Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Exclusive Interview with Jora Gill, Chief Digital Officer of the Economist.

This is an excerpt from my interview with Jora Gill from the forthcoming Chief Digital Officer's Handbook. Jora is the new Chief Digital Officer of the Economist. The interview will appear in full with other digital though leaders in the forthcoming handbook.

Mark Baker: Okay, so the first question is basically a background one. Tell me about your organisation, yourself and how you got to where you are.

Jora Gill: Okay. So we're The Economist, a publisher of a weekly print digital edition as well as an app and at online, economist.com. We talk on a variety of subjects and we really are there to bring...I would say the news behind the news to really have folks who read up content and to think about what's happening around the globe right now. Be it finance, be it business, be it news, be it technology we want to  evoke a reaction with the news behind the news  we'd really like to do is build a community, we have built a community on the one side terrific journalist, write world-class stories, on the other   our community of readers of our content and  providing feedback . On my side, I'm the Chief Digital Officer for The Economist. I've been here three months so it's a fairly new role for me and prior to this, my background was more technology-based. I was the CTO in a company called Elsevier[1] which is  the largest publisher of medical and scientific journals, books, online in the world and I was there for a number of years and before that I was a CTO at Standard and Poor's[2] which is a financial services institution. What led me to this role was...it was a crossroad in my career that I could see that digital was disrupting what we do on a daily basis. Be it through our personal lives or be it through business and I wanted to move both my technology skills and my strategic business skills into a role that really blended these along with my passion of how technology could serve its customers digitally and really, the Chief Digital Officer allows me to both think from a technology delivery focus on delivering great technology or delivery great content with technology but also from a business focus of looking at the customer. What  we really want from the second we serve them is how   can we use  data and data analytics to serve them better. For me, it's just a great role to have.

Mark Baker: Although you are quite early in your development of your road map for The Economist, can you tell me about your plans and experiences in creating digital road maps for your organisations?

Jora Gill: I'm actually developing a road map right now so I can actually talk about what we're doing right now. So what I'm seeing is at the heart of digital, if you put the technology aspect away, at the heart, it's really getting closer to your customer and the customer is the centre of your ecosystem. So with your customer in mind, how do you build a digital strategy? What is it your customer's looking for? What experience are they looking for? From our aspect, they're looking to read great content but they're looking to read great content on any device that they're on or any situation that they are. Be it travelling or they're stuck at home, they want to immerse in our content or they want to a quick snap of our content. So therefore, you ask 'How does our customer consume content?" and it's a multiple mobile devices. What is our strategy for mobile devices? On the other hand, how is our customer consuming other content on other products and do they want to integrate our experience they have with us with other products through their mobile devices, through their desktops and they probably do. So therefore, you need to be able to be part of their daily lives. The other aspect of it is 'What's happening in the disruptive world that we find ourselves in?' In digital building a five year plan or a strategy is going to be very difficult when you're constantly disrupted through new product sets. So therefore you say “Okay, we are going to be disrupted and let's accept disruption as the new norm. Let's build our products or platforms to accept that change is inevitable.” So instead of building just a product that we hope will be used for five years, let's build platforms that accept disruption as a constant but also allows us to leverage that disruption. So when we see some really good CRM product, can we easily swap our CRM with their CRM when we see really good responsive web front-end design ask how can we take advantage of responsive easily when we see the changing expectations of customers on what they want from content. So they might want bite-size content, they might want a large periodical of content and the bite-size might serve them well because they find themselves in a situation where they're travelling and they want to immerse themselves in a topic such as a visit to China. What do The Economist have to say about China and when I arrive and land in China, I want to show the people that I'm talking to and experience with, I've done some background so I just want that content right now. So how can we take our content to give them what they're looking for right now or if they're immersing themselves because they a deep reading experience on a weekend. How do we give them right content at the right moment? So customers are at the heart of what we do. This results in mapping our customer journey going “Okay, through the daily life, through the daily week, through the daily month of a customer, what do they do when they wake up from their morning, what do they do?” They want a quick snapshot of content.in the morning At lunchtime, they've got an hour, they've got a sandwich, they want to read a bit more deeper. So why don't we take ourselves through the customer journey and see how they want to immerse themselves with content? This is where customer profiling plays a big part. We need to understand our customers through their actions and this is where data analytics plays a big part.
So build platforms and customer journeys then bring together is data. So data should really help us make our experimentation decisions on new products, on what the customer deems valuable through profiling the customer and understanding their habits. So a company...we may think we've just created the best product in the world. If the customer's not using it, our data will tell us the customer's not interested in this great product that we've just built, therefore what insights can we take from the customer experience of the product? Let's learn and put the lessons into the next iteration of the product. So let's become more agile in the way we actually deliver value for what we deem as a customer. Why it's difficult to build a digital road map is because there's a constant change happening and a constant expectation from our customers so we need to keep ripping out the rulebook every 6 months, every year and going “Okay, that was important six months ago, to the customer but right now, it's no longer valuable... they've topped up on of what they deemed as the most valuable” and our data proves it. Our data tells us that they're not coming back to us as often as they were on that...So let's use that data and to say “Do another experiment. We believe the customer's most important aspect of how they consume our digital content is X and let's put X out there, let's do some more testing on X and if we find actually, that is something of interest to our customer, let's persevere with it. If it's not, let's prove it (the data will tell us) and let's decide...it didn't work, fail and learn and move on.”

