Shailesh Prakash is the chief information officer of The Washington Post. As a member of The Post’s executive team, he is responsible for all aspects of technology, including Web, mobile, video, print and advertising. Shailesh has an extensive track record in senior technology positions spanning multiple industries. In this exclusive interview, he gives us insights into performance, partnerships and innovation at the publication.
Q: What can we expect to see from The Washington Post in the next three to five years?
Five years is far-out, especially in digital time. And while it’s easy to predict what the future is going to look like, it’s hard to predict when it will arrive. One thing we do know is that The Washington Post will continue to delight our readers. We fundamentally understand that content is king, but equally important is the design, the speed, the features and the distribution of our products. You can expect The Washington Post to push the envelope as we blend our content and technology in ever more innovative product offerings across every platform and wherever and whenever our readers expect to be informed and entertained.
Q: Having a CEO who enforces experimentation and risk taking is not the norm. How do CIOs create a culture of innovation without the same CEO buy-in?
It is a CIO’s duty to humbly, but firmly, craft a company strategy that recognizes IT as a competitive advantage. Technology cannot be just another support function that is treated as a cost center, rather it is the heart of innovation which is necessary for companies to re-invent themselves and delight their customers.
There are very few options to survive and thrive in today’s fast changing and fiercely competitive landscape. Inventing the path forward appears to be the best choice and invention necessitates experimentation. So it’s not really a choice. It’s a necessity.
“Be willing to fail and keep learning. Experiment often. Think big and invent the future.”
Q: The partnership between Washington Post and Amazon has yielded huge opportunities and advantages for both companies. Are we likely to see similar partnerships in other industries?
Yes and we are working on many exciting opportunities together. But, as much as we enjoy a great relationship with Amazon, we also have deep partnerships with great companies like Apple and Facebook and Google and are constantly exchanging ideas and discussing joint product-development opportunities with a variety of technology and media companies.
Q: Allowing the tech teams to create new CMS products has been a stroke of genius for Washington Post’s longevity in the digital age. How can companies not operating in media apply the same premise?
C-level executives need to ask themselves why digital giants like Google and Amazon and Facebook and Apple prefer to build rather than buy/rent technology platforms. Is it because they have armies of engineers? If so, did they rent technologies when they were startups and did not have the huge armies of engineers? How about Uber? How about Netflix? I submit to you that the reason you build your own is agility and innovation. If a capability is business critical for your company, you absolutely need to be able to move lightning fast and constantly innovate on that capability. You cannot (absolutely cannot) do those two things if you are the mercy of bought or rented technology.
So in the short term, putting out a RFP and selecting a technology platform to run your business may make a lot of financial sense, but it’s going to get harder and harder to innovate and pivot and experiment as the landscape changes and consumer habits evolve.
Q: You place a high emphasis on talent being a direct contributor to WP’s success. What does a high performing and innovative team look like in 2016?
Our teams have three tenets to guide them at The Washington Post. We call them catalysts. Ideas. Speed. Ownership. We tell our teams that Ideas transforms us. Be creative and curious. Be willing to fail and keep learning. Experiment often. Think big and invent the future. Speed matters. Have a bias for action and a dedication to quality. Have the flexibility to turn on a dime. Be willing to disagree, commit and keep moving. Sense the urgency and act. Ownership drives success. Own your results. Have the mental toughness and teamwork to push through obstacles. Make a judgment call and be right a lot. Take responsibility and deliver. High performing and innovative teams exhibit these three attributes in spades.