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CIO Leadership: Journal Sentinel's Herzfeld part cancer survivor, part consolidation driver

Jim Herzfeld
Milwaukee, Wis. - The newspaper business isn't what it used to be, and the technological changes promise to keep on coming.

In the case of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, paper is merely the end product now, with every last bit of news content digitally paginated.

Interactive divisions crank out online versions that reach a wider group of news consumers, and web content management systems are needed to serve as a storage repository.

In the production area, robots carry news rolls to the presses and stack carts for delivery to distribution centers.

But that's only a small part of the story. Consolidation has been the publication's primary strategic initiative in recent years - not the consolidation of two newspapers into one, but the consolidation of technologies.
Among the key strategic initiatives involving Vice President and CIO Jim Herzfeld - application consolidation, business intelligence, and server consolidation through virtualization - it's the former that will occupy much of Herzfeld's attention for some time to come.

Fewer vendors, fewer headaches

The newspaper is part of Journal Communications, which publishes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and, through Journal Community Publishing, 46 community newspapers and shoppers in Wisconsin and Florida. It also owns Journal Broadcast Group, which operates 35 radio stations and 10 television stations in 12 states, including WTMJ Radio and TV, and it owns a printing subsidiary, IPC Print Services, and operates a direct marketing business called PrimeNet.

While he's firmly planted on the newspaper side, Herzfeld also facilitates all directors in the corporate endeavor. The different entities, which are trying to do more with the same or even less, share wherever they can to save expenses - consolidating services under one vendor in some cases. The goal is to ease administration and lower operational costs, yet maintain the same expectations for the solution and the new business process that's typically adopted with it.

In 2006, the Journal-Sentinel signed a three-year contract with Microsoft to consolidate desktop virus protection, anti-spam services, electronic work flow, and all of its usual licensing with Microsoft. The company already contracted with Microsoft on document management, and it's using Microsoft business intelligence tools to build BI system for the entire corporation. By going with one vendor, the overall cost for those applications is less than what it would have been with individual solutions, and Herzfeld already can point to full payback about halfway through the contract.

In effect, Microsoft has helped the newspaper retire five different vendors into one.

“Each vendor had an area of excellence, so we felt we could rely on one vendor and cut down on administration and save on the finger pointing that goes on when you have so many vendors in one environment,” Herzfeld explained. “We made it so that one vendor covers more.”

Other than portfolio consolidation, the side benefits for companies in the organization are that they have a technology workflow tool, document repository, and e-mail archiving that they no longer have to purchase. Now the company has the flexibility to consider outsourcing its anti-virus and anti-spam functions to Microsoft - if not now, at some point in the future.

“The great thing about technology is that it's always changing,” Herzfeld said. “There is always pressure from different areas where vendors are competing, and you benefit.”

When Herzfeld took over in 2000, the newspaper was on eight different platforms, which is a nightmare for integration and for end-users (think multiple log-ons). The company was planning a new production plant, which would open in 2003, and needed IT to build a seamless production workflow.

Complicating matters was the company's decision to go public in 2003, which meant Sarbanes Oxley compliance. Since the newspaper does business online with credit cards, there also are Payment Card Industry requirements to pass quarterly remote vulnerability scans conducted by credit card companies - scans that are required for all Internet connection points - and the successful completion of a security assessment with specific questions about internal security practices on websites and throughout the office.

Making the case

Given that Journal Sentinel management and staff were more than ready for a change, Herzfeld had little trouble making the business case for consolidation. Once he explained his concerns to management and provided what amounted to a one-page diagram, they realized there was a support and internal communication nightmare unfolding, especially in the context of the new plant.

As for departmental buy-in, Herzfeld found that people in every department were tired of getting no for an answer when it came to software to support a variety of business functions. The company was having trouble selecting new software for business activities because the different platforms played havoc with integration. “It seemed like you were walking through an unbelievable technological nightmare to get a project accomplished that required integration,” he said.

The challenge was in trying to define the center of the technological road for the organization. Herzfeld knew the right direction involved a “no code” approach, and he favored a scenario where every system would be vendor-supplied and IT would be there to integrate. His staff looked at the newspaper industry to determine the logical vendor, and found that “Microsoft is where everyone was going.”

One of the first projects was to switch the e-mail system to Microsoft. There were a handful of complaints, but since most were accustomed to having the service at home, they were used to dealing with it.

