IT veteran Simon Wheeler said he was keen to take on more strategic responsibilities when a major acquisition opened the position of CIO at Bauer Media.
Bauer Media publishes more than 80 magazines in Australia, including Woman’s Day, TV Week, Cosmopolitan and Top Gear Australia.
Wheeler, who previously served as CTO and group IT manager for Nine Entertainment, became CIO of Bauer after Nine sold its publishing arm to the media company in late 2012. The split of Nine created two new CIO positions—one at Bauer and another at the broadcasting arm, Channel Nine.
Wheeler comes from a technical background, having worked in IT for the last twenty years, and said he was excited about having additional responsibilities as a CIO.
“I was in operational roles for many years, so I’m a fairly new CIO,” he told CIO Australia. “The role’s obviously becoming less about IT and more about business and strategy, which is what I was hoping.”
He said the successful CIO must combine business and technical skills.
“You need to be a strategic thinker. You need to have good financial and commercial background and people management [skills]. But you definitely need to be able to promote technology into the business and convert those business requirements into profound technology offerings.”
In a recent interview, former Zurich Financial Services Australia CIO Bobby Lehane said that he believed the CIO should not be known as the company’s head technologist. However, Wheeler disagreed with that notion.
“Our business relies on technology a huge amount,” he said. “They need to go to someone to ask the questions and they need someone to come back with suggestions.”
Wheeler reports to the CFO rather than having a seat in the boardroom, but he said it hasn’t held him back. Bauer is a small and nimble organisation with a “fairly flat structure” that is “very open door,” he said.
“Everyone who needs to get involved gets involved.”
Wheeler said his central challenge as the CIO of a major media company is to balance operational efficiency with technology innovation. “It’s the maintaining and reducing costs on the one side so we can innovate and invest in the other side of the business.”
Driving the technology investment strategy requires commoditising, simplifying and reducing the costs of traditional back-office IT as much as possible, he said.
Like many in the publishing industry, Bauer is driving its business into the digital space, he said.
“The whole print and subscription paper-based business is never going to die, but it’s certainly not going to make us lots of money anymore,” he said.
The digital focus has significantly increased demands on computing bandwidth and storage, he said.
“There’s so much demand for storing more and more and for providing more and more,” he said. “Traditionally it was images and now there’s a lot more video content as well, which certainly chews up the space.”
An early challenge for Wheeler was to move Bauer Media off shared services with Nine Entertainment and set up a stand-alone network.
“We’d spent four years [at Nine] pulling together a shared service that serviced both the broadcast side of the business and the publishing side of the business with never really any thought that they would pull the two apart.”
“All of the sudden you’ve got an event, which in our case was an acquisition, and you’ve got to then pull something that took four years to put together apart in just 15 months.”
The split meant Wheeler had a smaller budget and less leverage with vendors than he had been used to at Nine.
“Before we were an organisation that would have spent millions on telco,” he said. “All of a sudden you don’t have the leverage of being that big company anymore.”
That affected Bauer’s vendor decisions, he said. “We found that some of the smaller vendors were going to gives us better level of service and quicker response than some of the well-known names.”
That’s a large reason why Bauer chose Azzurri Communications to provide the new network, he said.
“We’d always worked with the big two, Telstra and Optus, but due to our reduction in size, it just gave us an opportunity to go and speak to someone else. It was quite a refreshing change.”
Bauer plans to expand its relationship with Azzurri to add VoIP services to replace its fixed voice lines, Wheeler said. Wrapping that into one contract with data will help to further simplify IT systems at the company, he said.
“One of our big strategies is to reduce the systems landscape,” he said. “We sort of became quite messy over the years.
“The separation has presented a good opportunity to consolidate and get rid of and retire quite a few old legacy systems or bespoke systems that perhaps hadn’t the same [tender love and care] that they should have.”
Adam Bender covers business tech issues for CIO and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam
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