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COO explains how he's helping reshape newspapers

Martin Veitch | June 8, 2008
Derek Gannon has no truck with the popular notion that the ultimate opportunity for "IT people" stops within the IT function.

Well, maybe not through something as obviously grabby as Britney, but what about via another route -- putting more into sport coverage, for example? "Sport is a real driver on the web but one of our biggest sites is media," he rejoins, suggesting that it's not just the obvious attention magnets that work on the web.
Still, competition is intense as rivals also seek to reinvent themselves. The Daily Telegraph is pushing a web video service called TelegraphTV, for example, and The Times last year refreshed its site, although in return it suffered stringent criticisms over performance and look and feel. If Gannon has any sense of schadenfreude at an old rival's woes, he is keeping his delight well hidden.

"The web community is not very forgiving," he says, diplomatically. "We're very good at bringing in systems. We changed our whole architecture in 2002/3 and we're very careful to have it checked by people like Gartner. We take care to make sure it works when we put it out there."

The secretPart of GNM's secret sauce lies in choosing expert assistance, Gannon readily admits. "We truly mean that if someone is going to come in, they're going to be a partner," he says, pointing out the example of a "husband-and-wife team" called FingerPost that has long worked with GNM on newsfeeds ("We would never say goodbye to them because they've been there when things have gone wrong," he says) as well as Infosys on advertising platforms, and ThoughtWorks, the web design company that was the principal partner on the site refresh.

"With ThoughtWorks, we talked about all of us," Gannon says. "They didn't just meet the web group but also the editorial group."

Dilraj Aujla, head of client management at ThoughtWorks, returns the compliment: "Derek's a very grounded guy," he says. "There's no management [BS]. He tells things as they are and brings complex things down to simple statements.

On the business side they've been quite tough to deal with because the Scott Trust means profit stops being [the sole] motive of the business. But the developers love it. A junior developer wrote a piece saying what The Guardian means to her life. It's more than business, there's a strong strategic link. We joke that you can't tell who is who between the ThoughtWorks and the GNM people -- and not just because they all dress badly."


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