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Journal Communications builds a new business model based on the cloud

Posted by: Michael O’Brien, CIO, Journal Communications

Editors note:Today’s guest blogger is Michael O’Brien, CIO for Journal Communications, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based media company with operations in publishing, radio and television broadcasting, interactive media and printing services. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

Journal Communications owns and operates 33 radio stations, 13 television stations in 12 states, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, and several community newspapers and publications in the Midwest. For the past several years, our IT infrastructure for those media stations and papers has been completely separate. We had 17 implementations and multiple versions of Microsoft® Exchange and SharePoint with multiple servers for each location, most of which were not backed up or redundant. The company managed for years without significant problems, until our second largest market, Las Vegas, had a catastrophic hardware crash - just weeks after we officially decided to move to Google Apps. Email, calendar and contacts were not recoverable for many. Some employees had been with the company for 15 years or longer and they lost everything. Now the future of using a redundant, web-based solution really hit home with the company leadership.

When I joined Journal Communications in May 2010, my first priority was to bring multiple IT divisions together and have them start working more collaboratively. We had 18 months left on our Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft, but we realized that if we really wanted to reach this collaborative goal, it would be very expensive and hard to do with the existing portfolio of Microsoft products. Prior to Journal Communications, I had been a CIO at a start up, and one of the decisions I made early on was not to have anything brick and mortar if we could avoid it. I came to Journal Communications and saw all this legacy hardware and software, and knew we needed to build a future business model based on cloud computing.

Despite the existing contract with Microsoft, we decided to move to Google Apps. As we all know, email and calendar have evolved from nice-to-have tools to mission-critical business applications, and everything Google has come out with so far, simply just works - the Google tool set sells itself. Google Apps make the business environment more productive and more cost effective. Instead of IT being seen as a cost center, we’ve really taken the boundaries out of a static IT organization and started to make decisions that provide current and future business value. Until we transition completely, we still have hundreds of servers surrounding MS Exchange and SharePoint, and they just need to go away. My goal is to end up with a media based company that is as much in the cloud as possible, this includes our Publishing ERP system. We are also evaluating the idea of going cloud with phones. Portions of the IT team now use Google Voice and calls through Gmail. Imagine a department and then large portions of an organization with no desktop phones - Journal Communications does.

We’re rolling out Google Apps to over 2,700 Journal Communications employees and will be done by Q1 2012. We realize that this is a significant business change, but even some people who were originally skeptical are getting on board. This is just the beginning of moving to a more digital, cloud based world where we can work together across offices, know that our data is stored in the cloud and accessible from anywhere with any device, and start to move our business systems out of our brick and mortar data centers. We’re entering a new age at Journal Communications. We’re not your grandmother’s newspaper, nor your grandfather’s TV or radio station.