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Dreamforce 2018 – Thomson Reuters’ challenging journey from product-first to customer-first

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett September 27, 2018
The financial information business tracks its transformation from pigeons to digital. It's a long journey.

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When your organization used to rely on pigeons as a way of sharing information, you know you’re in for a tricky digital transformation.

Thomson Reuters’ 167 years in operation had created a legacy of disparate systems and a focus on content rather than the customer, leaving the firm ripe for a major digital transformation project. The firm is also splitting into two businesses, separating the news service with its 3,000 journalists, picture editors and photo journalists around the world from its financial terminals business, adding to the complexity of the project.

The firm has moved from its early days as a newspaper publisher and transmitting stock market prices to become a global online news service and financial information provider. Robert Newnes-Smith, CTO for Digital and Employee Experience at Thomson Reuters, shares a particular anecdote highlighting the firm’s longevity – and hence the need to update its technology infrastructure to reflect the modern digital age:

There are very well-known stories within our company about pigeons, pigeons being used to deal with gaps in telegraph wires.

By the 1970s, the business had built its own digital network – “our own private internet essentially” - for the financial services industry that allowed them to trade foreign exchange stocks and shares, so the concept of digital is not a new one to the business. Newnes-Smith recalls:

We have a real track record of acquiring the best products out there in the market, the best content, the best technology. So we’ve then got a range of essentially digital products where the product is king and often the product is strong enough in itself to maintain a dominant position in the market. And we're talking about business-to-business products that are expensive products for people, for companies to buy so it’s a highly profitable business to be.

So the focus throughout my career until the last few years and for the company had not been around the customer experience, but around the product itself because there's a product that was selling itself essentially.

The problem with this situation was that Thomson Reuters was becoming a more difficult company to do business with, in the context of how easy it had become for consumers to make purchasing decisions and investigate different products thanks to the web and mobile. Newnes-Smith adds:

The whole world shifted on. So Thomson Reuters was finding itself in a position a few years ago, it was all quite a fragmented way in which our customers dealt with us, and it was not a quick job to put some nice easy customer journeys over all of that.

The nature of the business added to the complexity: global operations, a sales model that needed to cover everything from a single attorney practising on their own to the world's largest law firm, a mix of subscription and transaction-based products, professional services and a bunch of acquired companies;

As of two years ago, that was the challenge. You can sense there's a problem in an ecosystem like that, but we had the very clear empirical feedback from our customers to sit alongside that.

Customer satisfaction scores for the product were still the highest out there in the industry, but for purchasing, renewing or getting customer support, the firm was far from best in class.


Thomson Reuters partnered with TCS to overhaul its operations, and opted for a best-of-breed approach to its technology choices – Salesforce for sales and CRM, Adobe for marketing, SAP for financial processing and order management, which the firm had been using for a long time. Newnes-Smith explains:

You can go for an integrated platform approach or you can go for a best of breed approach like we've got. Your starting point and your context of the future will drive the decision-making. The other angle is actually put yourself in the customer's shoes. That classic CX view on life, design-led thinking, thinking about the customer journeys, how the customer wants to interact with you, how can you stitch together the technologies you have today in, the technologies that you’ll have in the future.

Even if you’re in a good state with those, the world is constantly moving on, so you're constantly changing those back-end platforms, but you may well actually have a heavy lifting of two or three years of a real deep transformation in that. So you can make some intelligent decisions as you design the CX journey you want, into where to invest in sooner or later. It’s a priority call of if you've got some areas of the business that are much closer to your strategic stack and you've got some customer pain points in terms of the journeys for that particular product segment, region, or industry type, then you can really go for it there and then start there.

Thomson Reuters has taken a blended approach, with a range of work going on to improve on the back-end systems its employees use alongside teams looking to create better customer experiences across the platforms. Key to this has been the consolidation of different sales processes and several instances of a CRM into a single Salesforce platform running on Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, says Newnes-Smith:

We have a huge number of data centers, for all of our products historically we've done a lot of the hosting but this is an area where we really don't need to do that. Let's shift the complexity over to the companies in the world that do that the best, do that at scale. So it’s very much a SaaS-first way of thinking. With Adobe, even there we started on premise, but once their cloud options have become more mature, we’ve shifted across to that.

The ultimate goal was to get that hallowed 360-degree view of the customer, and the CX team was tasked with creating an omni-channel experience to support this. Newnes-Smith says:

If a customer falls off that digital journey or look like they’re not going to renew, you have to be very thoughtful about how your people pick up that journey.As a salesperson, I can see from the marketing systems what messages were sent, I could see from the websites certain pages and steps that they did take down that renewal journey. The whole lot is being driven from Salesforce, from Sales Cloud, and then being able to understand the context so that I can get really efficiently straight to where the customer has dropped off and take them on from that point rather than having to recap it.

One of the biggest challenges to achieving this seamless customer experience was the fragmented view Thomson Reuters had of its customers as they interacted with it across different parts of their journey. This was down to the sheer number of acquisitions the firm had made, leading to a batch of disparate systems, along with a lack of discipline in having a strategic architectural plan, admits Newnes-Smith:

We needed to put decision-making in the right place for technology procurement decisions, and then have the right kind of dialogue with the right stakeholders around that. It’s not a question of people autonomously making decisions without consultation and not allowing other people to play a part in the process, but you’ve got to get the balance right. You've got to move from a more free-for-all situation through to a highly orchestrated situation.

So strategic plans and roadmaps around your architecture, which are driven from a significant amount of business interaction, discovery of what the business strategy is, where different business functions want to go, what we see as our commercial opportunities and using that to drive your architectural selection in different areas.


Of its initial 1,100 IT staff, 900 moved over to TCS at the start of the project while 200 remained in-house at Thomson Reuters, working with business stakeholders.

Newnes-Smith said that partnering with TCS in this way and shifting so many staff over had allowed the firm a lot more flexibility over its technology resources:

It's about being able to be make very clear investment decisions based on where the biggest ROI is in a particular year. Thompson Reuters wouldn't have been able to have done that before the relationship with TCS when we had an in-house team of roughly 1,100 people operating this technology stack.

We were quite fixed from a resource point of view. If we wanted to pivot from doing more SAP work or less, more Salesforce work or Apptus work, it would have been really difficult for my predecessor to do that. Now we're tapping into an organization with 300,000 people and a very established way of attracting and training their talent to build up the stocks in particular areas.

The project is already seeing success based on the area that was most important to Thomson Reuters – those customer satisfaction scores.

The firm now score 81 percent for ease of doing business with, up four percent since the previous year; likelihood to recommend scores 84%, up four percent; while overall satisfaction is 82%, up two percent. That leads Newnes-Smith to conclude:

We’ve been at this for two years, and there’s been a shift over the last 12 months. We’re moving in right direction.


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