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The ability to think strategically is one of my core competences - ie. the ability to identify and clearly articulate the core issues that face a business - especially, though not limited to, technology issues that impact media organisations.

But I live in no ivory tower. Hands-on, commercially-driven projects keep up my technical skills. Practical project experience complements strategic analysis - and vice versa. 

Strategy is best done, and owned, by managers who have to live with its operational consequences. I can help an organisation identify strategic options, but this is best done in collaboration with managers who should ultimately take the final decisions since they will have to implement them.

As Director of Technology Strategy at the Financial Times I was constantly asked to give guidance to the CEO, CTO and other commercial directors, and to write strategic papers on a wide range of subjects. Some examples are given below:

bulletthe impact of emerging technologies on newspapers and news consumption,  leading to the publication of:
 

 

 

"Tomorrow's News" - the results of my strategic research in 1999 published as a book by the board of Financial Times and widely distributed within the organisation.

bulletThe potential of Digital Print for newspapers

 

Summary:  Digital Presses are much smaller than conventional offset presses and require a fraction of the capital investment since the entire edition can be produced on a single press unit. They can be housed in much smaller print operations and, while costs per copy remains higher, become economic for short runs since they remove start-up costs of plate-making and initial wastage. Availability of machines in commercial printers at locations newspapers want to access is more important than technological breakthroughs.

Benefits:

bulletDecentralised production model: So newspaper printing becomes feasible at a larger number of smaller commercial printers, facilitating the potential fundamental change to a a more distributed production model where newspapers may be printed closer to readers one step down the chain at distribution hubs. This is already thinkable editions destined for distant regions (like Cornwall, northern Scotland and Ireland for London-based papers). Readers will later editions (ie. fresher news) while producers can cut distribution costs. Requires: production costs equal to offset; and overcoming of limitations in format.
bulletGreater reach / international expansion: Late editions (with fresh news, sports results, closing stock market prices etc.) reaching remote regions and international markets. 
bulletDay A (breakfast time) delivery to international readerships.
bulletLow risk market trialling: eg. FT trials that proved viability of market in South Africa, leading to opening of conventional offset print site. (Note: digital printing can become a victim of its own success!)
bulletSmall home-town newspapers available internationally: once infrastructure in place.
bulletOn-Demand Newspapers: at point-of-sale, though automated kiosks or printed overnight by hotels, on cruise ships, or at international conferences and major sporting events like the Olympics.
bulletCustomised products: Variable Data Printing capability potentially facilitates targeted advertising and editorial content - customised editions (regional, niche market and/or personalised). Also facilitates personalised subscriber information. Requires: excellent content management systems.

Limitations and brakes on immediate exploitation:

bulletSpeed and Throughput: low per page, very low per copy.
bulletLimited format: max size rough Tabloid - smaller than Berliner, half the page area of UK broadsheet.
bulletLack of Colour: not yet available for web-fed presses that produce folded newsprint.  Expensive for sheet-fed, that produce stapled (or glued) A3 photocopy paper which, in any case, do not have look and feel of a newspaper.
bulletHigher cost per copy (approximately six-fold) - largely due to use of toner rather than ink. Note that costs are much closer for short runs because conventional printing is uneconomic for runs below about 10,000 copies.

Key Players:

bullet

OcÚ Digital Newspaper Network (DNN)

bulletNewspapers Direct

Bottom Line:

bulletPotential to fundamentally change newspaper distribution model for distant regions if format limitations are overcome, throughput is doubled and production costs are halved.
bulletIncremental revenue opportunities now for overseas printing in major cities through OcÚ DNN, or on-demand printing at major business hotels through Newspapers Direct.
bulletThe case for server consolidation in the data centre

 

This paper identified all the pros and cons of consolidating all the applications running on 100+ small Unix and Windows NT servers in the FT data centre onto a pair of mainframe class Unix (initially Sun E10,000 "StarFire" Solaris) servers and high capacity and performance NT servers from Compaq.

Advantages:

bulletManageability: much smaller number of systems to monitor, single operating system level and configuration, and standard procedures for back-up, fail-over, disaster recovery etc.
bulletScaleability: Systems are highly scaleable in terms of additional processing capacity, mass storage etc.
bulletFlexibility in capacity planning: Systems can be over-configured by supplier at no (apparent) cost to the customer. Then computing power can be switched in on demand as needs emerge.
bulletFlexibility in allocation of computing power to different applications at different times - for example, newspapers require production capacity in the evening and overnight and capacity for commercial systems during the day. Web operations require different capacity at different times of the 24-hour cycle as differnt parts of the world (notably the US) become more active. Accounts need additional capacity at end of month.
bulletSimplifies options for outsourcing  - of main operations, additional capacity needs or disaster recovery/business continuity.
bulletEconomic advantage of switching to a leasing deal.

Principal Drawbacks:

bulletRisk of multiple catastrophic failure: Although these mainframe-class machines are high quality and designed to be very highly available with domains running applications electrically isolated from one another, a total machine failure cannot be ruled out. In this case fail-over routines must be perfect and the second mainframe must have sufficient capacity to run all the applications with the the necessary performance.  The impact on the organisation of all applications failing at once, not to mention the ability of system managers to cope with all the technical problems and communicate with all departments at once, would be much greater than a single application failure and could be catastrophic.

As a  result if this work, the FT initially bought Sun E10,000 Starfire servers for the newspaper and separately for FT.com. As the two businesses were later merged, the same principle was extended to leasing higher performance and even more flexible Solaris machines from Fujitsu in 2002.

 

bulletThe business case for the company's main strategic business change programme - system replacement leading to integration of print and on-line production and enabling more localised international editions facilitating greater flexibility in advertising sales and other business benefits.
Details of this exhaustive business case analysis must remain confidential.

The multi-million pound project could be justified economically by savings in production costs (for example through the judicious planning of international editions to reduce unnecessary consumption of newsprint and ink), plus reduced equipment and licensing costs and the avoidance of costs that would otherwise have inevitably have been incurred.

In addition to many soft benefits like the more targeted international editions better suited to local readers, there were many significant revenue opportunities such as the advertising opportunities through greater flexibility in selling different sized ads in different editions, and syndicated content sales opportunities. But these revenue opportunities were not relied upon in the business case as they were considered less certain than savings, especially in 2001, the time of the worst media-advertising recession anyone in the business can recall.