How the Financial Times, ITV and thetrainline.com have handled 'digital disruption'

By Sooraj Shah
29 May 2014 View Comments
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With all the technological trends shaking up businesses in recent years, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets anything done. The latest is “digital disruption”, a sort of perfect storm combining the three big waves of mobile, social and cloud.

According to a survey from business and technology community Nimbus Ninety, 78 per cent of 175 senior decision makers at UK organisations report that their industry sector is currently being “digitally disrupted”; while 82 per cent claimed that “digital disruption” had changed their job role.

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Digital disruption is what Mark Holt, CTO at thetrainline.com, refers to as a “punctuated equilibrium” – where a trend evolves until the next big thing happens, and then the pattern continues full circle.

“I think there is a constant evolution since the mid-90s when people started to put content online,” he told Computing.

“For example, you look at referral traffic from the likes of Google and Facebook, which was steady a few years back, and then all of a sudden search marketing continued flat and social referrals increased massively. So there is a huge difference between the way people are discovering information from the way they used to, and it is something that continues to change,” he added.

And mobile is changing too, with Financial Times CTO John O’Donovan explaining that the way his organisation thinks about mobility has moved beyond a mobile first strategy.

“We’re now looking at the mobile web in a different way; [people] aren’t moving from a stable desktop state to a stable mobile state, it is going to keep changing and the mobile web is going to look very different because it’s not about pages anymore, it’s about syndication of content into different platforms,” he said.

“It’s about powerful metadata and links between things that drive long user journeys,” he added.

O’Donovan said that the Financial Times (FT) is investing a lot in HTML5, and emphasised that the organisation’s HTML5 app is just the beginning of a long-term strategy.

“If you’re trying to innovate and manage your own disruption at the same time, you have to build products quickly, you have to think about APIs and have a very service-driven structure that then allows you to build a product,” he said.

The FT built an API to drive the HTML5 app, and that API is also going to be used to deliver other products as well. This is what O’Donovan believes brings long-term value as opposed to a single point solution.

Much of the strategy at the FT is about thinking about the long term. Without thorough planning, organisations may not be able to fully exploit new digital technologies, as broadcaster ITV’s technology controller for online and interactive, Paul Clark, explained.

The broadcaster wanted to eradicate the need for tapes by using digital formats that could be transferred across all of its sites. It decided to build its own fibre-optic network to connect all its sites across the UK. However, Clark stressed that this was only part of the solution, and that it was then essential to build systems that could manage the digital supply chain.

After going out to consultants who took a lot of time and charged a lot of money for their services, ITV opted to go back in-house and mirror the agile development methodologies that had been implemented within the online team at ITV over the past few years.

In four months it had a viable system that allowed digital feeds of content to be transferred from site to site, up and down the country, in less than 10 minutes. This saved the company money and enabled it to become more efficient.

While organisations are cottoning on to the likes of mobile, social and cloud as these technologies evolve, as well as becoming more aware of the management of digital technologies, they are also conscious of the rapid change in technology.

According to Nimbus Ninety’s survey, most respondents believe that in three years’ time, different technologies will be leading the way. This includes big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and dynamic visualisation.

Caroline Boyd, director of strategy and research at Nimbus Ninety, believes that organisations are treating new technologies as an opportunity to innovate rather than an obstacle to overcome.

“Businesses are realising the value proposition of technology, and in particularly, disruptive technology,” she said.

@Sooraj_Shah

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