CIO interview: Mark Maddocks, Cambridge University Press

Technology has prompted unprecedented innovation and transformation in the media sector – Cambridge University Press is no exception

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Technology has prompted unprecedented innovation and transformation in the media sector, and Cambridge University Press (CUP) is no exception as the publisher continues an IT-led transformation to re-invent itself.

As the world's oldest media company, CUP is more associated with printed books than most, but it is placing technology at the core of its offering – about 22% of its $263m revenue in 2013 came from digital products and services, and the goal is to increase that to two-thirds by 2020.

Leading that process of technology-driven change is chief information officer Mark Maddocks, a media veteran with years of experience as a senior IT executive at sector giants such as the BBC, Sony and Reed Elsevier.

“This is an industry going through a huge amount of really quite radical change. We are witnessing a fast move, not just to digital, but to whole areas of solutions and services – so it’s no longer just about content,” Maddocks tells Computer Weekly.

The CUP is making continued investment in the renewal of its back-office systems, aimed at providing faster and deeper business information and helping to introduce new products and business models more quickly.

In the past couple of years, the company has implemented an SAP global customer relationship management (CRM) platform, a digital asset management system for the company’s master content, a royalties system, finance and purchasing capabilities in the UK and US offices, as well as a global HR system which has just gone live.

Building blocks

While the innovation agenda remains a key area of focus for Maddocks and his team, the internal journey of IT-led transformation that started in 2010 is not over yet.

This is a business in a market that’s moving extremely quickly, so I’m not sure you are ever done [with IT change]. But what I’d say is that we’ve put a number of the core building blocks in place,” he says.

With SAP software implemented at CUP’s main markets around the world, the company is now undergoing extensive testing of other key modules so they can be deployed.

Priorities for 2015 include migrating a third of the company’s global branches to SAP’s Business Objects Planning and Consolidation finance and purchasing module, followed by another major roll-out of sales order processing and distribution, which will be introduced initially to the two major markets for the Cambridge University Press – the UK and US.

“We will focus initially on the [sales and distribution] deployment for our UK and US businesses. Of course, that’s a really big ticket item because it’s absolutely crucial that when we go live it works very smoothly, as we need to be able to support our customers and the sales process, so that’s a very major area of focus over the next 12 months or so,” says Maddocks.

“Once that’s done in those major markets, then we can resume the roll-out into the other markets around the world.”

The SAP implementation isn’t just an IT project, but a business transformation project, says Maddocks. He stresses that the publisher is redesigning its core systems and a whole set of business processes because they were inconsistent and also because it presents the company with an opportunity to streamline.

“The biggest challenge is undoubtedly managing the business change. But for a big and complex project that spans across several years, another big challenge is being able to manage moving targets successfully,” he says.

“The business doesn’t stay still – there are new requirements and business models that arise through the life of the initiative and we have to be able to manage that change to both support the business and avoid completely breaking the project.”

Supporting ongoing change

Given the focus on digital products and services, technology has become vital to the business offering – and therefore to the generation of revenues.

Conscious of the need to keep up with the pace of change in the sector in which it operates, the publisher has also been driving a transformation of the digital platforms, services and innovation initiatives that are core to digital growth.

The Press maintains a number of major online platforms at different stages of development, and evolving them is one of the top priorities for Maddocks and his team – as is improving the IT setup required to support critical lines of business in the delivery of not just print but also digital products, globally.

It's all about the opportunity to bring some of those different parts of information together and figure out what can drive top business decisions, and how we can drive insight out of the data

Mark Maddocks, Cambridge University Press

“We have already done quite a few things over the past four years, but it is really just the start of what I call rewiring the business,” he says.

The IT requirements for CUP’s academic line of business, as well as English language teaching and primary and secondary school education, are quite different – that means the business ended up with different platforms and IT arrangements to support them.

In the academic sector, for example, where online journals, books and articles focused on the English language academic community have been published for nearly two decades, a major development is taking place to bring all the content together in a much more accessible way, says Maddocks.

“The academic systems are essentially search platforms that tend to sit around Java-type solutions. But one of the key trends when you think about handling unstructured content is the greater use of NoSQL-type databases, so tools such as MarkLogic and the ability they give to open up a wider range of search opportunities is the way forward.”

For the education sector, the Press is looking at using and integrating open-source technologies to respond to trends such as adaptive learning. The company started a partnership with Indian e-learning specialist Excel Soft to develop prototypes of “very lightweight” tools based on the e-book concept that teachers can use at schools. The products will be available, initially in the Indian market, over the next few months.

According to Maddocks, there is also an ongoing plan of deploying better business intelligence, also largely based on SAP, to provide the publisher with more detailed reporting insights now the foundations are in place.

“Data is another challenge because there are tens and hundreds of thousands of custom records, product records, staff records and so on that have to be cleansed and deduplicated and put into a consistent format coming out of tens of different systems that all hold information entirely differently. So getting the information into good shape is crucial,” he says.

Maddocks is excited about the ability to use analytics to add value to the business, but finds that because many different teams are so focused on their own data, it is important to avoid situations where business areas fail to see the value of information that is properly gathered and presented.

“It’s all about the opportunity to bring some of those different parts of information together and figure out what can drive top business decisions, and how we can drive insight out of the data. For example, what you can start to see by combining usage information next to the financial purchasing or profitability information, or the types of expenditures we make alongside a new product development,” says Maddocks.

Global partnerships

Cambridge University Press works closely with Indian IT services firm Tech Mahindra, particularly around the SAP implementation as well as projects around the integration and maintenance of internal systems. The company also works in other parts of its IT architecture with Cognizant and Wipro.

The Press has outsourced teams in offshore development centres in three different locations with each of its suppliers in India, in addition to a captive offshore capability in the Philippines. According to the CIO, there are no plans to change that setup in the near future.  

“We have good working relationships with all three of them and they have particular teams and we’re working effectively, but we never say never about anything,” says Maddocks, adding that the offshore outsourcing model still makes a lot of sense.

“It is absolutely clear that both the Indian and the Philippine teams are cost-effective. There continues to be wage inflation in India but that has been somewhat offset over the past couple of years by the devaluation of the rupee, which actually means that it’s been possible to hold costs at an acceptable level,” he adds.

“If we saw the cost structure moving badly against us, we would obviously have to rethink things. But we actually find [the outsourcing arrangements] to be a very effective model from a cost perspective. I think the most crucial thing is to ensure we’re bringing people on board with the right level of skill and experience, and not just look at cost.”

The publishing sector will continue to be under “relentless change” so Maddocks is not expecting the challenges to diminish. In about a year’s time, he wants to have delivered “a whole set of initiatives, transformations and changes” and thinks his business will become increasingly global.

“I already have more people working for me in the Philippines than in Cambridge – we have to have global models doing these things. We will also have a continual need to increase the rate in which we can deliver things and our ability to be responsive, reliable and flexible,” he says.

“Achieving that mix is one of the biggest challenges that I have at the moment, as well as putting in place the range of tools and teams that have the capability to keep us operating effectively.”

Maddocks points out that one of the key considerations he always bears in mind is the underlying needs of his users and customers, as well as being able to provide information that can help people learn and advance their careers – but in a manner that is relevant and appropriate to them.

“Our focus on quality information has never changed, but the mode by which people consume it and the way people learn is changing quite rapidly and unpredictably. That means we need to figure out how to respond swiftly to that while not losing sight of our core purpose and values. Now that is a really exciting and interesting place to be.”

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