Mark Baker: Can you talk about more about the platform product dichotomy because that’s obviously a key part of being able to allow you to do long-term planning.

Jora Gill: Sure. So on the platform side, is...at the heart of what we do is content and that content should be easily found by our front-end tools. So we need to build a content repository if you like, that's tagged cleverly. So when a customer's searching for something, it takes that tagging and builds algorithms around that tagging allows the customer to find easily, using taxonomies and ontologies, the content they're really looking for. On the other hand, a customer may say “Look, I just want to read the content.” So we need to assemble content very easily. So essentially, we need to build modular content repositories that allow us to take advantage of the immense content that we've had for many, many years. The Economist was established in 1843. We weren't quite tagging our content back in 1843 but we still have some fantastic content. So instead of thinking of The Economist as just a newspaper that you consume cover to cover or beginning of the app to the end , it's also pieces of content infographics, videos, audio the written word. If you start tagging this content, you start building products that are valuable to your customer and you're going “Okay, we never saw that.” We were going down the linear route of saying “A customer's going to read our great content, end-to-end” but now by tagging and building new content, we've actually seen opportunities for increased customers value so it's building up modular pieces on platform.

On the other hand, a customer looks above the line on what they see in be it the apps or the web site. They're also looking below the line that they want a great experience. So customer service should be great in the digital world, CRM should be great, marketing should be great and we're not marketing them products that they're not interested in and so we have this 360 view of below the line of what the customers wants and experiences above the line. So we want to take advantage of great CRM systems, great marketing systems but we don't necessarily want to build those. We want to be able to integrate those great systems into our architecture very easily and then when those systems aren't cutting-edge or aren't what we believe is the best agreed road map, we want to be able to remove them instantly and integrate new forms.

So the platforms I'm talking about are providing us competitive advantage by firstly building great content and delivering this great content to the customers to experience but secondly we also want to take the competitive advantage of best of breed systems in the CRM space, the marketing space, in the eCommerce space by being able to plug in those great tools into our digital ecosystem systems until we feel that they've lost their competitive energy and somebody else is doing much better and we swap in and out new systems into our digital platform. So it is lean enablement of our architecture where architecture stops being a journey where you have to land i.e. an architecture  can no longer be a as-is to a to-be exercise because with constant disruption we do not know what the to-be is. Therefore what we really want is an enabling and evolving architecture. We want an architecture that allows us to evolve and doesn't hamper us from creating that great experience or taking advantage of others who are creating great products that we can integrate with.

 . . . continued tomorrow . . . 


The full text of all the interviews will appear in the forthcoming Chief Digital Officer Handbook



[1] Elsevier B.V. (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɛlzəvir]) is an academic publishing company which publishes medical and scientific literature. It is a part of the Reed Elsevier group. Leading products include journals such as The Lancet and Cell, books such as Gray's Anatomy, the ScienceDirect collection of electronic journals, the Trends and Current Opinion series of journals, and the online citation database Scopus. Elsevier publishes 250,000 articles a year in 2,200 journals. Its archives contain seven million publications. Total yearly downloads amount to 240 million. Elsevier reported a profit margin of 36% on revenues of US$3.2 billion.

[2] Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC (S&P) is an American financial services company. It is a division of McGraw Hill Financial that publishes financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds. S&P is responsible for stock market indices the U.S.-based S&P 500, the Canadian S&P/TSX, and the Australian S&P/ASX 200. S&P is considered one of the Big Three credit-rating agencies.

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