Newspapers and digital transformation

  When Christina Scott, CIO at The Financial Times spoke at Dots 2015 I introduced her with a joke that she was one of the top five CIOs according to an industry journal – number three in fact, so she might want to try harder. I recalled this earlier this year when she was awarded CIO of the Year at the Women in IT Awards 2016 – an incredible achievement, and one earned in large part by her digital transformation efforts. As Information Age put it: 

When Scott joined the Financial Times almost four years ago, technology was not in a good place at the 127-year-old newspaper. Not only was it criticised for not delivering on its goals, it was seen as being subservient – or, at least, a blocker – to the business.

But when she joins News UK – publisher of The Sun and The Times – as its new chief technology officer later this year, she will leave behind an organisation where technology is now seen by stakeholders and the CEO as an important partner to the FT’s success.

Changing how technology is viewed by a business so positively requires more than just delivering solid IT projects – Scott has, in particular, transformed how the FT approaches data – but a complete, organisation-wide cultural change

I’d highly recommend taking a look at the slides and notes of her talk – there’s also audio of her talk on the Brilliant Noise podcast feed. I learned a great deal from working with the FT and from Christina’s talk. Recently I finished a book she mentions, Turn the Ship Around!, a book on devolving leadership and change by a US Navy nuclear submarine commander – I also highly recommend.

What makes Christina’s Dots talk useful and interesting is just how candid she is about how tricky change can be, even in an organisation like the FT, admired for its efforts in digital. For newspapers – which, like the music industry have been one of those sectors to feel the full force of digital disruption over the past 15 years or so – digital transformation isn’t just about getting the right tech in place – it’s about changing the culture. 

I was lucky enough to see how the FT was transforming on the inside. At Brilliant Noise in our strategic consultancy team we designed a programme for FT staff called FT Digital Campus, helping executives in the business think about how digital was affecting them at personal, team and organisational levels. It was working with the company’s excellent learning and development teams and Christina’s strategy team that we honed the idea of the digital mindset – which I spoke about at Learnfest 2015 last year (slides here). 

Often in the past, I’ve seen IT leaders cast as the conservatives, the blockers to change – but leaders like Christina show that it’s not about your job title, it’s about attitude, ability and a will to change organisations for the better. 

By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google