Sabah Carter

Director Technoloy Business Operations,
News UK
24 November 2016

Can you give us a bit of background on yourself and News UK?

Whilst a lot of people aren’t familiar with the name itself, News UK publish some great brands such as The Sun and the Times, and more recently Wireless group, who own Talk sports.

I work in the technology and product area. My role consists of looking after strategic partnerships as well as the vendor management team. I also recently set up the India office, and so I oversee and manage that capability.

What is the best part of your job?

No day is the same so it has to be the variety. The role requires me to consider where we want to be as a technology department strategically and how we are going to get there. I get to work with the most entrepreneurial and creative people in the industry, both internally and externally. The India capability is a great example of this; at the beginning of the year I was focused on creating the capability from scratch, starting with an empty shell building and five people. We now have an amazing office that was designed by the team and are around 100 strong in numbers with the aim to increase this by the beginning of next year.

Is the digital revolution an opportunity or a challenge for News UK?

Definitely an opportunity. We have some of the strongest brands with very loyal audiences. The digital revolution gives us an opportunity to extend those great brands to digital platforms and provide an enhanced experience to current and new audiences through the use of social media. Through using our own websites and digital platforms, along with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, we’re now able to make sure we have a journey for our audiences no matter where they are or what platform they use.

What are you working on right now and what are you looking to accomplish in 2017?

Well having recently set up the India capability, my focus is now on two key areas; people and strategic partners. For the ‘people’ area, we set ourselves some ambitious targets within News UK technology, to increase our gender and diversity numbers within our teams globally. I’m working within our teams internally to ensure our results match our ambitions, through a variety of approaches, which look at the journey people take with us, so that we can employ more holistically. The effort involves everyone to get it right, including recruitment through to retention and growth, so I’m working with talented people inside the organisation, and outside.

On the strategic partner side, our supplier relationship world is changing. In order to help us be successful, I’m spending and investing a lot of time ensuring out partners understand our long term goals so we can better align our sector and ensure we achieve more together. This is a cross of traditional relationships in the enterprise space, but it is definitely more relevant in our digital and social media partnerships, where we might not own the platforms, as the journey has to be seamless for our users.

Which brands do you have in India? Are they the same as those in the UK?

We’ve actually just moved The Sun to India and we’re talking about moving our other brands, but our infrastructure and architecture operations make up a large part of the team makeup, rather than those working on the frontend of the website that people experience.

Where are you seeing the biggest gaps in vendor management capabilities today and why?

Firstly, there are the traditional challenges that still exist, such as the manual processes to undertake basic vendor management activities such as supplier selection and RFPs. Tools do exist to help with these, and these combined with good processes can be used to overcome issues. However, I think the use of traditional RFPs is becoming less applicable in the digital world making traditional criteria less valid. We look at demonstrable track records around performance and innovation, coupled with passion.

I think we’re in a new era in which digital teams want to be Agile and vendor management teams are having to re-think think their selection process and on board management, as we are in a world where agreements are loose, targets are flexible and timelines often aren’t set. This means factors like agreeing measures for success are a real challenge, particularly for teams that are more traditional in their approach. This is something I am speaking to my vendor management team about constantly, on how they can apply their experience to the ever changing digital world and the teams they are working with.

You are a lead on diversity at the workplace at News UK. In your opinion, what are the most effective approaches to take to improve diversity within the technology function?

I think there is probably a two-pronged approach, as its best to adopt formal and informal changes. Setting some formal targets and work practices that show your outward commitment to the goal help focus the mind of the leadership team on what is expected and setting the measurable targets keeps the momentum going. This stops people just having a sudden burst of energy at the beginning which then subsequently waivers. Targets ensure people stick to the goals until we achieve something. This can be further extended by partnering with organisations who proactively help people return to work after long career breaks, which normally affects women more than men.

In terms of informal changes these can be measures like introducing flexible working arrangements where possible or considering the choice of language used in recruitment and corporate communication which can have a major impact in the way candidates feel about applying or staying in an organisation. Recently we made the move to change a meeting we had everyday at 9.00am to 9.30am. Although it was a simple move, it meant an employee could do the school run in time, meaning they weren’t under pressure, and could still contribute. Very small things like this can make your day to day atmosphere more relaxed and more welcoming to people if they have other commitments. It’s not so much about work / life balance, but more about work / life integration.

Are you considering entering any of your projects into the Real IT Awards this year?

Most definitely, just being part of the awards is such a great opportunity to share our successes and to learn from the peers in the industry. I’m also looking forward to seeing what other people contribute , I think the exciting thing about the forum is that it’s not a vendor based organisation, enhancing the openness and learning that happens across the board.

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