05 podcast 4

BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper joined CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough to discuss end-to-end transformation, Agile, DevOps, open source and the CDO role during episode four of the CIO UK podcast.

A former CIO 100 high-flyer for her role at the publishing subsidiary of the British Medical Association known previously as the British Medical Journal, Cooper spoke about the organisation's back-end and front-end transformation, and how Agile and DevOps had made a positive impact on the BMJ's culture in its tech department and beyond.

Launched in January 2018, the CIO UK podcast is a monthly discussion featuring CIOs, commentators and technology executives thrashing out the key issues relevant to the UK's business and technology leaders - as well as the tangential and irreverent musings of guest CIOs.

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CDO role

Previously CTO at the BMJ, Cooper was appointed Chief Digital Officer in January 2016. She said that there had been a business need and opportunity to expand her remit while returning to some of her previous responsibilities around product development.

"So I now not only have the development in terms of technology capacity, but also the development in terms of editorial, profit and loss responsibility for those products," she said.

Cooper warned that there was not always a need for a Chief Digital Officer, however.

"It depends on the organisation and how they want to structure," she said. "I see some Chief Digital Officers which are more about marketing and tying product to marketing - so I think it's more about what the organisation is trying to do, and perhaps the individual who is in the role and their ambition and ability to think about technology not as hardware but as an enabler - understanding what technology can do for the product rather than how to write lines of code."

End-to-end transformation

Cooper outlined the BMJ's recent end-to-end transformation, brought about by a front-end system and a back-end database which were both creaking.

"We looked at just changing the front-end, and discovered you couldn't do the front-end without the back-end, and we were also changing all of our editorial processes at the same time so we just decided to bite the bullet and to do the whole lot," Cooper explained.

"That was a lot of work to do in a year, it was very brave. I didn't do it on my own; I had a fantastic team who worked with me. They worked so hard to achieve that. We've got a lot more to do and we're just at the start."

Agile and DevOps

DevOps and Agile have been an important part of the journey at the BMJ, and Cooper said that Agile in particular had gone beyond a capital 'A' development methodology and was having an impact on other areas of the organisation.

"As more of the business teams interacted with the technology team, we started noticing whiteboards appearing in places," she said.

BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper and CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough recording the CIO UK podcast

Cooper noted that now the legal department, HR and quite a few other parts of the organisation are having daily or weekly standups.

"We used to talk about BMJ being quite a siloed organisation and you don't hear that word anymore, or not nearly as much and I wonder - although I have no evidence for it at an evidence-based company - as to whether Agile has in some way helped to break down those barriers and encourage more frequent communication," she said.

Open source and IP

Cooper also discussed how the organisation had tried to use as much open source technology as possible, and her concept of moving from IT to IP to try and make product development teams think more about the lines of code they are creating as intellectual property to the organisation.

This was a two-way journey, Cooper said, with it also bringing into the conscious of the organisation that those in editorial roles could better appreciate and respect those in product development roles.

BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper and CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough recording the CIO UK podcast

BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper and CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough recording the CIO UK podcast

BMJ Chief Digital Officer Sharon Cooper and CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough recording the CIO UK podcast