C-level briefing: The Telegraph’s CTO talks to CBR about vendor lock-in and his changing role in the midst of digital disruption.
The Telegraph is the epitome of an old organisation that has fully embraced technology in order to simply remain in business.
At 160 years old, the Telegraph operates in an industry that has been severely disrupted by technology, with change having been forced upon even those publications that are at the top of the media industry.
The Telegraph can consider itself to be one of the more proactive of businesses when it comes to embracing a new style. The newspaper has been using cloud extensively since 2007 in the form of Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service, as well as using big data technologies in the cloud and taking the decision to use Adobe Experience Manager for its content management system (CMS).
The media outlet runs the majority of its business on Amazon Web Services, with Google Cloud Platform being used in the big data stack. It made the decision to move to the cloud because IT was bogged down in basically keeping things running.
Toby Wright, CTO, Telegraph Media Group, told CBR: "We knew that wasn’t going to get the job done going forward, we knew we couldn’t move quick enough like that so we pretty early on decided that we didn’t want lots of people running around looking after computer related stuff.
"We wanted those people to be building products for our consumers, we couldn’t do both."
The move to the cloud coincided with a move to a new building, with Wright saying that this was a part of the transformation and cloud was the accelerator.
Cloud is typically pitched as being ideal for cutting costs and increasing agility, Wright certainly agrees that it has brought greater agility, giving them the ability to experiment but also changing the way that they approach IT.
"We want to build things that are consumer facing, or things that are going to help productivity on the main product – we don’t want to be running anything else," said Wright.
While increased agility has come with the adoption of cloud technologies, there have been challenges to overcome. "I think in the old days people were terrified of vendor lock-in, you just have to sort of live with it these days," he said.
Toby Wright, Telegraph CTO
Wright went on to say that if you build an entire estate on AWS then there is going to be some lock in, but that would be the same case if the business built internally on someone like SAP. "There is going to be some lock-in, there is no way around it," he said.
The challenge is to manage it so that it is no longer a concern for IT; "You just have to sort of trust the market that people are going to do the right thing," Wright told CBR.
On the cost front Wright says that the move to the cloud wasn’t really based on that, it was assumed that there would be savings, but really the benefit has been seen in the control over money.
"It just gives you more options, whether at the end of the day it saves you heaps and heaps of money, I think it allows you to control that money better.
"I fully suspect we spend the same amount but we just get more bang for our buck," said Wright.
At the core of what the Telegraph does is what Wright calls their "hero product", its CMS system which it uses from Adobe.
The Adobe Experience Manager, which runs on AWS, was chosen to replace its existing CMS systems because they took too long to develop software on, to upgrade, and because productivity was poor.
"We had a pretty stark choice -build your own, do a combo of open source and build your own, or buy one of the ones that only serviced our industry. None of those were particularly appealing," said Wright.
The other option was to look at an enterprise CMS system and it opted for Adobe after a lot of work with the company.
Wright says that the system services around 400-500 million page views a month and around 88 million unique browsers a month. However, the biggest challenge is that they have between 400-500 journalists using it on a daily basis.
While it is a big system with a lot of moving parts and uses a lot of AWS resources, operationally he says they can run it with a couple of people.
In addition to using AWS, Google cloud platform, and Adobe, they also use Salesforce for its subscriptions and eCommerce workloads.
Combined, this shows how even a 160 year old organisation can adapt to the changing requirements of its staff.
The Telegraph has become a truly modern organisation and Wright says that his role as CTO has changed a long with it.
Instead of spending most of his time running operations internally, he now spends a lot of time talking to big software providers such as Adobe, AWS, Google and others, something that he feels has created an interesting dynamic.
"We are in an interesting relationship, we buy things from them, we run things on their platforms, but we also supply them with content and they also bring traffic to us. It’s an interesting role to be in the middle of because you’re always dealing with suppliers, customers, and competitors in the same meeting."
The disruptive nature of cloud technology has changed not only the technologies that are being used, but also the roles of the IT organisation. The challenge for businesses young and old is to adapt and change or get left behind and fail.