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Angus Frame: Chief Digital Officer, Globe and Mail

As a flagship brand for Canadian business, the Globe and Mail is the poster child of digital media innovation in Canada, and for the purpose of this site, the CDO role – Chief Digital Officer.

The Globe and Mail has been pioneering online technologies for well over a decade, but only recently has employed a new ‘VP Digital’, the executive who now heads up both operational IT as well as the front-end web sites, web designers and developers, and so on, what is considered the ‘Digital team’. Until Angus Frame took over as head of IT, the company followed the traditional CTO model. Marketing departments were in pieces and called upon the IT department just for tasks like managing servers.

Now, the Globe and Mail utilizes a “VP Digital” format which unifies the traditional IT back room still under a CTO executive, and combines it with responsibility for the design teams. The role of the CIO is shifting to become more strategically-focused, operating more proactively at the boardroom level.

angus-frameInterview: Angus Frame

Q. The purpose of our new Digital CIO site is to explain the emergence of the new ‘Chief Digital Officer’ role. How did this come about for the Globe and Mail? What are the benefits to the organization?

AF: My background is journalism and so I came up through editorial, leading up to running the G&M online as the site editor by 2001. I ran this for over eight years until the role eventually become the VP for all things digital, and when the previous IT Director left we also took the step of absorbing this side of the operations too so that all of IT now reports to me.

The primary benefit is better business IT alignment. My experiences of running the online site educated me about all the IT aspects, like web site performance, and this was added to what I already knew from a content editor, the front end experiences that users interact with. I additionally learned about the IT applications that run them in the back-end and the issues that affect them such as web site performance for example.

So now we can relate to all of the IT portfolio with this better sense of prioritized alignment. Also it means I am less attached to one particular technology or delivery mode, I’m more willing to keep pace with the changing world we live in and move on from technology decisions when it’s timely to do so. The Globe and Mail was an early pioneer of the online content trends and so we have been fortunate to already be reaping the benefits, this role helps maintain and grow that success.

Q: Often the IT Director isn’t a ‘main player’ at the board table, how has this changed? How does your role engage with the other executives?

AF: I report to the CEO directly as part of his executive team, and we meet regularly and discuss topics like what advances are happening in IT and what this could mean to the business. We even run a regular Superbowl style ‘DemoCamp’ where developers showcase some of their code work, that the CEO and other executives attend as well. All are very actively engaged in the digital conversation as well as are all the staff.

Q. What are the main technology trends you’re advising them about? What are the major pain points and opportunities you foresee?

AF: Fundamentally the biggest driver is the consumerization of technology. This means more consumers on their smartphones in the morning, becoming a growing portion of our readers, and how they use the technology is what’s shaping how we build our systems and set our strategies. This changes many dynamics of our business.

For example it used to be readers arrived at the web site after following the URL in the newspaper, then came Search engines and now social – They’re most likely to be referred to content via a social share on Facebook or other sites. This also manifests itself in our own enterprise applications.

Where the traditional approach for a content platform is a newspaper-industry solution, increasingly we are seeing use of apps like WordPress, for more ad-hoc, dynamic and social content. For example we used it for our Sochi Winter Olympics blog. (http://on.theglobeandmail.com/) What we found was that journalists also enjoy producing the content more via this approach, as well it being more social for the users too.

This opens up a whole new perspective for us on how to go about creating lots of online content, the most cost effectively and critically, through what best enables the content producers to do what they do best. We already use Amazon for a failover option, and will review further Cloud options after we move data centres as part of an upcoming office move.

For us Canadian Cloud providers also present great offerings as we recognize the value of having sensitive data stored within the Canadian Cloud privacy regime and we’ll consider all these options. Our biggest strategic focus and pain point area is the evolution of the digital commerce ecosystem. We have vision of a range of exciting new business models, such as very granular ordering options like picking just business news for your mobile phone, or more convenience packaging like multiple newspaper subscriptions into one order.

We could also partner with suppliers like LCBO to build an online wine club that acts to help them facilitate more e-commerce sales, and so on. These are all the types of revenue opportunities we see but the technology isn’t quite there yet in terms of what we need, or it’s too expensive, so the key curve for us is the increasingly availability of this consumerized technology.

Harnessing the Adaptive Web

Angus describes how they are big users of the global Akamai CDN (Content Distribution Network). This enables them to ensure high performance delivery of their news content to visitors all over the world. They go one step further than this too, integrating their news publishing CMS with the Akamai service, so that they can recognize traffic at a granular level to further optimize their performance, most notably Premium users, those have paid for access to content.

For their own systems they utilize a mix of in-house hosting of servers, with some Cloud-based hosting from providers in Canada as well as the USA, and also third-party SaaS applications for key functions like advertising. Their migration towards cloud technology has also been steadily moving from an onsite data center to third party cloud services, both in Canada and the United States.

According to Angus, a shift to the cloud is the obvious choice as companies pay only for what they use and avoid unnecessary expenses on overhead resources. Recently the Globe and Mail chose Polar to power their native ads. Paired with the CMS platform, eScenic, the two tools form the basis of the company’s content publishing and advertising platforms.

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