Episode 47 of The Andy Show
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:00:27] Good afternoon and welcome to The Andy Show. We are here on the 24th of June, 2020 is 1 o’clock in the afternoon and it’s absolutely blistering outside. It’s so hot and it can’t even open the window because it is build a roadside, hanging on. That’s fine. I will sweat out while you guys enjoy the show. So I have a very, very, very special guest today. And we say to talk to him about this, all the way from WordPress VIP. I have Jeff Mills, the U.K. Country Manager. Welcome.
JEFF MILLS [00:01:07] Good afternoon.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:01:09] Okay. So let’s start at the beginning. What do you tell us about. Well, I know the answer this. But what do you tell us about WordPress VIP? And tell us about yourself.
JEFF MILLS [00:01:20] Sure, yeah. So I, Jeff Mills, as you said I’m the U.K., Country Manager for WordPress VIP. I’ve been working with enterprise customers for 25 years. So man and boy, and helping them with solutions to communicate better with their customers, more efficiently with their customers. That’s kind of been my career. So moving that into WordPress VIP. If we look at where WordPress VIP, it’s the enterprise content platform for WordPress and it’s got great customers like Facebook and the Sun Newspaper and Time Magazine and U.P.S., you know, big industry using WordPress. And so that’s part of the group called Automatic, which is led by a guy called Matt Mullenweg, who co-created WordPress back in 2003. And WordPress now runs most of the websites around the world. I think so, like 2/3s. And really interestingly in that why enterprise is so important. It’s about 50% of the top 1000 websites include WordPress.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:02:17] It’s phenomenal. It’s phenomenal how it’s scaled. Well, we could talk about WordPress and, you know, the systems and the content platforms around WordPress all day. However, let’s keep on topic. Right. So we’re obviously in this lockdown because of the pandemic. And there has been so much talk about digital transformation, about the need to turn digital. You’ve got magazines, for example. They’re now moving from digital. You’ve got events that are moving to digital. It’s all changing at the moment and it speeds such a massive rapid change. And that change was coming before. But I feel that the a lot of a project just went well, boom, boom, boom and now a necessity, they’ve come about. Content platforms, something that keeps being mentioned for the benefit of our viewers. What exactly do we mean by content platforms?
JEFF MILLS [00:03:13] Content platforms in this context is really the the enterprise platform, which is the solution to collaboratively author websites. You got intelligently managing assets or and that’s really the content management platform. But the story is bigger than that. It’s not just the platform itself. It’s about how it’s hosted, where it’s hosted and the support environment that goes around that. So that’s the platform as a whole. And it’s obviously crucially important as you said, around this time, we can see surges in platform usage spiking all over the place since we’re all set. But, yeah, as we talked today, that’s the content platform.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:03:50] I mean, with a lot of people think of WordPress, they think, you know, I’ll get a little WordPress instance on a you know, a small rules there. And I’ll put up there, I register the Mandarin name and the way I go. Now that, as soon as you start throwing real target it’s like traffic towards it. Tie in e-commerce, tie in, you know, if it’s a new site, you mentioned new site news information. It becomes something that needs to be scalable. I mean, what has this period that we’ve been in, it’s told us about content platforms and scalability?
JEFF MILLS [00:04:31] I mean, it’s crazy. You’re right. It’s unprecedented. No one could have foreseen what’s happened. And I was reading just today that during lockdown. adults are spending 25% of their day online now. And that’s not just you and me. I mean, I’m on the computer all time. This is what I do for a living. But as a whole, this is what we do. So spikes have gone through the roof. I mean, I was listening that as an online gaming platform that went from 2.3 million to 4.2 million within a month users. Zoom, I mean, Zoom is the one that seems to be out there for everyone to talk about. Went from 700,000 users to 13 million in April, from January to April. That’s a huge spike. And how do people cope with that? I mean, the online communication thing, 70% of our population now uses a video call of some sort, every week. Which in January wouldn’t thought of that being the case. My mom on a video call, it would be crazy. So the thing that all leads to is with that surge in interest and people being online all the time. Things like outages. So I think there’s been a 60% upsurge in outages, just general Internet outages and things going wrong. And organisations that inflexible content platforms and hosting arrangements have seen massive either slowdowns in their website, or just breakoff. It just stops. And then they’re scrambling to try and make that fit. And so, you know, the takeaway is you can have the most beautiful saleable products in the world. If the shop front is only a foot wide and you’re part of town. You’ve got no chance of promoting what you’re doing and so I think we’ve realised during this time that uptime and performance are just intrinsically linked to the user experience which is what everyone is after.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:06:11] Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Okay, so let’s dig down into the nitty gritty of enterprises. You’ve mentioned some phenomenal names when you were rolling off, showing off really of the some of the names that you’ve had and some of them were tremendously large. So maybe you’re better placed than anyone to tell us about. If I were an enterprise by myself, but if I had, if I ran an enterprise and I came to you and I wanted some information about content platform, what is the common pitfalls that people fall into when selecting particularly enterprise great content platforms?
