Rocky launch prompts Thomson Reuters transformation

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The mass media and information services giant Thomson Reuters offers a flagship desktop financial news and analysis platform aimed in part at helping guide its financial services clients through a transformative period of disruption, regulation and risk management. Launched in the wake of the Great Recession, that platform endured a rocky start that instigated a fundamental transformation within the organization.
The Eikon platform was announced in 2010, three years after Reuters Group and the Thomson Corporation announced agreement of a $17.2 billion combination that would “create one of the world’s largest financial news providers.” By the end of the following year, reviews were unkind, sales underperformed expectations, and heads had rolled.

Recruited from Google

In the interim, Philip Brittan was brought in to turn Eikon around. When recruited, he was in the midst of a one-year stint as director of product management for Google Finance and Google Local Search, following six years at Bloomberg and earlier stints as an entrepreneurial CEO at three different companies.

“I joined just after ‘Eikon 1’ was launched,” says Brittan, Chief Technology Officer and Global Head of Platform for Thomson Reuters' Financial & Risk division. “At launch, the first version had lots of issues; that’s really why I was recruited to come in and get it back on the rails. That in itself was a big transformation within the firm.”

Now, Eikon is viewed by some as easier to use and less costly than its number one competitor, the "Bloomberg Terminal." The two companies control the vast bulk of this specialized and lucrative market, but neither can rest on its laurels, with upstart — some well-heeled — competitors offering less-expensive alternative.

Open platform

Most recently, Thomson Reuters provided an App Studio that “allows third-party developers to create apps that display as native applications on the Eikon screen, distributing them directly and securely to Eikon users.” That followed on the heels of the launch of open source APIs that enable developers and customers to gain simplified access to Thomson Reuters data feeds and services.

The Eikon turnaround effort required a fundamental retooling of organizational silos. Brittan says the company formerly would approach the market with various point solutions aimed at specific needs and functions, such as portfolio managers, sell side analysts, fixed income sales, and so forth.

“Now,” he says, “the journey we’ve been on over the last several years and we’re still in midst of — we’ve got a couple more years before we really complete this — is to pour all those capabilities into a singular and open platform. And so what that does is it puts the full power of Thomson Reuters at our customers’ fingertips, in one place.”

Strong central vision

Getting to that singular approach meant uniting previously separate development teams. What Brittan found upon joining the Thomson Reuters Eikon effort was people pulling in slightly different directions due to “not enough of a strong central vision.”

He went about it by first publishing an internal manifesto to provide that strong central vision and relate a core set of cultural values. “I told everybody my priorities were people, process and product, in that order.” He moved to upgrade the talent in the development organization, both by hiring outside and upgrading training.

Streamlined and agile

Streamlining the software development process not only required breaking down silos, but also “becoming really agile at all levels, from business agility right down to agile software development,” he says. Previously, developers utilized different methodologies ranging from traditional waterfall to varied forms of agile development. Now everyone utilizes the same agile methodology.

“We’re trying to drive the sense of agility at all levels, up and down the firm, because we know in order to serve our customers appropriately in this rapidly evolving environment we have to be agile,” he explains.

The effort also meant adopting quality assurance automation frameworks, automating software deployments and simplifying and upgrading a number of development environments. “There was a whole slew of interconnected activities that had to come together at the same time,” he recalls. “That first year was just absolutely non-stop, not that it’s really slowed down since, but it was really just tremendous change as a whole organization in order for us to become something different.”

That essentially sums up the transformation imperative. “We needed to become something different in order to get a different result,” Brittan says.


Philip Brittan is Chief Technology Officer and Global Head of of Platform at Thomson Reuters. He is primarily responsible for the product strategy, development, and operations of the Company’s financial markets product suite, including the flagship Eikon desktop and Elektron real-time data distribution network. Brittan joined Thomson Reuters in 2011, having previously been global head of Google Finance. Prior to that, he headed Bloomberg’s foreign exchange and economics businesses for six years. Brittan has a strong entrepreneurial history, having founded, managed and sold several successful software development companies including Spheresoft Inc. in 1995, and Droplets Inc. in 2000, a venture-capital-backed firm which develops a patented Rich Internet Application technology used by leading corporations. Brittan started his career in Product Development at financial software firm, Astrogamma, rising to become the company’s CEO in 1993 where he was instrumental in the development of Fenics, which became the benchmark application for currency option pricing at the time.

Pete Bartolik writes regularly about business technology and IT management issues for IDG. He was news editor of the IT management publication, Computerworld, and a reporter for a daily newspaper. He resides in Naples, Florida.