow and compete: Improve our product offerings or deliver new products and services through innovative application of technology in line with RSC strategy.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
In this uncertain environment we are trying to have a continued focus on efficiency and effectiveness of everything we do to ensure a lean, modernised and stable foundation that change can be built on.
As a Royal society we have a particular UK focus. Coupled with continued adoption and development of our dev/ops culture, we aim to respond to changing conditions with speed and flexibility focused on user needs. Undergoing a digital transformation will put us in a leadership position to help and support the chemical sciences community transition to the new scientific environment post-Brexit.
From a practical point of view we are focusing on ensuring GDPR compliance and assessing our flexibility in datacentre location of our applications and data and IP storage in relation to SaaS products.
When did you start your current role?
24 November 2014
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Every two weeks
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£6m – 12% of revenue.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
75% run, 20% grow, 5% transformation/innovation.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
- CIO peers
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
No, but one is planned who would report to me
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 or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile).
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?