JEFF MILLS [00:06:54] Yeah. So that’s a good point, because what we have most enterprise is take an approach looking at the platform, it’s tried and tested, it’s secure, it’s fast, it’s scalable, it’s easy to use. And there were great points that you need to make sure are covered. There are probably some things in the background that kind of just left behind a little bit. And, you know, these are really important to the overall working of the system going forward. So, for instance, one of the things you want to do is make sure that the talent pool surrounding the content platform you have is great. It’s nothing worse than getting a content platform in and then struggling to find people to maintain it, to look after it, to build on it going forward. And normally, a small talent pool will mean higher running costs. So you really wanna try to avoid that. The other thing is, you know, is this platform a flash in the pan? I mean, this is the technology industry, after all. So is it something that’s grown up just because they may have a couple of, the content platform they have a couple of enterprise customers doesn’t mean they’re truly an enterprise platform and you may be in a pitfall, you know, you can’t move away from this, this is very proprietary, you can’t move away from in the future. And then there are things like backward compatibility. There are content platforms that have been around for some time, like WordPress. And you’re to make sure that backward compatible, the amount of people who come after having used a different system sometimes say, oh, I’m struggling to move from version 7 to version 8, and it’s costing me a year of time and X amount of money. So you need to make sure that a backward compatibility is as good as possible. This is more the softer stuff as well, which is highly important is things like the support infrastructure. You know, have they’ve got 24/7 support? Can you go to them and talk to someone who has deep technical knowledge straight at their fingertips? Or do you have to suddenly go through the versions of people to try and get the right answer? Because you know, time is money. And every time something is going wrong, the longer it takes to fix, the worse it is. You also wanna make sure it’s extendible. You know, it’s flexible. It’s extendable because what you need today is really what you’re gonna need in a few years time. So are you going to have to kind of, you know, throw this thing out and try something else in a few years time? And then the final thing that we normally get to is who owns the stack that this is being held on? You’ve got a great content platform. You’re looking at a vendor that will do this for you. And they’ve got some great people are kind of looking at this in the background. But are they then going to actually take this whole system and host it with someone else? You want to see if they’ve got their own infrastructure and just how good that infrastructure is.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:09:16] Yeah. No, absolutely. It makes it makes a lot sense. Well, the other thing that if I were in enterprise I would be asking you about is… people just give you a better context to ask this question. It’s not quite specific to what you’re talking about. But when you mentioned some of the systems that certainly popped up because of this pandemic. One of the things that we’ve noticed has been a rise in what they call shadow I.T., which is people just getting the credit card boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You know, we’ll have this for video calling and this for this. And this for this. And this for this. And of course, not only it’s a nightmare for data handling and all sorts of other things. But cybersecurity obviously becomes a big thing. But content platforms are the same. Okay, they’re more structured because, you know, no one’s gonna put on. No one’s gonna get a credit card out. Go right. Right quick. We’re going to build this 50 server farm. But people are, I think people are very much more aware of the dangers of cybersecurity and what can go wrong. So with that in mind, what should a company be aware of? When looking at content platforms… in regards to security, cybersecurity, and just keeping it locked down.
