Paul Cheesbrough, chief information officer at the Telegraph Media Group, has pioneered cloud computing and web 2.0 technologies at the newspaper. The latest project, Debate2010, is an online debate, to tie in with the General Election, built on the Salesforce.com platform.
Publishing since 1865 as a printed newspaper, the future of The Telegraph is in the digital world, says Cheesbrough. "IT is only relevant if it helps us grow our digital business."
From this premise, he has revamped the way IT functions at the Telegraph. Rather than separate IT from the website, he says, "We have one development team both for the website and internal IT."
This means that internal IT can be used to support external customers, he says. The Debate2010 applications is one of the first of these applications. Salesforce.com has been used previously at The Telegraph for its subscriptions and sales management systems. But the Telegraph worked closely with Salesforce.com to deliver an external system.
Cheesbrough started a change management programme two and a half years ago to shift the focus of IT. His aim was to embrace cloud computing at The Telegraph and reposition IT as a change enabler. "The previous IT structure concerned keeping the lights on. Ninety five percent of the IT budget was spent on staff and maintenance." But with the change in business, Cheesbrough needed to reduce costs, while supporting a new digital business.
He says the company did not want to deploy software every three to four years. "We needed to become more agile to deploy new business capabilities and use fast moving business partners who understood [digital] consumers."
At the same time, staff at The Telegraph had better desktop PCs at home than the machines they used in the office, plus employees wanted to use their iPhones and wireless smartphones at work.
Cheesbrough decided to focus on providing browser-based software, which would enable employees to access applications from their home, a hotel or on the move. He deployed cloud services including SuccessFactor for HR, FinancialForce.com, which is built on Salesforce.com's Force platform, for accounts, plus Google Docs and Gmail.
Amazon EC2 is also used, both as a cloud-based development platform, and as a high performance computer for number crunching. Here sales reports are taken from Salesforce.com and analysed using Business Objects running on a MySQL database using the Amazon EC2 cloud service. "Reports that used to take more than three hours to run, now take less than three minutes," he says.
By making greater use of cloud services for back-office IT, and using Google Apps for desktop computing, Cheesbrough has freed up his IT budget. Now, 30% is spent on keeping IT operations running, while 70% is used for IT transformation projects.
But why stop at the back office? Salesforce.com had previously been used by The Obama-Biden Transition Team to enable citizen participation, where people could make their voices heard to the new president on the Change.gov website. The site received 1.4 million votes.
The Telegraph wanted a similar debate to enhance how the newspaper would cover the 2010 General Election. Five years ago, the paper would have focused on presenting the news around the General Election. Cheesbrough says, "Debate2010 provides us with a way to interact with the readers."
IT for the digital consumer
At the Telegraph, Cheesbrough has changed the way IT is delivered. The headline savings achieved by moving to the cloud are significant. But the programme also illustrates the changes in internal IT culture.
"If we believe the future is about the digital consumer then we need to understand them," he says.
This means The Telegraph has made use of the enterprise versions of consumer services like Gmail and even provides an open wireless network in the office so staff can connect their iPhones.