The Information Age interview

Greg Meekings, Reuters’ CIO, is charged with the enormous task of overseeing all of Reuters’ internal business systems and the technology behind its business processes, and also with expanding customer service initiatives.

About Reuters

Reuters is the world’s largest international news and television agency providing information and data to more than half a million users worldwide. The company publishes around 8 million words each day in 26 languages and provides its customers with data on over 960,000 shares, bonds and other financial instruments, and information from 244 stock exchanges and Over the Counter markets around the globe.

Technology is key not only to the delivery of this content to customers, but also to the internal efficiency of Reuters as a business.

Meekings is the first to occupy the position of CIO at Reuters – the position was created with his August 2002 appointment. Prior to that, numerous employees across a number of business units endeavoured together to fulfil the role. “What that meant is that first, it was very hard to drive initiatives across all of Reuters’ operations, and second, there was simply a lack of real leadership,” says Meekings.

Meekings’ track record at Reuters spans some 15 years and encompasses a wide range of technology and business management roles. Prior to that, he worked for a number of technology consulting and systems integration companies including Logica and First Computer.

In his time at Reuters, Meekings says he has seen some big changes in the organisation’s attitude towards technology. “The recognition that the board gives me makes my job very much easier, but it wasn’t always like that. Five years ago, I can remember some very exciting debates with senior executives along the lines of, ‘Reuters is not a technology company’. So I think views have shifted enormously.”

The Interview

Information Age (IA): Most IT directors are facing 2003 with some degree of trepidation. They are under pressure to support their organisation’s ongoing technology requirements and to push through new projects with limited resources. Do you face the same challenges, and if so, how do you plan to tackle them?

Greg Meekings (GM): I’m looking forward to 2003! I was appointed to the CIO position at Reuters in August 2002, and because it is a new role for the company, I have spent much of the remainder of this year basically getting to grips with the strategy we should pursue.

Now that I’ve done that, I’ll shift focus in 2003 to make sure that technology actually delivers benefit to Reuters.

One thing I’ve done, which is very important to me and to Reuters, is to focus on alignment [of technology] with the business. If you listen to our CEO Tom [Glocer], he talks about three main targets: revenues, margin enhancement, and great customer service. So I’ve got two main goals for next year: to use technology in order to drive great customer support and services, and to do what I can as CIO to make the company more efficient and save it money.

There are a number of initiatives underway that fulfil one or other of these goals, but the really nice ones span the two – that save Reuters money and make our customers happy.

IA: What type of funding do you expect to receive from the business to enable you and your team to fulfil both of those goals?

GM: There’s no denying that Reuters, like many organisations, is in a very tough climate. My budget for 2003 is tighter than it was in 2002, though no more so than anywhere else in our business.

However, this year, Reuters is investing in a number of initiatives, particularly around customer service and support. For example, we’re looking at the entire business process that runs from the moment a customer orders something to fulfilment of that order and ongoing support for the customer after the sale. That process is very complex so it costs us a lot of money. Processes that are complicated are much more likely to break down or simply go wrong, and when they do go wrong, it’s frequently visible to the customer.

What we’re looking at is simplifying processes, automating what we can to save money but from a customer point of view, it will be quicker and there will be fewer errors, fewer things will go wrong. Since these initiatives have already been funded to some extent, ongoing funding to get them completed is protected. In addition, in 2003, quite a lot of the customer service projects that we will work on will be self-funding.

IA: How does Reuters define a ‘self-funding technology project’?

GM: Well, to us, it means that we firmly pin down short-term business benefits in advance of starting the project. To give you an example: there are numerous opportunities for Reuters to save money in the area of client administration. If administrators around the world tell me that if my team makes this change or automates that part of the process, it would be very good for the company, then I ask them, “Well, what does ‘very good’ actually mean?” In the end they might say: “If we automate this part of the process, we’ll need 450 client support staff instead of 500”. Or maybe they’ll say: “When we get the next 1,000 customers in, we won’t need to increase staff to support these new customers.”

So I will make those changes, if the administrators agree to make those savings. And we’re putting disciplines in place that make both sides totally accountable to that agreement. It’s not rocket science but it’s rarely done well in my experience.

I have a meeting on Monday with the advisory board [which approves technology spending at Reuters], and believe I will get several million pounds of spend approved that will be funded by the business, not out of the IT budget.

Having gone through this dialogue with the business, there is no doubt on my side that we have to deliver, but equally, there’s no doubt that the business has to make the most of the benefits we give them.

IA: What other customer service and support projects are planned for 2003?

GM: Another major initiative is based around our Siebel software implementation. We finished deploying Siebel at Reuters nine months ago in our customer relationship management centres (CRMCs). We now want to extend that system into Bridge Information Systems [a US technology provider to the financial services sector, which Reuters acquired in late 2001]. We also plan to consolidate Bridge’s three US customer service centres into one. At the same time, we’re imposing single processes for customer support across all our operations.

IA: One of the criticisms of packaged applications is that they come with business processes ‘hard-wired’ into them so it is near-impossible to mould the application around an organisation’s own business processes. How well does your Siebel implementation fit Reuters’ specific business needs?

GM: One of the things we’re doing right now and will continue throughout 2003 is to put in place simpler long-term architecture to support what we do. We need to move away from [our current] complex technology environment – complex because it is old, complex because Reuters has acquired a lot of companies, complex because entropy just happens – to a simpler environment focused around packaged software from Siebel, Oracle and Microsoft.

We are an aggressive Siebel user: we have deployed around 4,000 seats but we use the software across a really wide range of processes, because we use it in the CRMCs, problem management and escalation, account management – basically, in a lot of business scenarios. We started off saying, “We do things this way, this is our process, let’s modify the software.” Siebel will let you do that, but what we learnt was that when Siebel comes out with a new feature or function, you can’t take advantage of it because you’ve changed the system.

One of the first things I did as CIO was to issue a mandate: If we were going to buy out of the box, we would use out of the box. It created quite a lot of frustration in the business. We then went through a process where we sat down with everyone and explained why we were doing that and how it would actually mean we could save money and give customer support employees more functionality. The price they would have to pay, we explained, is that we would only be able to vary the process when we absolutely had to. People then understood, and actually it’s worked quite well.

IA: What role will new technological developments play in enabling better customer service at Reuters in 2003?

GM: Well, we’re already using web services at various levels in the organisation. We’ve made the decision to underpin our technology architecture with the Microsoft .Net platform. Now, we’re using .Net Services as the principle way of integrating disparate applications. In terms of the functions we expose, we launched our Reuters Messaging product [an instant messaging service for the financial services industry] in mid-October 2002. Through our web services architecture, we can expose a number of self-service administration features to our customers that enable them to register and manage their accounts online.

And in early 2003, we will be launching an e-service capability for customers of our news and information services. Today, most customers use the telephone in order to contact our helpdesk. After the launch of this new service, they will be able to log their queries online. And importantly, because we’re taking an integrated, multi-channel approach, customers can make an initial enquiry by telephone, and then check on the web to see how far their enquiry has progressed.

My first few months as CIO were about bringing together all the people involved in all these different customer service and support roles around Reuters, and figuring out what our imperatives and strategies should be for 2003. Now we are ready to get started.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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