Derek Colvin, CTO at the Newspaper Licensing Agency explains what inspired him to move from a technology vendor to an IT leader

What prompts someone from the IT supplier side to jump ship to become an internal IT leader? For Derek Colvin, who had a high level post at software giant Microsoft’s MSN and Xbox divisions, the lure must be pretty strong.

“I had a great four years at Microsoft and my other engineering jobs before that,” says Colvin, who is now CTO at the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA).

“What made me want to move on was the chance to deploy some of the things I had learned and make a difference to a company.”

Preserving newspapers

Colvin seems to be meeting his ambition. The NLA is a body set up by the eight biggest UK newspaper publishing groups, including News International and Pearson.

Historically its remit was to act as the middleman so that newspaper content, such as press cuttings, could be legally copied and archived by bodies.

But the internet is changing that. The NLA’s new mission is to create a vast digital archive of all the content published by the UK’s 1,600 national and regional press, mainly in PDF and XML format.

Online archive

Colvin is leading the technical push to create that database, that will eventually act as the primary online repository for all newspaper content, from the FT to the Sheffield Star.

“At the moment we are processing between 8,000 and 10,0000 articles daily from the 2,500 pages of newspaper content generated every day,” he says.

“We are then creating a very tightly tuned database that feeds into a reasonably large storage area network (SAN). The database is small as it mainly consists of textual pointers but the SAN is 10Tbs, although we doubt it will be sufficient for longer than two years.”

Business alignment

NLA, which is partnering with technology supplier BSG to complete this project, has proven to be just the kind of environment Colvin was seeking. He relishes not just the challenge but the opportunity to be so well integrated into the business.

“I am a kind of combination operations, information and technology manager here. I report directly to the MD,” he says.

In fact, it is his relationship with the company’s management that gives the job that extra something, says Colvin.

“A lot of technical people struggle with when to give up being aware of the minutiae of technology and become business-focused.”

"A lot of technical people struggle with when to give up being aware of the minutiae of technology and become business-focused"

New tricks

But Colvin believes the experience of working alongside senior executives can be invaluable for aspiring IT leaders looking to acquire new business skills.

“Watching how my MD works I think gives clues as to how CIOs can become more business oriented. He is so incredibly commercially sharp, it’s a pleasure watching him in business negotiations. It’s like a game of chess,” he says.

“I think technology people need to look for the intellectual challenge in business as much as IT. As engineers, after all, we look to fix things and solve problems – that really is what business is too if you look at it the right way.”