Driven By a New CTO, ALM Wants to Operate Day-to-Day Like a High-Tech Company

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As part of a recent reorganization that refocused its Media and Intelligence groups into Information Services and Marketing Solutions, ALM tapped Jimi Li as Chief Technology Officer.

A media industry outsider, Li brings a wealth of experience with both B2B and B2C brands, having most recently served as Partner and Co-Founder of Valence Marketing Infrastructure and having held previous leadership positions at companies such as L’Oréal, Coach and GE Capital.

But Li’s biggest charge with ALM is not managing tech stack but implementing significant cultural changes in product development, workflow and the use of data to ensure business results. It’s early days (Li’s position was officially announced last week), but here he offers a preview into some of the changes that ALM will be making, including what B2B media and information companies can borrow from the way big tech companies operate to become more modern and efficient.   

Connectiv: Jimi, please talk about your new role. On the surface, this seems to be a departure from the traditional CTO in a media and information company.

Jimi Li: On the high level, instead of a traditional IT department, my role has evolved to cover some of the more strategic or more business results-driven components. As part of the reorganization that we just had, the product team now reports to me and is now what we call the engineering team. We have a new team working between product and engineering—kind of like what a lot of tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are doing. The thinking behind that is, in today’s environment, we have to adopt a new way of creating our products that meets market demand, that fits user requirement and delivers the experience and quality of content that our readers are expect.

That requires us to structure a team that will keep up with the changing environment. That’s really a culture change in terms of how we think and how we work with each other to provide the best product to users. That’s probably the biggest change--instead of being a pure supporting function, we’re actually driving business changes in order to support the business units that we have.

Connectiv: Can you offer some specifics on what this new way of operating includes?

Li: It’s really two things--#1 is being customer-obsessed. What I mean by that, is, we have to look at what our audience is expecting us to deliver, what’s the content they are interested in and are we delivering the best user experiences to them. There is sometimes a sense that as a B2B company, we don’t have to be crazy about UI/UX, but I think that’s wrong. If you think about the users that we have, at some point in their personal lives, they are users of Amazon. They are users of Walmart, Best Buy. They already have high expectations in what an excellent user experience should be. They have experienced the best and if we provide a mediocre experience to them, they are not going to be happy. The bar has been raised—what used to be the ceiling has become the new floor. It’s important for us to put an emphasis on user experience and quality of content.

That leads me to my second point—to be data-driven. The old way to do this was to get a bunch of product managers together and think, ‘Oh, this might work.’ In reality, you have to put metrics in place and make it more predictable. Instead of a technology change, I would say this is more of a new way of thinking. Before people make any decisions, we need people to look at the challenge differently. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Golden Triangle--People, Process, Technology. Now the triangle has become a diamond with the addition of data. How do we infuse data into what we are doing with the people process as well as the technology? It will be a journey to get there, but we are very excited about the potential that we have.

Connectiv: A lot of media and information companies have charged ahead to be more data-centric, but some have been stymied by culture as well as tech stack. Multiple vendors, data spread across different groups and difficulty taking control of that data and making it useful. How does this industry get over hump with data and tech stack?

Li: There is a common theme throughout some of those things that we are looking at. With something like the migration to the cloud—it’s not just moving your onsite infrastructure to the cloud, it’s the way people work together to improve efficiency and how product works better with engineering. Adopting new processes and tool sets are about improving the way that people work together. Those are the things driving the consolidation of technology, both from a data perspective as well as some of the legacy systems that we have. We are in the process of identifying some of those opportunities to further consolidate technology and move into the cloud. Everything has entered the overall strategy of how we work better together, how we work more efficiently and ultimately is tied to the business result.

Connectiv: You’ve mentioned this process will be a journey—as part of that, are there any simple steps or quick wins that ALM or other companies can consider?

Li: Specific to ALM, I was excited to discover the wells of data that we have. We were considered a leader within our own industry, a niche industry but a pretty big niche. There is a lot of potential for us to dig a little deeper into the data that we have to provide better experiences to users and how we help our clients to market their services to our target audiences. I don’t think there are necessarily short, quick wins but I definitely see that we can make a meaningful impact in the next 6-12 months.

Matt Matt Kinsman is vice president of content + programming at Connectiv, the only association focused on the integrated b-to-b model—including publications, events, digital media, marketing services and business information. Prior to joining Connectiv's predecessor American Business Media in 2011, Kinsman was executive editor of Folio:, the leading information provider for the magazine industry.