JEFF MILLS [00:10:33] Yeah, you’re right. I suppose it’s the volume and variety of the threats. You know, they’re growing all the time. Cyber criminals are getting more and more sparke smarter at finding any vulnerability they can. So we know they’re increasingly common and from all sorts of things, it could be malware or phishing or ransomware. But actually, the content platform is still one of those. So, you know, if the enterprise in question is confident, its own security measures are all arounf that are good. They need to look at other things that are potentially vulnerable. And the right content platform is right behind that. Because you know, the risk of breach with all the information that holds, the regulatory compliance around that as well. It really comes into the forefront. So we do have things like GDPR in Europe and we’ve got things out in California, the CCPA. We need to make sure that we’re the platform you’ve got is at least abiding to those restrictions because that’s just as important in the background. But then you got to make sure that the content platform is locked down. There are so many entry points into that. You need to find any weak links that are there. So a good place to start is checking with your platform provider that they are certified for things like SOC 1, SOC 2. They have the EU, U.S. Privacy Shield framework and the Swiss U.S. Privacy Shield framework all in place. And you know, going further than that. Things like Fed ramp in the U.S., it’s a huge government security system, you want to make sure that they’re in process to make sure their occupation is sorted for that too. There are kind of things on the side of that, like data encryption, and you want to make sure the data encryption in transit is from its origin, its network and host base. There are firewalls built in already. It’s all logged in or audited all the time. Make sure things are low, balancing the database, the operating system is more important. I mean, realistically, the criminals are highly professional. It’s not like someone just hacking away in their bedroom and they’re targeted all the time now that they’re pinpointing people to go after. So the important thing is to get all those things in place with your content platform. And can you just stop compromising yourself. And it just makes it difficult for people. A bit like locks on your house. You know, you can try and get the best locks on your house and the alarm system, right? Just to make sure they’re not coming in the door. But people will keep on trying.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:12:53] Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, regarding security, you spoke about security, but the technical aspects of security. But one of the big holes in enterprise and I know a lot of them are being addressed, is the human beings. Human beings and their ability within an organisation to kind of fall into the traps. So any advice you could give to HR and the CTO for good management of a WordPress cluster?
JEFF MILLS [00:13:29] Yeah, I suppose the big thing, if we could take the analogy of the High Street shop again, you find the most beautiful storefront in the world with the best product in the world. But if people are struggling to get in and out of it and it’s in the part of town where there’s no footfall, you’re gonna lose the competition with these things and with the website. It’s going to be great looking. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the user experience of the site is good if it’s slow or buggy. The amount of times up into a website, because I really want something and I immediately turn off again because I’ve waited. If we’re kind of, it’s weird the way we’ve turned into these beings, that can’t wait 2 seconds for things, but that’s where we are. If I click on something and I’m not going to respond quick enough, very quickly, I’ll lose interest. Even if I really want something, I’ll just see if there’s someone else I can get it much easier. So I think that user experience that was really heightened through lockdown, I think all enterprises now realise just how important that web front is, not just to look pretty when they when the CEO looks and says, oh, yeah, I like the new design. It’s about how usable is it? How can I do things quickly? Efficiently. How do I find information on that I need when I need it? Because I feel as I’m way too busy to wait for a few seconds to do that. And so that’s where the platform comes in again. It’s got to be one of those things that, you know, you can’t just think you’re buying the right platform. You got to make sure that the host in the support and consultancy around it are all embedded in that to make sure that they you and I, as the user at the back end, doesn’t feel left out upset, annoyed and wants to be somewhere else.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:15:03] Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen the backend of several systems in the past and yeah the someone’s got oh, let’s have this widget here. Let’s do this and let’s do this. Make it look pretty. And they give so much emphasis on UX and then there’s the pitfalls that come from that. There’s the slowness. So it doesn’t work on certain browsers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But the other thing is, of course, the prior administrators who are on the back end of their logging into this thing full of error messages because they’ve just installed everything under the sun to make it look pretty. There’s a balance isn’t there? Tell me there’s a balance.
JEFF MILLS [00:15:44] There absolutely is. There absolutely is. I mean, the way this works, I mean, I suppose if you look at the front end to the back end, if the back end is easy to maintain. Easy to use. You have a good sized talent pool to make sure that they can work on this any time. The front end kind of flows in from that. So you left great UX design people that work on the front end to make sure it all looks pretty and that’s great. The back end system, making sure that the backend system is easy to use and assembly for making sure the right talent pool is in place of guys who come to me and say we’re using X, Y, Z system and we’re really struggling to find new personnel to run that as an administrator. Because it’s either been around for a long time and it’s kind of on the wane or there’s just, there’s not such an install base where I can suddenly pluck people and start them using the system. They’ve got to go through some sort of heavier training because I’m not used to using it. And again, for the CTO, that becomes a complete nightmare.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:16:39] I mean, I imagine that during this lock down when people get. People been thrown out into the wild almost because, you know, we have to rely on. I keep saying people have to go sometimes have to find laptops that they’ve got hidden under their bed or something like that from 5 years ago as they’re running Windows XP and other people have got… I spoke to a gentleman the other day who still had dial up modem. I didn’t even know they still existed, but. And there’s been obviously Internet issues and there all sorts of problems that been going on during this lockdown. And I suppose if, say, Bob, Bob usually does that on the system and Bob is suddenly not around and Fred has got to do it instead. If Fred logged in and it’s just higgledy piggledy mess. Any way to connect this, this and this and this, this, then your press pause, then you put out a schedule and you press pause again, I suppose a clean environment on the back end. It just, it’s so important during this time.
