CxO Corner: Ramin Beheshti, Chief Product and Technology Officer of Dow Jones
For this edition of the CxO corner, we’re excited to showcase our conversation with Ramin Beheshti, Chief Product and Technology Officer of Dow Jones. Ramin has worn many hats in the enterprise technology organization from coder and consultant to business analyst and project manager. Recently promoted to Chief Product and Technology Officer from his previous role as CIO of Dow Jones, Ramin sat down with us to talk through how he got to where he is today, what he’s working on now, and what he’s looking forward to in the future. Enjoy!
How did you get your start in technology?
My career started with a computer science degree at university, which I don’t think is anywhere near essential to working in tech, and then I ended up at Deloitte in their technology consulting practice as a coder. At that point, I realized I’m probably not the best coder in the world and shifted more towards business analysis, where I focused on solving large scale problems. For example, one of my projects was mapping the requirements for the extension of the congestion zone in London to reduce traffic in the city. In my roles, I’ve always been the linchpin between what the business wants to do and what technology needs to be built to achieve that. From there, I moved more into program management and joined News UK, publisher of the The Sunday Times and The Sun newspapers, where I led engineering and product. When I moved to America in 2014, I picked up business systems, looking over all of enterprise applications, infrastructure, networks, and operations. By the end of that, I had worked in nearly every single part of technology that you can work in, or at least manage teams in, which is how I landed in my current role as Chief Product and Technology Officer.
What has contributed to your success?
No matter which one of those roles I did, whether I was heading up product for the Times, heading up the engineering team, in business analysis, or looking at infrastructure, part of my success is being able to simplify things. I find sometimes technology people tend to either talk in a slightly complicated way, or in a different language in the most extreme examples, and people who aren’t technologists can’t quite grasp what they’re trying to communicate. Bridging that communication gap is just luckily something I’m quite good at and a huge factor in why I’m in the role I am today.
What advice would you give for someone starting their career?
I think I was really worried about what I was doing and constantly comparing myself to what others were doing. Looking back, my piece of advice would be, “just enjoy it.” There’s something to learn from everything that you end up doing — getting loads of different experiences is really useful early on in your career. It doesn’t really matter the field or industry that you are working in, take learnings from wherever you are because the more exposure you get across different things, the more well-rounded you’re going to be.
What role does technology play at Dow Jones and what is top of mind for you?
Dow Jones has three large businesses within it. There’s the Wall Street Journal, the well-known newspaper with quite a rich history. There’s Dow Jones Media Group, which is a collection of distinct brands that serve various audiences, such as Barron’s, Market Watch, and Mansion Global. Then there is our B2B side, which is the professional information business, with products like Factiva and Risk & Compliance. So essentially, we sell to consumers and businesses alike.
On the consumer and media side, it’s about delivering that great digital experience that we’ve given to people for hundreds of years in print, especially with our mobile products, and continue to differentiate ourselves. I look to identify how the WSJ and DJ Media Group brands can use emerging technology to can add value to our customers, which now and for the foreseeable future is a massive emphasis on the mobile experience.
On the B2B side, people don’t realize that Dow Jones has so much content. We have over a billion premium news articles spanning 30 years business information. We unlocked the potential of all that structured data and content with our recent launch of the DNA (data, news, and analytics) platform that gives businesses direct access to the material via API.
A majority of what Dow Jones does to power our products is run on cloud infrastructure. Over the next 12 months, our main goal is making sure our technology stack is cohesive. We’ve moved and rebuilt some things, but there is still older technology in our environment that needs to be revisited. There’s a lot of talk in the industry about tackling legacy. We are making a huge effort to not only just tackle and get ahead of it, but also make sure that we don’t fall back into a situation where parts of our stack are very far advanced, while the rest are slow and stale. A lot of my job has been on educating everybody within Dow Jones as to why making sure that the environment is stable, scalable, and secure, is equally as important as the front end of the product.
How do you make education work?
I put it in terms that benefits the customer because that’s what we’re ultimately doing. Our customers, either readers of the WSJ or buyers of our professional information, should find value in what we’re doing. For example, some people won’t necessarily care you moved from on premise to cloud. What they really care about is scale, resiliency, speed, and cost. That’s what they want to hear and get excited about.
