Rex Cooper has implemented Agile into back office tasks, extending good governance and quick delivery to the services provided to colleagues. His implementation of a fit for purpose architecture strategy and the splitting of legacy monolithic applications into separate services with APIs delivered a multiple-product portal for a big new customer in 10 weeks alongside all the normal work. And his moving of datacentres to private and public cloud has drastically reduced the time needed to deploy new applications from weeks to days.
Chief Technology Officer
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
BMJ has a wide range of product offerings driving our vision of “A Healthier World”. These range from global online tools helping students and clinicians make better decisions and improve their knowledge, through to the 60+ specialist medical journals we publish. Our most famous property, The British Medical Journal, has been around since 1840 and is read and widely quoted throughout the world.
As CTO I am responsible for ensuring all these products are available all the time, that they perform well and people can easily find what they need. As part of the product delivery process, I ensure that data, performance, simplicity and achievability are baked into every digital change we make.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
We have been working as an Agile delivery organisation for our digital products for the past two-and-a-half years. In the last 12 months, the team and I have implemented this way of working into our back office systems tasks, extending good governance and quick delivery to the services we provide to our colleagues. Agile methods have also been adopted by other (non-technical) parts of the company.
I have implemented a Fit for Purpose Architecture strategy and split our legacy monolithic applications into separate services with APIs. This work allowed us to deliver a multiple-product portal for a big new customer in 10 weeks alongside all the normal work of iterating our product offerings according to customer need.
The team moved data centres and now operates a private and public cloud, drastically reducing our time to deploy new applications from weeks to days.
We also have a governance group for our internal systems and have been able to automate processes that previously took weeks of manual effort.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
- Complete rebuild of one of our mobile apps.
- Using a cloud based editorial tool to build better learning courses for our Clinical Learning proposition and running that in parallel with the existing tools.
Business model innovation
- Using Service Oriented Architecture to break down product and information silos, allowing the creation of a new product for a big new customer with a short delivery timeline.
- Devising and implementing the technology to support a new renewals strategy for B2C products.
- BMJ Hackday showcasing innovative additions to our products like voice searching, Using Machine Learning to extract trends from our content, single sign on between products. These ideas will be taken forward and may become product features in the medium term.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
We have changed the way that the Tech department works with the rest of the business. The company executive now has complete control over our priorities and schedule. They use this to ensure we favour “responding to change” instead of rigidly “following a plan” and work on only the most valuable items at any given time.
The technology staff are empowered as much as possible and are responsible for the decisions that they make. Each delivery team includes the business colleague who requested the change or new product.
Bringing this industry standard agile way of working to the company has changed the way the technology team is viewed from an untrustworthy adversary to a trusted partner.
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 the leader of the Fit for Purpose Architecture initiative, I communicate regularly with the Company Executive and the Board. Explaining terms like “Technical Debt” and “Service Oriented Architecture” has been a challenge! The board increased their investment in this part of the strategy in 2016, showing their belief the investment is good value for money.
As a publisher of content, our world is changing and digital is already very very important and is becoming more so. Our CEO and Company Executive are well aware of these challenges and are willing to listen to the technology function. As a collective, they are keeping themselves current and ensure they get regular updates from their digital products and from technology, too. We have achieved this by communicating clearly, and often.
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 keep our core Intellectual Property in house and outsource what we consider to be non-core. Of course the services and platforms we buy in are very important to us and we rely on our vendors to provide expertise and service better than what we could do ourselves.
We try to build constructive partnerships with our vendors. We search for open and honest communication and to build understanding with them so that they can be setup to be successful in delivering what we need.
As CTO, the vast majority of IT vendor relationships are managed by my team.
We have an start-up partnership initiative where we try to use the BMJ brand and expertise to help start-ups in the Healthcare space.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
In common with most technology teams, we struggle with gender diversity. We strive to operate a meritocracy, where what counts is your technical skills and ability to work constructively in a team. Our Chief Digital Officer is one of the top female IT executives in the UK so we have a good role model at the top and we try to let our female applicants know that the BMJ is a very diverse company with a 50/50 balance at exec level.
With the Apprenticeship levy starting this year, we’ll have an opportunity to encourage more women into IT and I am hopeful this will address our gender imbalance
Across other dimensions of diversity, we are doing OK. As I look across my team I see people from all over the world working well together and feeling welcome. Ensuring that new team members are good at their job is the best way to ensure diversity is both applied and supported by the team.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We align the product development teams with web operations in a “DevOps” way of working. The product development teams include business colleagues so there is alignment with business goals. We use scrum when we work on our internal back office systems, bringing modern working practices to that part of the business.
The technology department drives one of the three strategic themes of the company so alignment is achieved through the company strategy and objectives.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Our two main partners are Highwire Press, where our 60+ journals and The BMJ are hosted.
The other key platform provider is DataPipe, who provide private and public cloud services for us.
We made a key supplier decision with Box UK building our new Mobile App
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
In 2017 we will continue our strategy of outsourcing commodity products and platforms whilst growing in-house capability for our core intellectual property.
We will start understanding how Machine Learning can add value to our customers through classification and search, primarily.
We will look at improving our customer experience by allowing single sign on between all our properties. Our products have implemented in different languages and hosted in different platforms, so this will be a long term project with many challenges
Our back office systems are too bespoke and so we need to simplify our business processes and the implementation of them, reverting back to out-of-the-box functionality wherever possible
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
In general, like any other tech team, many of our people come from the EU and other parts of the world. Our first concern is to ensure that they feel comfortable and welcome and we are doing our best to achieve that.
As an exporter of knowledge and services that reports in pounds, the currency changes have been net positive for us.
As a company, our approach to Brexit has been to apply standard risk management practices and we are currently monitoring and mitigating those risks. Beyond that, there are no specific arrangements for Brexit in my department.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Chief Digital Officer
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?
bi-weekly for technology project prioritisation. Monthly in the senior staff meeting
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?
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
New Product Development, approx 600k
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- Analyst houses
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?
Yes – part of my team
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?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- Machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
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?