JEFF MILLS [00:17:36] It really is. I had a company come to me just a couple of weeks ago and they have a sister company that’s running a website that’s taking them hours to upload articles. And this is a fairly dynamic instance. And just to upload articles onto the web and all I am is a content editor, but I have to go through such a process and such a arduous process to get it up there. It’s become a non-sensical way of working because nothing really ever gets done. And so moving to our system, that’s one of the things that we’re really clear to prove in advance. This is how easy it is to use WordPress. I mean, it’s been built from the ground up for people that don’t need to be massively technical to use, but it can be built him with great security and great workflows, but still make those efficient. So articles should take minutes. I mean, we you know, we living an instant age. I found I found something on Twitter or Facebook that I really want to share. And I can remold that and I want to throw it into the article on some page x. I know that I’ve got to get authorisation from a couple of people, but realistically, I’m going to write it, and then send it out to them and then it’s up to them to authorise. And it should be as simple as that, and is with our system, but with some it’s not because they’ve not really been built that way and they’re trying to catch up to play that way.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:18:53] Okay. Let’s look beyond where we are at the moment. So we’ve spoken about how systems have been ramped up, scaled up and things that. I’m not going to look into the future. So you going to make you a Mystic Mills. There you go. You’re 12 months down the line, Jeff. And what do you think the challenges that are going to face the whole content platform sector over the next 12 months?
JEFF MILLS [00:19:24] Yeah, I think a lot of the challenge that has been forced upon us now is still from the lockdown and the way that usage has changed. So I think, you know, the platform sector is pretty well on its game, which is great. But the spike in customer demand and the expectation of customer demand or the end user is quite different now and it’s going to carry on. I think we saw before now that the change in the high street, for instance, the where it was going, is exacerbated. We’ve kind of jumped ahead a couple of years, within a couple of months. My children are now online all the time doing their college work from their desktop. And they speak to a human. Once a week maybe. And all of that has kind of made sure that the content platforms are really keeping up with their game very rapidly. So I think there’s a couple of things that the platform sector has done to make sure it stays ahead of the curve. And not be the bottleneck for enterprises, because that’s that’s the big thing. You know, you’re you’re only as good as the. LinkedIn, but one of the big things is security mentioned, the security stuff I mentioned before. It’s got to be maintained and run at the highest level. So things like, which seem trivial, but updates to the core system of security patches. They’ve got to be managed in a timely and unobtrusive manner. You can’t have a security patch, which means you’ve got to be out of action for a couple of hours overnight because that’s your downtime. You want this thing to just kind of flow through. I can do this. It’s almost as if the enterprise doesn’t know it’s happened, that it’s all patched, it’s all updated. And security isn’t an issue before it ever became one. So I think that’s really important. I think the other thing that’s gonna happen with platforms is making sure that all sorts of code that comes into the platform is actually scrutinised in some way. And secondary scrutiny, so you may have your team developers that are making code changes. You want your platform to actually all of that as well. So we’re quite an opinionated platform. We make sure we scan everything before it comes in. We don’t want anything hits in the metal that’s going to either cause a slowdown or any security issues. And it’s just good looking code. So it’s a nice safety net to make sure that’s there. And also, the other thing is that we’ve learned is making sure everything automatically scales. I dont want to be on the end of just, you know, paying for the fact that suddenly I’ve had a surge in business or a surge in hits and I’ve either got to get my wallet out and suddenly because that hits have gone mad or there’s the system just isn’t working and it can’t cope with that. So I think every platform needs to make sure that the auto scalability is in there for their customers because who knows what the next thing is its gonna cause another spike? It maybe that’s the schooling changes in 2021. I think it’s going to change dramatically at the end of this year anyway when people supposedly go back in September. And I think there’s gonna be a lot more cases of distance learning happening. I see it a lot already in America, Chrome books are being thrown out to try and centre to make sure that distance learning is capable of coping at that level. The next level is, well, what about the platform or sort of setting, you know, with these things actually resigned and how good is the stuff there? And then I think the last thing is, is that the the understanding that the personnel that work around these platforms are plentiful and in abundance because they’re so important to businesses now. Whereas before it was the other part of promoting our business is now becoming the part of promoting your business. It’s not the store front. It’s not the case that I just see you because you’re a car that I see drive by anymore. If I want to find out any information now, I’m going to hit the website first. I’m looking to go to the car dealership. I’m going to hit the website first, and I’l do a bunch of research on my own. And then at some point I may if I have to, goes the dealership and ask some other questions or look at it or get my hands on because we’re physical being still on drive. I’m using the car analogy cause I’m a bit of a car nut
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:23:16] I was gonna say there’s a lot of car analogies there but I love. I love it.