The same ease-of-use dynamic applied when the Journal Sentinel replaced its classified advertising system. At one time, the company would spend three or four weeks of training with a given agent before the agent went to the call center, but trainees were ready to roll by the third day under the new application.

“They just fell in and suddenly training went from three or four weeks down to two days,” Herzfeld recalled. “Those are some of the impacts you end up having with some of these software changes.”

Consolidation work is never done

In 2004, the newspaper replaced its entire editorial system with one from CCI Europe, a vendor that serves the publishing industry. The publication once had several disparate systems putting together editorial and in the spirit of consolidation, it now has one simplified version. Writers simply enter their stories into the system, and editors build the pages in pagination and ship them out to plates through the pre-press area.

Yet every time a process is made faster, deadlines are moved back, and with less time to deal with outages, technology systems have to be more dependable.

Since the Journal Sentinel opened its new production facility, it has become fully automated and electronic throughout its production stream. Herzfeld said the objective was to find a handful of vendors - five or fewer - with long delivery lines for workflow, reducing the points where breakdowns can occur.

“The whole idea,” he said, “is to reduce the number of stop or integration points you have in the system.”

In some ways, Herzfeld said consolidation work is never done. Every couple of years, he knows that he'll have to “reawaken” himself to the project in an exercise in spring cleaning that occurs when costs start creeping up and technology changes to the point where it forces a re-evaluation.

The business process changes associated with consolidation were significant, and this is where end-users need a little coaching. As Herzfeld explains, even though there are business processes that generate revenue here or there, a CIO has to be able to sell a stakeholder on the notion that they can do things a different way and have opportunities for additional sales.

Going back to the “no-code” rule, he had conversation with a stakeholder in the hopes of avoiding the over-customization of new applications. A company training group was in Florida when they sent an e-mail to require a fair amount of customization, and a company vice president responded with a firm no, leaving the door open to alternative ways to resolve their issues.

When an organization lives a mantra of “buy before build,” Herzfeld knows it has to remain committed to it. “We empowered the group to find other ways to solve the business process issues rather than customization,” Herzfeld said. “The delay could have been unbelievable with customizations. In many ways, you play the great negotiator.”

Cancer scare

Herzfeld, armed with a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis in management information systems, has been an information technology professional for 25 years.

A few years ago, his career and life path were almost derailed. The company's consolidation plans and plant opening came amid a personal crisis for Herzfeld. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and even amid an ambitious IT transformation, the health scare convinced him to re-examine work-life balance as part of his recovery plan.

He's always enjoyed sailing and fishing - a member of the South Shore Yacht Club, he has a boat on Milwaukee's lakefront - but his health and technological possibilities gave him the impetus to work more from home.

“I won't say I'm perfect in terms of work-life balance,” he said, “but it's about making sure you're at events for your kids, and you end up fitting in time slots working at home, basically.”

That's easier now with Internet access. Many Journal Sentinel employees subscribe to their own high-speed broadband at home, and workers value the flexible option of working at home. Herzfeld's IT department has about 44 full-time employees and makes good use of 18 interns - most on desktop support or PC set up - and they, like him, appreciate the workforce flexibility made possible by technology.

“It helps us retain people when they think they have some control over their schedules,” he said, “and people will work more hours because they have that option.”

They also tend to stay put if their CIO offers them interesting and challenging work. In addition to application and vendor consolidation, the Journal Sentinel is modernizing its business intelligence capabilities, preparing for a corporate wide ERP consolidation, and contemplating data center consolidation.

Add to that the need to support 1,000 notebooks and desktops and close to 300 servers, and you have more than enough work to stretch 44 full-time people. “There are management challenges with that, but to retain employees it's important that they get to see a lot of things and touch a lot of things,” Herzfeld said. “Not just in one specialty - they are allowed to expand their horizons a bit.”


Randy Gschwind responded 7 years ago: #1

This is a classic story of IT challenges with classy guy leading the way. It reaffirms that CIOs need to be leaders first and technologists second. And, of course, top management buy-in and commitment is critical to support change.

David Stack responded 7 years ago: #2

A great story and a great guy. Jim was also a driver for the formation of the Milwaukee IT Leadership Forum and a current advisor to ENTECH, Engaging Non-Profits in Technology.

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