He describes the difference between a newspaper and an online resource as disparate states: online readers know what they don't know so search for it and subscribe to products that can fill the knowledge void they know exists. Whereas reading through a newspaper is an experience of not knowing what you don't know.
Cohen's career has been one of multi-channel transformation, he joined Associated in January 2006 from the Financial Times, where he was CTO of FT.com before becoming group IT director for the combined operation. Prior to joining the media, he'd been at Lloyds TSB. He describes his tenure at FT.com as a "mini-integration" project. The difference between turning the FT into a successful online business and the Associated titles is stark. "The FT was a burning platform," he says of the early difficulties the pink paper had as more and more financial news became freely available. It responded with a strong paid-for online package and saw off the threat. "One of the nice things of the FT was it was easy to do radical things. In a successful organization like this its harder to make changes."
Fortunately for Cohen, Associated has not been shy in making changes to its business and as a result, has remained successful. "When we choose to move we move very quickly, so your IT has to be able to react," Cohen says. "I have an enlightened CEO," he adds with a smile.
Cohen is realistic about the level of transformation he and his team have achieved -- a lot, "but we are not exploiting the multi-channel abilities enough. The next big thing is to look at the digital assets." Associated, and its local newspaper arm Northcliffe Media, has a mass of information assets that can be exploited for future revenues and improved products. Digitial asset management is one example of the role of IT in a modern publishing company: improving processes and pushing the product and revenue further. "The standards are there, the IT has to work, then you can talk about what it can do." Currently Cohen and his team are rolling out a system that will enable its stories to be written once and then re-formatted for the different media products it owns without labor-intensive processes to change for each one.
David Henderson, IT director at Northcliffe Media, the local newspaper division of Daily Mail & General Trust, parent to both companies, says the FT and financial background that Cohen has given the company "a level of rigor, and a good level of business service delivery." Both executives felt that this was lacking in the newspaper company before they joined.
As the newspaper industry becomes increasingly complex, so does the role of CIO at a newspaper publisher. In April the group selected CA to supply business service management (BSM) systems. The selection of this technology ties in with Cohen's views on the role of technology and the CIO in an organization, which is to deliver world-class service. "Taking a service-based view means you can have impact. As we get more and more automated you need tools that look into the systems and the organization. Also, you need a really robust process around technology and how you provide it." He says BSM tools allow him to provide "visibility" to his customers; "Things break and failures happen; what they [customers] care about is when it will be back up". BSM tools are essential because the systems Cohen is responsible for do more than just print a newspaper every night. "We have systems that have multi-million pound revenues going through them and we have hundreds of suppliers; it is hard to make it simple."
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