Houghton Mifflin CIO revamps IT to modernize the textbook publisher

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Trish Torizzo, CIO at HMH

My latest article for editorial website CIO Dive is a profile of Trish Torizzo, CIO at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. (HMH) after about a year on the job. Her goal is to modernize the back office of the book publisher amidst a business turnaround. (HMH is trying to evolve from print classroom textbook publisher to providing software-based tools for education.)

So far, Torizzo’s team has accomplished the following:

  • revamped the IT department to focus on the needs of business teams
  • developed an online self-service application so customers can determine the status & whereabouts of their orders (without a phone call)
  • introduced the company to robotic process automation (RPA), resulting in two ​”digital workers​” (RPA bots) that can log into systems and perform repetitive tasks in the finance department.

Overall, the new IT operating model sets the stage for more business/IT collaboration and innovation, as well as a greater emphasis on the customer experience.

Related: The digital transformation trends in education

10 signals and trends

Gleaned from recent press reports and other sources:

These are boom times for U.S. makers of unmanned military aircraft (drones).

Sample Lab Ltd. opened a  “marketing cafe” in Tokyo that lets trend-setting women see and test new products.

With the recession crimping legal budgets, some big companies are insisting on flat-fee payments instead of law firms’ long-standing practice of the “billable hour.”

City “water cops” are handing out citations to people caught wasting water resources in drought-stricken areas.

Lumber mills that produce woods for hardwood floors and maple cabinets have been devastated by the U.S. recession’s double whammy: the housing bust and unavailable credit.

Some hospitals find that owning up to medical errors reduces litigation and helps them learn from their mistakes.

Despite a 25-year effort to improve U.S. education, the latest high-school SAT exam scores are disappointing. Asian-American students are thriving but the SAT gap for blacks and Hispanics widens.

More than half of Somalia’s population needs humanitarian aid, the U.N. says.

Software makers are scrambling to develop cell phone safety applications that prevent texting while driving.

Inexpensive mini-reactors may be an alternative to building giant nuclear powerplants, though there are technical, financial and regulatory hurdles.

Top five political issues in the U.S., 2008

Top five political issues in the U.S. ( May 2008 )

Issues cited as “very important”

  • Economy (88%)
  • Education (78%)
  • Health care (78%)
  • Jobs (78%)
  • Energy (77%)

Source: Pew Research Center telephone poll of 1,505 adults, conducted May 21-25; multiple responses allowed. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points. Reported in The Wall Street Journal 9 June 2008.

Note: A similar poll last year had Iraq as the top issue.

College students are taking more foreign language classes

U.S. college students seem to recognize the importance of knowing foreign languages, including Arabic and Chinese, in an era of globalization. The Modern Language Association’s survey of enrollments in languages other than English reports that enrollments expanded by 12.9% since 2002.

The study of the most popular languages — Spanish, French, and German — continues to grow and represents more than 70% of language enrollments. There is growing interest in languages such as Arabic (up 126.5%), Chinese (up 51.0%), and Korean (up 37.1%).

And, as an aside, enrollments in American Sign Language increased nearly 30% from 2002, the association reports.

Education > innovation > productivity > higher living standards

Reading the economic news can be confusing. Is the economy in good shape or bad? One way to cut through the clutter is to focus on productivity — the goods and services Americans produce for each hour of work. Productivity growth is the key to improving the standard of living (e.g., higher wages for workers). But Wall Street Journal columnist David Wessel sees troubling signs. He cites evidence that productivity grew at a disappointing 1.5% annual rate in the past three years.

These small differences add up over time: At 1.5%, average living standards double in 47 years, nearly two generations; at 2.5%, they double in 28 years, closer to one generation.

Is this just a lull, or is it the end of the technology-fueled productivity boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s? The pessimistic view is that productivity growth is unlikely to exceed 2% in the next few years. Wessel concludes:

But the outlook for productivity ultimately depends on whether the U.S. keeps innovating, whether it keeps applying those innovations in new ways and in industries (think health care and education) that have yet to fully exploit technology, whether less-productive organizations catch up or are shoved aside by more-productive ones, and whether American politicians and the public understand the importance of repairing the education system to better equip workers.

In that light, the future looks a bit brighter than the recent numbers imply.

Looking at this analysis in a different way, we could say that: Education begets innovation which begets productivity growth which begets a higher standard of living.