Business

Thomson Reuters aims for first place in the data race

A man enters the Thomson Reuters building at Canary Wharf, London
Image caption Thomson Reuters' Andrew Jordan says increasingly commoditised data is a real business threat

Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.

Image caption Fragmented information across Thomson Reuters' enormous network poses huge business risks

Thomson Reuters is the world leader in "intelligent information for businesses and professionals".

Its financial and legal information services generate revenues into the billions of dollars, and they hold a reputation as one of quickest and most-trusted sources of global news and photography.

Yet as data becomes ever more commoditised, Thomson Reuters faces a critical period of change.

Andrew Jordan is the chief technology and operations officer of Thomson Reuters' governance, risk and compliance business. He told the BBC about the lengths the company is going to in order to finish first in the great information race.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

I could give you a million different answers to that!

I think it's about how you put customer at the heart of technology.

If you think about the scale of the operation here and how many different technologies we operate with, it's very easy to get almost self-indulgent about it.

Thomson Reuters as an organisation is highly inquisitive. If you look back on the annuls of history at how many things we've bought over time, big and small, a lot of technology usually comes with that.

What we've found ourselves with now is technology that is either duplicated - lots of things all doing the same thing - or things which are built but aren't necessarily oriented around, and I don't want to be too cliche, delivering real customer value.

The biggest challenge at the moment is how we start delivering strong customer value to our customers.

The inefficiency of that sprawl kind of gets in the way of delivering the right things to the customers. It can slow the process down, or it can be diversionary, or it means that we put too much budget behind things which just are running the organisation, rather than growing the organisation.

That's one of our key challenges right now - making sure we're redressing that balance.

Information generally is becoming more commoditised, and becoming more accessible as it becomes more electronic. You used to have to go to one of very few sources of truth for news, now that tends to get highly federated and a lot of people are happy with that. They don't care about detailed reportage - they just want a three-line snippet of what it is they need to know.

We have to be mindful of the different consumption models that people are now moving towards. Particularly things which are very crowded - news being a good one of those.

Even with more structured content, the ability for people to Google something and get to a 'good enough' point for free versus coming to Thomson Reuters and being charged thousands of dollars a month for the same thing actually is now becoming quite a business risk.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

A big challenge that we face is that we have almost a proliferation of information as a business.

I'd hate to even put a number on it - but we have got perhaps petabytes of data that sits inside of our organisation now, whether that's things like news data, legal data, tax data and so on.

How do you create a technology fabric that allows the organisation as a whole to get the value from it?

An example: if I wanted to go into Thomson Reuters now and find out everything the company knows about the BBC, I couldn't go to one place and find it. It means that you tend to not go to the effort of actually finding all of that out.

There's an initiative going on at the moment at Thomson Reuters called Content Marketplace, and what it does is effectively create that marketplace, not from a charging point of view, but it's technically enabling the organisation to know what information it owns, what licence restrictions there are on it, and also how it can be accessed and used.

Which in some respects creates something bigger than the sum of the parts. You're creating new business opportunities just by joining the information together.

That is, in every sense of the word, a challenge around big data. You're talking about a scale that runs into petabytes of information.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

I think it's getting the balance wrong between the pace of change that technology can deliver, and the speed with which customers are ready to take it.

A lot of companies - especially ones that rely heavily on technology - walk behind their customer. The customer is walking at a certain speed and they're going "deliver this, deliver this, deliver this".

You can't really go too far wrong with that - particularly in a mature market - but there are times when the market is moving so quickly that if you stood behind your customers and walked with them... they're stood still. They don't actually know how quickly they ought to walk because the market and its dynamic is changing so rapidly.

What you can't do is then start leading your customer and realise when you turn around that you've been walking quicker and that you've left them behind. It's a tricky balance to get right, and historically that's not one I've always got right.

I used to be the CIO (chief information officer) of a business called Complinet which was an information business to the compliance industry.

One of the areas that we got very excited about was this concept of community - all of these so-called compliance officers are all sat around wondering what to do, and the whole point was Complinet - short for Compliance Network - was to try to connect them all together and say: "If you can share views and approaches to compliance problems, actually you'll solve the problems together."

That's all about injecting principles of social media into the corporate environment, and it's very easy for technologists to turn round and say "I use Facebook and I'm comfortable", but I remember one situation presenting the idea to Morgan Stanley.

The chief compliance officer sat through the demonstration for 45 minutes and said: "I understand exactly what you just said to me, but we're probably two years away from anyone having any understanding of how valuable that is."

They'd just come to grips with the idea that things were computerised let alone the idea that they need to collaborate using technology.

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