CTO interview: Customer data analytics driving revenue growth at British Medical Journal

The British Medical Journal has begun a wide-ranging overhaul of its technology and operations, allowing the organisation to use analytics to improve customer service and generate revenue growth through data-driven insights.

While BMJ is best known for its publishing services, the 175-year old firm has expanded in recent years to offer 20 new digital products such as its Med School Selector online tool. Since joining in 2013, CTO Sharon Cooper has led a transformation of IT systems and development processes, enabling BMJ to start embedding analytics in its products to support delivery of new functionaliity.

“We have started some of these journeys and we can absolutely tie increases in revenue and sales to making changes in functionality," said Cooper, speaking to ComputerworldUK at the Forrester Forum in Lisbon. "We would have never been able to do that two years ago.”

For example, BMJ is now using analytics to drive decisions around commissioning of content, well as A/B product developmet.

“A lot of our content has to be updated very frequently because medical practices change, drug doses change, but we don’t have to change everything immediately, so analytics enables us to look at whether we need to do that," she said.

“Then, in the last six months, we have started to do a huge amount of A/B testing to look at whether we need to have certain product functionality, and, if no-one is using it,  why don't we just remove it? We are also reducing registration processes, re-architecting authentication processes. So really looking at some of the more complex parts of our business.”

Investing in analytics

The analytics plans have involved investing in a number of tools. Among others, this includes including Google Analytics and AppDynamics, which is used to monitor user behaviour as well as a back office monitoring tool, Cooper said.

”We are using that a lot for performance and to be able to look at not just what an application is doing, but how we are using that to see what people are doing in the application,” she said.

“We also use Tableaux for looking at a lot of our back office and customer data when it is not in the live products. But I think we will have a wholesale look at our BI in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Going forward, Cooper said the company plans to use a wider variety of analytics, including big data tools such as Hadoop. However before embarking on a big data project, the main challenge is deciding what data the company needs to analyse.

“What we need to work out is how big our big data is,” she said. “Right now we are not in such a mess, but what we have got is so fragmented and we are just trying to work out what it is we need to track, what is the important data, what do we need to measure, because we have a lot of very industry specific data models that come with being an academic publisher.”

“So I would say yes [we are looking at using Hadoop or similar tools], but we are just not there yet.”

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