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News International CIO aims to be multimedia giant in the cloud

Edward Qualtrough | May 23, 2013
Chris Taylor discusses agility, mobility and why the cloud is key to transforming a modern business

Taylor said: "We give our staff access to all mobile devices. There's a tech bar near the canteen which has all the latest devices, training and support for our staff.

"We also have a good relationship with Apple. Most of our staff are now choosing Apple devices; we have about a third of our staff using Apple desktops and laptops.

"iPads are used across the organisation. Initially we issued the devices to the staff who needed them most, and following that offered a subsidised staff purchase scheme and now nearly all of our 3,000 permanent employees have iPads.

"We support all BYOD — staff can log on to a VPN with a four-digit pin. We allow all access to corporate email although we have to have the ability to remote wipe the device.

"But we have completely weaned ourselves off BlackBerry," he said.

News worth paying for
Taylor spoke in detail about some of the projects underway at News International, including the infamous Times paywall. "But we don't talk about a paywall," he said. "We prefer to say 'content worth paying for'.

"We needed to create a powerful access control system to tackle the issues of gated content for The Times and Sunday Times digital subscribers -- a system that needed flexibility because of the numbers of permutations involved.

Taylor explained that in order to attract more readers to its content and grow its digital subscriber base, News International wanted to allow sharing and free access to content under certain circumstances and on a piece-by-piece basis. For example, it might be opened up to shares on certain social networks or to the first 100 readers.

He said that the publisher looked to Amazon, which gave News International access to a pre-release version of its NoSQL database DynamoDB.

"At that point DynamoDB wasn't released," Taylor said. "We explained our requirements and that that there wasn't a product on the market for us to use. We were one of the first two companies to be working with it, and the second to launch a live product."

Another major project for Taylor is an attempt to create search tools that will allow access to almost 250 years of digital content from The Times, which is migrating over to AWS CloudSearch.

"There are hundreds of millions of pieces of digital content in the archives dating back to the 18th century, but it needs to be searchable and usable. It's being restructured on to Amazon, we need access to that kind of horsepower," Taylor said.

"It is a massive resource, and while the majority of it is digitised, it is very hard to access and manipulate in any kind of real-time way."

 

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