By Nicholas Ismail, Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCL Technologies Ltd.
Can you please introduce yourself to the Straight Talk Magazine audience?
Ghalib Kassam, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at the Los Angeles Times. I am responsible for a number of different practices, primarily digital engineering, data analytics, and most of the LA Times’ traditional IT operations.
How is the LA Times overcoming legacy and embracing the digital disruption facing the publishing industry?
For us, the publishing industry is really the legacy print space. Like everyone else in the industry, we are seeing a decline in print, and we are doing everything we can to transform the way we do work.
The LA Times is an incredibly important brand, and we've really transformed ourselves to identify as a content creation company. We create Pulitzer Prize winning content and what we are fundamentally focused on now is determining the best way to deliver that content.
Traditionally, it was solely print – we’d deliver newspapers. We’re still doing that for a lot of our customers who want to consume their information in that way, but we’re now also producing content on multiple media platforms. It’s proven to be quite profitable.
As a CIO what are your main challenges in the constantly changing content creation industry?
The first challenge is to maintain the business; allowing print and some of the other areas of legacy to continue to operate in the best, most efficient ways possible.
Then it’s a case of investing in some of the other areas and platforms, growing the business, understanding the different technologies and how to leverage them in the best way possible, as quickly as possible.
Gone are the days where you can pick a product or service and evaluate it for six months and figure out how to implement it. The challenge is embracing new solutions rapidly and getting the adoption from the business as quickly as possible.
And in many cases, the innovation ideas come from the business. Then it’s my role to develop a quick proof-of-concept and make it work.
From my vantage point, the challenge is around making sure my team provides the capabilities for the business to do what they do best in the changing digital environment of publishing or content creation.
You have inherited legacy IT systems and now the LA Times is competing with born digital media companies. How do you find the right balance?
It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we still have a profitable print or legacy business.
But, we have had to transform. As a legacy brand, the LA Times and others have had to staff up and attract and retain the best and brightest talent to enable our transformation.
Competing with born digital media companies requires a change in mindset and the entire senior leadership at the LA Times is laser focused on embracing that start-up, digital, flexible, and collaborative new way of working.
How can organizations drive continuous innovation for transformation purposes?
That’s the million-dollar question.
There are always challenges from the business and from the technology – for example, if your organization has legacy applications and your business model transforms rapidly this will cause your entire technology architecture to be outdated and accelerate technical debt.
Despite this, I think innovation happens every single day.
At some point you have to transform and look at the legacy application of the business and ask, ‘will this support our ambitions over the next three to five years?’ If it doesn’t and there's no ROI, the business should rip the legacy band-aid off and embrace innovation.
What is the best career advice you can give to someone starting out in the IT industry?
The best advice I would give to anybody getting into any business or any career, is to pick something that you're going to really like doing. If you can't get up in the morning and be positive about it, be excited about it, you're probably in the wrong industry.
If you go into a job for the sake of the job, then it's not a career. But if you're doing something from a career standpoint that you really enjoy, pursue it because that's self-motivation and you’re going to want to be even better at it.