By Peter High. Published on Forbes
Dan Olley was recently named to the prestigious CIO Hall of Fame by CIOMagazine. In many ways, however, Olley has not been a traditional chief information officer. For one, he has largely held chief technology officer roles. Moreover, he has also had customer-facing, product-centric roles. In his current role as Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Product Development of Elsevier, his purview is quite broad.
Elsevier is a subsidiary of RELX Group, focusing on academic and clinical research. In his role, Olley helps develop solutions to help academics and clinicians train, while enhancing their ability to help patients at the bedside.
Olley’s focus in recent years has been in machine learning. In fact, he has been immersed in the subject long enough that this insights into its use, the value derived from it, the implications on teams, and the like are unusually deep. We cover all of the above in great depth in this interview.
Peter High: Could you provide an overview of Elsevier and the business you are in?
Dan Olley: Our parent company, RELX Group, is among the largest technology companies no one has heard of. We are an information analytics company, and we predominantly work across four fields: the legal field, the academic and health research fields, the risk business and financial fields, and our large exhibitions business. I am the CTO of Elsevier, which specifically focuses on the academic research and clinical research spaces.
We help clinicians and clinical professionals save lives. We are trying to build solutions that help them do their jobs better, from coming into the profession and training to the patient’s bedside. We also help academic and corporate researchers by providing materials in their field.
We run the peer review process for many academic journals. It is about helping them make breakthroughs. How do we give them solutions that make their research more effective? That is at the core of who we are and what we do.
High: If you gather 10 CTOs together, you have 10 different job descriptions. The CTO can mean everything from the co-founder of a startup in Silicon Valley and the number two person behind the CEO, to the person who owns the plumbing and reports to the chief information officer. I know you also run product development and have customer facing responsibilities in addition to focusing on the technology as it relates to both the efficiency as well as revenue generation. Can you provide an overview of your sets of responsibilities as CTO?
Olley: My background is software product development. I have been doing that for longer than I care to remember. I have had both product management and software engineering responsibilities in my career, but both at technology companies where technology was making a fundamental shift that drove commercial differentiation. At Elsevier, I am responsible for the more traditional IT part that falls under my remit, but over 70% of my responsibility is about building the electronic products and services that we sell. Think of it more like Google and Amazon or a Facebook building that technology solution than a more traditional company.
High: In the world of technology, you have reason to think a lot about how trends are evolving. I know from our prior conversations that you have a passion for contemplating how trends are coming together in some significant ways. Could you talk about the period we are in from a technology perspective and how the confluence of those trends is impacting the way in which all of us are going to be operating between the digital and analog worlds?