Budgets and Buying

By John McCormick Print this article Print

Thompson Corp.'s CEO transformed an old-line media company into one that electronically delivers financial, legal and other specialized research.

What is your company's annual information-technology budget?

Thomson's annual information-technology spend is about $1 billion. This budget is increasing as Thomson completes its transformation into a technology company that provides electronic information solutions, software tools and applications. Of our 40,000 employees, more than 9,000 are technologists, and an increasing percentage of those are in front-office roles developing and supporting technology for customers, rather than back-office positions supporting internal Thomson I.T.

CTO Wilens had been the president and CEO of one of the company's largest businesses, the North American Legal unit of Thomson Legal & Regulatory. How important is it for today's corporations to hire and promote executives who have good understanding of what technology can do for an organization?
It is imperative for organizations to take a close look at whether they are pigeon-holing their technology staff. At Thomson, our technology team is a huge factor in the overall growth strategy for the company. They are integral to everything we do here, and I would suggest that this is becoming more the norm than the exception at a large percentage of companies.
Because technology has become the backbone of our business, a new type of position is emerging here at Thomson—roles that mix technology talent with business acumen and market-specific experience. Our executives need to understand not only the business model, but also our customers and the technology that enables us to serve those customers effectively and efficiently.

The shift from an old-line media company to an information distributor clearly changed the company's focus and culture. What's been the toughest management challenge the company faced?

First, let me clarify something that is very important. Thomson is not just an information distributor. We offer proprietary, high-value content plus the software, tools and services to put that content to work. Thomson's transformation from print to online information, and now to workflow solutions and services, has been successful—but I regard our company's transformation up to now as our warm-up act. We will continue to evolve with the changing needs of our customers.
That said, whenever you are leading major change, the most important success factor is the people involved. The biggest challenge is not developing and integrating new technology. It is developing your people, making sure that the right people with the right skills are in the right positions, not only to advance the technology but also to implement changes in the organization and culture. You have to make sure that employees understand and believe in the new strategy. They have to understand exactly what the company expects them to do. And they need to be rewarded consistently for doing it.
We have made talent management an integral part of our operating mechanisms. At all levels of the company, we try to set individual performance objectives that align with the company's strategy, and then we provide development opportunities that help the individual employee meet or exceed those objectives. At the leadership level, we invest a lot of time making sure we have people with the right talent in all the key roles that drive our business and culture, and we constantly create opportunities for these leaders to stretch.

What's the biggest technology challenge you had to deal with?

In terms of technology, I think the biggest challenge was being aggressive enough in making the move from being a content company with good technology to being a technology company with good content. Looking back, I think that we could have moved faster from print to digital in some areas.
By contrast, though, one of our markets—higher education—has not shifted from print to digital as fast as we, and many others, thought it would. It is always a challenge to evolve products and services at the same pace thatcustomer needs evolve. It's easy to get a step ahead ofor behind the market. But on the whole, I am mostly concerned about leveraging technology fast enough to keepup with our markets and ahead of our competitors.
On the whole, our timing in driving the shift from print to digital has been pretty good—but the challenge is ongoing in some areas.

This article was originally published on 2006-04-11
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