Tag Archives: IMG

Perfect partners

During the last three weeks we have had a number of partner sessions with our customers where we can share the advantage of working with multiple customers, as well as customers in other industries. We have been presenting and discussing trends across the industry and what we think will be key in the next six to twelve months.

I enjoy these sessions mainly because I’ve always enjoyed professional collaborative relationships and also because the questions we are asked by one customer about what we’re doing with another make us think harder about both of them – i.e. it gives us a fresh perspective. These sessions are the key difference between being a supplier and a partner.

A supplier provides a commodity and that’s the end of the relationship. A partner provides advice beyond their core product and helps the customer in their journey.

This collaboration shows how outsourcing, and indeed offshoring, has matured. Offshoring began purely as a cost benefit – paying people in distant lands a cheaper salary. CFOs made the decision to outsource and/or offshore without consulting IT departments. 

This has moved on to providing R&D or innovation centres, and now it’s about collaboration and industry trends. CTOs are now willingly making the decision.

We have been working with a creative agency recently offshores their graphic design work. They seem to be ahead of the industry and only time will tell if this works with more subjective and culturally sensitive deliverables.

I remember our design team at IMG were once maxed out and we asked our New York office to help with a creative pitch for a football club. The designs came back with words such as ‘soccer’, ‘jersey’ and full of stats that, even as a Premiership club season ticket holder, I didn’t have a clue what they meant. Cultural changes apply to design more than technical development.

Heard of Tencent?


Thank you to Tom Broom, a former colleague from IMG who moved to the Hong Kong office and sent me the photo above from one of their clients, Tencent.

Tencent is an interesting company. On its homepage it says:

Founded in November, 1998, Tencent, Inc. has grown into China’s largest and most used Internet service portal. In its ten-year history, Tencent has been able to maintain steady and fast-paced growth by always putting its users first. On June 16th, 2004, Tencent Holdings Limited (SEHK 700) went public on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

If ever a company undersold itself, Tencent would be at the top of the tree.

In a nutshell, Tencent provide a portal, and ISP service, as well as a gaming platform, e-commerce site, online payment provider, Instant Messaging tool, mobile portal, e-books and SMS services as its products and services.

Most people in the UK have never heard of Tencent, so here are some financial highlights from their Q1 2012 report:

  • Revenue for Q1 2012 was $1.5bn, an increase of 21.8% on the previous quarter
  • Gross profit was $923m, up 12% on the quarter and up 40% year on year. Operating profit was $586m (38% margin)
  • Less than $86m of revenue comes from online advertising
  • Net cash position of $3.2 billion

Their user numbers are equally impressive:

  • 751.9 million people use their Instant Messaging service
  • They had 167.4 million concurrent users  during the quarter
  • Instant Messaging users are still growing at over 11% per year

I find it fascinating that whilst most US/ UK B2C digital offerings are focussed on advertising models, especially Facebook and Google, Tencent are earning money from subscription models and e-commerce. They have found the holy grail of finding ways of getting users to pay for services. Apple have managed it with the App Store – before Apple, users simply wouldn’t pay for services via a mobile.

Tencent’s e-commerce site is remarkable. It contributed just under $120 million of revenue (8%) to Tencent. It’s growing so fast that it’s now a separate business unit. The e-commerce model is similar to Amazon – they sell their own products, and provide a market place facility for other retailers to sell their wares.

And finally, let’s do a stock market comparison against the West’s equivalent wonder child, Facebook – take a look here unless of course you own Facebook shares.

10 years since joining


This time ten years ago I joined IMG as the Development Manager to build a new Content Management System.

The digital division within IMG was about four years old at that point, and had bought the digital rights to a number of sports organisations with the hope that the advertising and sponsorship on those sites would cover the costs of writing huge cheques to the sports organisations. ‘Hope’ is a strong word, because at the time the Internet bubble was at it’s height, and we all thought we’d be billionaires by Christmas.

When I joined, IMG was pulling out of a number of these deals, and looking for efficiencies with the tiny development teams.

The Internet was so different back then. Products were very expensive. Vendors and ‘experts’ were all learning as they were going along – so when we got stuck, we were well and truly on our own. For instance we tried different CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to handle the huge amount of traffic we were experiencing, and ended up creating our own using Cacheflow servers. Just looking up the link just now made me laugh – because these boxes used to be the size of a fridge, and now they’re the size of a PC. Once we’d got the Cacheflows stable, we simply migrated to Akamai.