JEFF MILLS [00:23:19] I just realised halfway through that. Yeah. Okay.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:23:23] That’s okay. Well well, you know what? That kind of leads me onto my final question in the interview. It’s around homeworking. So, you know. Yeah, people have been I would say, there was s semblance of companies that were prepared to work from home, there was a lot that weren’t prepared to work from home. It just wasn’t on the radar that everybody would suddenly have to work more. Okay, we all have, all companies have got DR plans but that’s like, yeah, grab a laptop and we’ll be back in 6 hours. But this was obviously for months. But what’s been interesting is, though I’ve spoken to a lot of companies now and they keep saying the same thing. There’s like, you know what? When this is over, we’re going to start working from home more or we’re actually just going to work from home. We don’t want to run and run the office, things like that because actually we’ve been running just fine. Now, I’ll be interested to see how pans out, it’ll be interesting to see what actual trends come about that. But back to topic. I do know the weapons we have here, you guys have always kind of had this work from home, work forced remore structure. Why did you do that? What was the thinking behind that?
JEFF MILLS [00:24:39] Yeah, that’s interesting. I suppose I’ve worked from home since about 2013, so before I joined WordPress VIP, so I’m kind of used to the set up anyway, which was, which was good for me. But this is the first company I’ve worked where it’s wholly distributed. There isn’t an office, there’s 12,000 employees across the automatic group of companies. And they are all remote. We cover a hundred couple 100 plus countries across the world. It doesn’t matter where you are, you’re all working at liberty fashion. So I suppose that the key is that I’m going to borrow from Matt Mullenweg, who is the CEO and the Founder, because he had this vision started about doing this. The focus on distributed didn’t happen automatically, accidentally. It was something he consciously thought of right at the beginning. And when we use the word distributed because remote sounds as though you’re not as important because you’re out in the, I work for a company that we’re certainly working in the U.K., as in the outer countries, which was I found quite funny. But, you know, a lot of people didn’t kind of like that. And I can understand why, you know it. We’re not not remote, we’re just working in a different place, as we all are. Which is good. So if we kind of come back to why, if you think there’s a lot of companies in places like Silicon Valley or if I want to talk local, maybe the M4 corridor, that kind of has the I.T. talent pool, and that’s okay. But you’re looking at kind of a lot of fish in a small pond. And everyone’s grabbing for those fish at the same point. And you’re not really getting a very diverse nature at all. You’re just hitting the same people over and over again. And it doesn’t seem to make sense. You can fish from the whole ocean. You know, says a lot of stuff out there. But instead of hiring someone that grew up in Slough or in California, you can just pick someone. And in fact, it doesn’t even matter where they live. They they can live in an RV, they can just… As long as I’ve got an Internet connection, then they do their work. It doesn’t matter, are they the best person for the job? You know, the office hours aren’t particularly important. You know, we have a great flexible structure here. If I need to start work tomorrow at mid-day because I’ve got the builder arriving and I need to take the kids to school. That’s all fine. As long as I’m not missing specific meetings. And even then, we can probably work around it. You know, it doesn’t really matter. And the great thing behind all that is I can decide the temperature of my room. Well, actually, I can’t today. It’s about a million degrees in here and I have no air conditioning a bit like you. But generally I can. And if I’m too hot, I just pop out and get a drink or take a dog for a quick walk or sit in the garden for 10 minutes. It’s just a way more relaxed way of working. And I can focus back when I need to because everything I need is right here. So I suppose the great end up to that is you get the happier, flexible kind of working environment, you know, after finishing with this interview, I can either carrying on my day’s work or I can take the dog for a walk or I can have a coffee with my wife. And it won’t affect the rest of my day. So, yeah, that was the whole ethic behind why do distribute to company? And it seems to be paying dividends here.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:27:45] It’s an amazing story. It’s an amazing journey that you guys have had. And yeah, I’ll be looking out for your predictions over the next 12 months and see what comes of it but. Yes, Mistic Mills. Well, but you’ve been a fantastic guest, Jeff. Thank you so much for joining us. And hopefully we’ll speak again soon.
JEFF MILLS [00:28:09] Great. Thanks a lot, Andy.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:28:10] That was Jeff Mills, the U.K. Country Manager for WordPress VIP, speaking about content platforms, secure a… And homeworking, which is a really, really interesting area, particularly at the moment. You have been watching The Andy Show, it’s the 24th June 2020. That time is now coming up to 1:29 and until tomorrow. I’ll see you soon.