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FT CIO: surviving your first digital transformation

Digital transformation Digital transformation
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Jon S

Digital transformation is not easy. The process has to be evolutionary. The CIO of the Financial Times, Christina Scott, explains.

There is more to digital transformation than meets the eye.

Most assume the shift is rudimentary; simply a matter of switching off old legacy systems to beckon a bright, fresh faced digital future for your business. And whilst the future is bright, stretching way past papery two-dimensional offerings, the road to digital transformation is not easy.

Rather, it is an evolutionary process, and if it is to be successful it has to occur in stages.

Iteration is the name of the game and this is exactly the approach we took when taking the Financial Times online.

Out with the old, in with the new

In the world of old media, the newspaper was the ‘product.’ It was everything.

Its success ultimately came down to the prowess of the editorial teams responsible for the papers look, feel and content. However, with print products it is significantly harder to collect customer feedback and insight on individuals’ reading habits.

So to us, championing digital distribution early on was hugely important. We recognized the untapped potential of customer insight, and it was going to be game changing.

It is what spurred us to take the bold jump from the old world into the new, and like most news organizations our first step, quite simply, was to take the print product and move it online.

We weren’t necessarily thinking about the user experience through a digital lens at this point, rather we just pixelated print.

This approach allowed our customers to evolve with us as we went through the digital transformation process.

And this was pivotal as it occurred around the same time smartphones and tablets really started to gain traction.

Our customers, I think, were comforted by the simplicity of our offering at the start. It wasn’t challenging for loyal customers to head online because it was so familiar.

It certainly helped retention in a rapidly changing world that had the potential to leave many by the wayside.

The next stage was not so simple.

We set ourselves the challenge of being relevant to newer customers.

This meant thinking about the product in an entirely different way. What could we do to make it relevant to people who were digitally native?

This was so much more than thinking, “here are some sections from the newspaper that we have put online”, but rather we had to think about creating an online experience to accompany the content.

The best way of doing this, we found, was through learning more about our customers through data.

As we learnt more and recognized the plethora of ways in which readers came across articles online, we recognized a complexity which went beyond simply finding content through the home page.

Users were discovering content though social and a number of other means too.

This realization helped shape user experience accordingly, allowing us to think holistically beyond the FT ecosystem.

From data to insight

With so much data on offer, it can become quite easy to fall into the trap of collecting data for data’s sake.

And with so many ways of extracting data, businesses can struggle to glean valuable insight from a sea of numbers that lack context.

The FT’s lifecycle of data usage began cautiously, evolving out of some of the commercial areas to help create more targeted advertising and ensure the right people saw the right promotions at the right time.

Our plan was never to go off and build a huge data warehouse, rather, to start slowly and prove the value of data in a couple of areas, and then expand that out into other areas of the company.

Our initial testing worked well and now all areas of the FT have insight and make decisions based on data – from the newsroom, to commercial, all the way through to product.

This was definitely the right option.

Rather than going off and collecting as much data as possible, we were able to prove its value, which in the long term is testament to the sheer power of data when used in the right way.

So for me – when undertaking the digital transformation process – being clear about a few key items of customer data, proving its value and then building on top of that proven data is key.

With so much going on, it can become quite easy to confuse yourself and your organization about how to most sensibly use data.

The days of guessing on behalf of our customers are well and truly dead.