Interview: Technology and culture insights from St Joseph Communications

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St Joseph Communications (SJC) is Canada’s largest privately owned communications company, and a leading magazine publisher in the market.

WoodWing’s Lucas Sweet recently spoke to Sean McLuskey, Executive Director of Production Operations at SJC, about the organization’s recent move to the cloud, cultural challenges when rolling out new solutions, what is on the horizon for SJC from a tech perspective, and technology trends in the publishing industry today.

The full interview is in the video below.

What’s your vision for IT, as a publisher operating in an ever-changing and competitive space?

Sean: If there are two key words, they are scalability and flexibility. If you’ve got too much of your capital, and by that I mean both human and actual capital, tied up in massive technology installs and things like that, you have massive overhead, and you are just not going to be as nimble as you have to be. Especially as you see new entrants come into the markets, more than a few of them are sitting on a sizable amount of capital that they didn’t earn themselves, and those are the types of entities that we are competing against.

So I think looking more at the cloud, and in some cases exclusively at the cloud, gives us that flexibility and that scalability that we are looking at.

What was the driving factor that led you to start looking at the solution you had in place and to look at a different direction?

Sean: I guess it was two or three things. Cost; we had a significant cost base in our previous system. Interoperability; which there was none. We had these siloed systems in place. And we knew we had to look at something that was scalable. We were finding that we had fixed costs in our business from a technology perspective, particularly around content management and content operations. And we didn’t have anything that would easily or efficiently scale up, and I mean that both from a cost perspective and time, and hands in the organization.

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From a culture standpoint, how were you able to get everybody to move forward?  What cultural philosophy do you use?

Sean: It’s all about trust. And that is something we've [the IT team] built up over a long period of time with our people, where we over and over, usually a few times a year, have brought in a new system, a new platform, a new process. We really try to take a customer first approach - treat our people, our editors, writers, and designers, like customers of IT. It really makes a huge difference that we are not there to impose our will, we are there to service the business. Part of our philosophy has always been that we are there to solve the business’s problems, anticipate them where we can, we are not there to dictate solutions. Over time you build that trust up.

Bringing in everyone early in the process was another very important approach that we took with WoodWing - having the presales group in there, having the post-sales group in there, professional services to actually sit down with the writers and editors and designers and photo editors, and going through their process and ask, well you do this every day, how do you want this system to work? And frankly to have that partnership demonstrated the doubling down of trust we have between our content creators and operations and our technology group.

So involvement of the people whose life this is going to impact the most, and building that trust - if there is a philosophy in there somewhere, that's our philosophy.

How are you making choices about where the technology is going, and what technologies you need to be looking for so you are moving in the right direction?

Sean: It’s tricky in our industry, because we’re not big tech. There isn’t a trendline we can hop on to and a whole pile of online and in-person resources like CES or something like that.

Typically we take two routes. One of them is through our community of publishers and media companies in North America and around the world. I think that you have to talk about the challenges with other publishers, with your competitors, I know that sounds weird, but some of the best discussions that we had are within our own community. That community is getting a little bit bigger as well as we are getting into different areas of business - we talked about experiential, how are they handling it? And not surprisingly, people are very open and willing to have those discussions with us.

And the second is the vendors who support them. These could be vendors and business partners that have been around for a long time, or they could be new entrants into the marketplace. I don't know that we've ever gone through any change in our business including what we just went through with WoodWing without us approaching it as a partnership opportunity, in the sense that we have problems that we need to solve, and there may or may not be an out of the box solution. But we are not really technology companies so finding technological solutions is not really what publishers and media companies are good at.

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