I remember people, including the CTO, would sleep in the office when we expected incidents to happen. I remember arguments with database vendors about licensing – some wanted to charge for every visitor that accessed the website, because they saw that as a database user. I remember running analytics reports on websites that used to take several days to compile, and when we wanted to run the report again with a different metric, all the numbers in the report would change! That same report in SiteCatalyst now takes a second to run and end users run it themselves.

Most of the really difficult stuff back in 2001 is now a commodity. Half of those products now have a freeware solution.

In around 2005/6 I moved to the client side – project management and operations. The CMS was very stable, and it was time to look at a decent off-the-shelf solution because we were losing pitches because of our lack of multi-lingual support, versioning, WYSIWYG editing and advanced SEO support.

We chose Sitecore as the CMS platform, and for the first time we looked at offshoring to India to migrate our sites. Three months of total pain followed. For the first time since joining IMG, we missed deadlines (in sport, although it sounds obvious you can’t miss deadlines – most of the time you might as well not deliver anything than deliver a project late). We pulled the projects back to the UK and an army of contractors joined the development team. Some were good, some weren’t. We started to offshore to Eastern Europe instead. And it was a revelation:

  • Being able to fly there and back in a day (not recommended, although possible and sometime necessary);
  • The cultural similarities; 
  • The push-back nature from developers on some of the requirements.

Then in late 2008 we looked to outsource more work to Romania via Endava. What started off at a simple outsourcing deal changed at the last moment, and the staff TUPEd over to Endava in January 2009.

Since then we’ve worked on some new projects outside of sport, and the Web has become a stable, maturing, controllable entity. In 2001 we were looking only to stabilise our clients’ sites.

Our traffic (bandwidth, visitors and page impressions) have all increased exponentially in ten years, with some exponentially, several times. Social Networks have come and some of them have gone. Do they compete? No, they simply direct more and more traffic to our clients’ sites.

And now to the future. In 2011 we are looking at providing data insights, personalised experiences, full integration with back off systems, and providing a true ROI for our client’s digital properties.

Forstmann’s three lessons


Three and a half years after I joined IMG, Mark McCormack passed away and Ted Forstmann’s company took over the company. Whilst I disagree with several of Forstmann’s (literally) ill advised decisions with IMG, there are three positive lessons that stand out.

  1. The 3 “I”s. If you haven’t read his article on the 3 i’s, read it now. It’s actually Forstann retelling a story by Warren Buffet, but Forstmann puts it into context. That link from the Wall Street Journal requires membership, so if you don’t have membership, you can go to any of the myriad of copied articles available including this word for word copy.
  2. When engaging with a new third party company, whether they are a supplier, customer or speculative in either category, Forstmann recommended keeping an eye out for hiring individual talent within the company, or the company itself. He even had a one page form that we could fill in and escalate quickly within IMG to look into buying that company or hiring the person(s).
    I’ve continued this practice, and find that it raises your commercial senses/awareness when engaging with a new third party. It helps see the relationship longer term. 
  3. Take risks. Forstmann, by his very nature as an investor, takes and promotes risks. Investors get it right more than they get it wrong, and I’ll always remember Forstmann standing on a stage in London telling all the IMG staff that he wanted to take more risks than IMG had in the past, and it was OK to take those risks. He taught that it’s better to take a calculated risk and know that every few will become a success, than never take any risks and continue on a flat line.
    We have a customer who has large posters in their meeting rooms that have in large letters: “Take A Risk” and a similar one promoting “Make A Decision”. It’s vital for modern businesses to take calculated risks, and make decisions quickly.


The whole 9 years

On May 31 2001, I joined IMG Digital. Actually, I joined TWI Interactive, but either way, that makes it 9 years and a day since I started my current role. The role has also changed quite a bit since Head of Application Development. In fact, pretty much everything has changed!

TWI Interactive was reorganised a number of times before stabilising itself as IMG Digital, which was then outsourced to Endava in January 2009.

Gone are the proprietary content management systems, and in their place are the off the shelf ones.

It’s almost amusing to think that back in 2001 we were trying to rollout our own content delivery network (now we mainly use Akamai and some customers have corporate accounts with Limelight). It’s also amusing to think that the content delivery network we were building was to support 28k video streams!

Traffic has risen 100 times. I remember when our sites broke through the million unique visitors level (and let’s face it, web logs weren’t exactly the most accurate measurements).

I could go on, but frankly most of you would find it boring!

Whilst we’ve done so much in 9 years (working with some amazing people, helping Microsoft with the launch of Vista, mobile messaging and application development, huge traffic), the next year will undoubtedly be the most interesting. We have a number of huge launches over the coming 12 months, from some of the biggest brand names out there.

Here’s to another 9 years – although it’s scary to think about my kids ages at that time!