Implementing a new CMS within a newsroom is not an insignificant task.
“No journalists I have met have ever said; I really love the CMS I’m working in. But if you want them to love their current CMS, the solution is quite simple. You just buy them a new one”, he says with a smile.
But even though a new CMS is not a popular thing within a busy newsroom, the transformation within SPH Media Limited is still considered a success. So much so, that Jeremy Au Yong agreed to share his three key learning from the process, to make sure other news media can benefit from his learnings in the future.
The 3 key learnings from implementing CUE at SPH Media Limited
1: Always consider your new CMS to be an opportunity
The easiest way to make sure your newsroom won’t mind the change into a new CMS is to simply re-create what already is.
But for SPH Media Limited that was not an option. Their old CMS was so outdated that it was comparable to the text program Notepad. So, no matter what solution they would decide on, it would be something new with more features, other workflows, and much more agility for the journalist to create interesting storytelling. Which would include changes across six titles, three different languages, and 500+ journalists. And the solution should be able to support both digital and print.
“We had to change workflows and mindsets; we would change how we had done things in a certain way for many ages. So, this was a great opportunity to rule out workflows that might only suit the journalist and not the company”, Jeremy Au Yong emphasizes as he continues to explain, why CUE became a cultural challenge within their organization:
“www.thestraittimes.com looks nothing like our print version and nothing like the old CMS we worked in. And it is a problem because it has a tremendous impact on the mind of your journalists. The old CMS supported a print-centric view and that, therefore, became the starting point of the mindset of our journalists, every time they would start a new story. But if you want to go digital-first, you want to make sure that your journalists think like that and create stories like that.”
Jeremy Au Yong believes that the storytelling capabilities for journalists improved dramatically due to the opportunities within their new, headless CMS. For example, journalists are now expected how to use rich media like videos and photos within their stories, not just as a stand-alone element, but as an integrated part of the visual storytelling. And as soon as the tech team has rolled out CUE to all six titles within SPH Media Limited, Jeremy looks forward to providing more digital storytelling opportunities to their journalists.
2: Don’t plan on a finished product
The second key learning is to see the implementation of a new CMS as an ongoing process. Because while you might reach a point, where the implementation across the organization can be qualified as completed, a CMS should continue to evolve. At least if you want it to be able to keep up with the changes of time.
Therefore, SPH Media Limited decided on CUE, as it can easily adapt and integrate whenever new possibilities and tech emerge.
“A CMS needs to change all the time. It’s a lesson I have learned the hard way. Every time we showed it to someone, they wanted to change something. Because everyone has different needs,” Jeremy Au Yong says and continues to explain that if they have waited with the launch until all needs were met within the organization, the launch would never have happened.
Instead, he recommends keeping a list of all issues brought up and then addressing them after the launch. Because some of them will naturally fall off the list as the users realize they can adapt to alternative workflows where old features are no longer needed.
3: Communicate, communicate – and then communicate some more
The third key-learning is to communicate as much as possible, to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.
“There is no such thing as overcommunicating in a project like this. We started training sessions in CUE months before we launched. We even ran two sessions a day, the week before launch, so everyone felt as comfortable as possible in the new system. And after we launched, we sat in the middle of the newsroom for weeks, available to answer any questions,” Jeremy Au Yong explains.
And while some of the questions may have seemed stupid, his team made sure that no journalist or editor felt stupid for asking them. They took their time explaining the new system and if the individual needed explaining more than once, that was considered okay too.
Jeremy Au Yong’s team had already anticipated that the biggest obstacle would be the everyday users. And there is no way to avoid user errors. But if you make sure to be constantly communicating, the number of user errors will be minimized from the beginning.
At the time of the interview, Jeremy is still implementing CUE within the organization’s last four titles. But as a part of the process, he has experienced that while moving old users into a new system could take quite a long time, new users without cultural work bias are onboarded within a couple of hours. Something that hasn’t been as easily achieved before and is now considered a part of the success.
So, what did the project team look like to make this happen?
One of the questions that Jeremy Au Yong gets the most from outsiders today is what kind of team he put together to achieve this transformation.
To him, it was vital to get key users from the old system as a part of his committee, as their expertise in user needs was quite high. But looking in the rear mirror today, he would have made sure to add in some brand-new users as well. Having someone on the team that did not use the old system could possibly have eased the team from the troubles of thinking in old work patterns, as a newcomer would have been able to challenge their way of doing things.
But Jeremy Au Yong also acknowledges that this is a balance: Because a new CMS might be a great opportunity to change workflows and cultural patterns within the company. But it is also important to embrace the everyday users that might not be as adaptable as others and changing their way of work all the way through would have created too much friction within the organization.
Are you interested in reading about why SPH Media Limited decided on Stibo DX and CUE, to begin with? Then go ahead and read about it right here.