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ALM's Bishop on IT's perception, role

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Gene Bishop spent more than 20 years in an IT and support role at The Wall Street Journal before becoming VP-technology at ALM a year ago. “Digital Directions” recently asked about his initiatives—starting with a major office relocation—thoughts about technology and his career-long effort to improve the perception of IT organizations within media companies.

DD: What are you working on at ALM?

Bishop: There have been a couple of initiatives that brought people together to achieve things—where there were doubts that success could be achieved. One in particular stands out. In the middle of our acquisition by a new company, we had to consolidate from four offices and four server rooms in Manhattan to one office in lower Manhattan and one office and data center in Brooklyn. [This move happened] over the course of four weeks, with four separate moves and print and online publishing deadlines; [and] we had to install VOIP and group printing at the same time. There were new-construction issues, end-of-life equipment that we decided to replace and virtualization, as well as the anxiety of end-user equipment moves.

Directors, managers, help desk, system admins, app admins, business owners, vendors, consultants—all came together and executed flawlessly. We all had different jobs to do and, as a team, [we] worked like a clock to get things done as they needed to be. I am very proud of my team for that. They handled themselves with grace and stick-to-itiveness, and never griped. Remarkable people can do remarkable things in remarkable situations.

DD: What new technologies look promising?

Bishop: We are witnessing another shift in the way we will be “wired.”

[Apple's] iPad, and a host of tablet computing coming out, will change again the dynamic of how we compute and connect. Tablets are not a new idea, but an idea that is at a time where the bandwidth technology has caught up and surpassed expectations. For publishers, these devices, and the way that Google Editions will be in the market, will be a game-changer for books, newspapers and magazines. Promising? Without a doubt.

DD: How are you using technology to solve a specific problem at ALM?

Bishop: It's hard to pick one. It seems like we are very connected to our business in so many ways that integrating and providing solutions are always under a basket, around a corner or in a closet. Video conferencing solves a communication problem—that's us—bringing disparate data sources together for a research product—that's us—automating a nightly process to push billing data—that's us—building a tool to allow Web publishers to refresh their data at will. That's us, too.

With our business expertise, some good old-fashioned common sense and technology, that's our gig: to help solve problems where there is a gap between a work flow and an out-of-the-box technology solution that never seems to work seamlessly right out of the box. Technology is great but it's the people that make it work.

DD: How do you make IT more accessible?

Bishop: IT has seemingly always operated behind the curtain. People often miss the fact that, as a company, we're often service providers and customers of one another. Early in my career, we sent a bunch of IT and support people to customer-service training and you could see that the culture started to change.

DD: How is that working at ALM?

Bishop: We're in an environment right now where we all work pretty close to the bone. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be having conversations about whether the priorities are changing or what technologies or services people are looking for that could make life a little bit easier. It seems to me that when people are afraid to ask you to the table, you just don't get asked to the table. Then there are initiatives that start without you and you are brought to the table at the end, which just feeds the beast. If you're going to exist that way, you're never going to make life better for yourself.

DD: So communication is the key?

Bishop: Yes. We put together some meetings to see how much money IT was spending and what it was being spent on—and the top 45 things that [we were] asked to work on. When you add something to that list, I'm going to change the list; something has to drop or I need more to be able to do that [added item]. Just having that regular conversation has opened the eyes of businesspeople. They welcome the fact that they know we aren't just some big black box that you throw something in—sometimes you get something out that you want, sometimes you get something that you don't want and sometimes you don't get anything at all. You can't work with that kind of mentality around you.

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