What are some of the challenges in your role?
It’s striking the right balance. If we were just heads down working on modernizing the infrastructure, we’d lose opportunity. But, if we just focus on modifying the front end for visual impact, the backend will break. The biggest challenge of my job is striking that balance, and knowing where to put effort and resources, which is also what makes the job so interesting and quite fun.
Another enjoyable challenge is identifying ways to provide value to customers that will generate revenue, while also maintaining that trust and experience with our clients. For example, advertising generates revenue, but striving for relevancy and maintaining the best experience is, again, a balancing act. We were the first company to move to paid content and now it is well-accepted and adopted by other publications.
How do you view traditional IT at Dow Jones?
I think IT has always treated the employee in a way where it’s seen as cost reduction and not about service. One of the things that we try to do at Dow Jones and across News Corps is really try and offer our employees the best possible technologies to do their job because the more that they’re effective, the better chance we have overall as a business. For example, making sure they’ve got access to more modern applications, like Slack, Dropbox, and Google, is really important.
How do you strike the balance between employee experience and business requirements?
We live in a cost world. I’d love to give everyone the best possible machine out there, but that’s not necessarily always needed or possible. We give our employees a choice of how to interact and work. When something picks up, we take a look at it and determine if it should be an enterprise standard, which is how a lot of the tools we use came to be. People voted with their feet. Our mindset is “go figure out what it is that you need to do, and then we’ll try and put the guardrails around it so that it’s secure.” In terms of devices, we are trying to move to a world where most applications can be consumed over a browser. We’ve been looking and experimenting with things like VDI and seeing how that can help move away from having a dedicated laptop or workstation.
What hasn’t worked?
Sometimes choice doesn’t work. When there are too many options, like how to communicate or where to store and share documents, it creates confusion on what should be used. We’re still working through that. People always say to me, “why don’t you tell us what to do?” This is feedback I get. Well, if I told you what to do, then I would be too restricting. We’re looking to improve our process around standards for which platforms to use and when.
Another area we’re working on is application delivery. Looking after the customers’ experiences is paramount. We’re always learning, sometimes painfully, how to refine our testing and release process so that our clients get the best product.
How can emerging technology startups work with you?
The best ones I see, and the ones I’m always most interested in, barely talk to me about technology in the first conversation. They’re hyper focused on the problem and how it can be solved to help me and my organization. The technology doesn’t necessarily need to be complex. It doesn’t need to be particularly sophisticated. Successful startups understand the problems that companies like us face in terms of size and scale, and they’ve got a solution that really tackles it. They’re the ones I listen to the most — not necessarily someone telling me that their technology is better than everybody else’s.
You also look at personality. You’re going to work with that person or that group, so you want to make sure that they’re ready to really help you. For example, of the companies that we work with, we really love their customer success team who comes after we’ve bought their product. They help us think through how their product can fit into our world rather than how our world can fit into their product. It makes such a huge difference in terms of us adopting that technology.
Any advice to entrepreneurs?
It is less about what you build and more how you can make it work for the organization. It can be tough when you’re small, but if you pick a couple of customers and embed your solution in there, spending the time and passion to make it work properly and not as a sales activity, it’s much more likely to lead to success. We will talk to our peers and will speak to how you went the extra mile. It might mean you grow slower to begin with, but it will help establish that customer success phase. There’s nothing worse than if you think you’ve bought something and find it costs another $20k to get it to work.
It also goes back to the people. If you’re a small enterprise startup, you have to understand the CTO or CIO that you’re selling to. It pays to do the homework. Maybe the brand sounds great, but they can end up consuming all of your time and almost kill you before you get off the ground.
Lastly, what technologies are you most excited about?
I don’t think we’ve even begun to scratch the surface of cloud, meaning the access to unlimited amounts of storage, infrastructure, and processing power. You just look at some of the things that we’re able to start doing now with artificial intelligence and machine learning. That’s really driven by access to all of this computing power and all of this data. That’s what excites me, just seeing what people can do, including what we’re doing at Dow Jones with all the content that was locked up and is now accessible. There’s still so much more that can be done.