Chief Information Officer

Cengage Learning’s CIO Discusses His Company’s Digital Transformation Efforts

James Chilton, Chief Information Officer at Cengage Learning, shared his thoughts on his company’s digital transformation efforts during his keynote presentation at the 2018 Information Technology & Security Forum in Boston on December 12. In his presentation, “What Does It Take to Transform a 100-Year-Old Publishing Company into a Global Ed-Tech Software and Subscription Company?” Chilton provided details about Cengage’s digital transformation successes and failures and offered tips to help organizations optimize their digital transformation campaigns.

Digital transformation is a top priority for global organizations across a variety of sectors, including the education space. Meanwhile, Cengage was an educational content provider that relied solely on published books to connect with its target audience. To keep pace with an evolving digital marketplace, Cengage needed to develop and deploy a digital transformation strategy.

At Cengage, the company wanted to help individuals reap the benefits of higher education. And to date, Cengage has embraced the opportunity to ensure that individuals can obtain a higher education degree, as well as boost graduation rates across the United States.

“Graduation rates are not good, and this is a problem we are trying to solve,” Chilton pointed out.

Higher education is important, but getting a degree often proves to be a major challenge. In some instances, individuals lack the financial resources to buy the books necessary to earn a higher education degree. Or, individuals sometimes fail to grasp the immediate and long-term value of a higher education degree.

Ultimately, a higher education degree verifies that an individual possesses the skills and training that he or she needs to succeed. It opens the door to new opportunities, along with ensures that an individual can thrive in a broad range of roles.

Cengage wanted to help individuals leverage digital educational tools and resources without significant costs. That way, the company could empower individuals with the insights they need to earn a higher education degree and bolster their economic conditions.

“An education improves your economic conditions for yourself and for your families,” Chilton said. “For us, enabling and improving [education] … may lead to hundreds of thousands of lives that we can change.”

To achieve its long-term goals, Cengage prioritized digital transformation. Cengage required educational tools and resources that enabled individuals to learn on any device, from any location and at any time. Furthermore, Cengage required digital technologies that would allow the company to deliver educational tools and resources across myriad media and platforms.

“There is going to be more content from other places, and we’re going to create and combine more software with that to develop more products and get to a larger audience,” Chilton indicated. “And we need to enable content to flow through different systems and products.”

The days of traditional publishing are drawing to a close. Conversely, digital technologies allow individuals to use smartphones, tablets and other state-of-the-art gadgets to access a wealth of information any time they choose.

Cengage moved past its traditional publishing background, and the company now uses digital subscriptions to grow its business. By providing individuals with subscription-based access to digital educational tools and resources, Cengage has been able to speed up its digital growth. Additionally, Cengage has generated interest from individuals from around the world who want to earn higher education degrees.

“We have to grow the subscriptions in our digital business at the same pace or faster than the business that we are losing because people aren’t buying books anymore,” Chilton stated.

Although Cengage wanted to become a digital business, the company struggled at times to obtain employee buy-in. To overcome this hurdle, Cengage’s leaders sought employee feedback.

Obtaining employee feedback allowed Cengage’s leaders to learn from the business’ workforce. Then, Cengage’s leaders were able to craft its digital transformation strategy accordingly.

“When I joined my company, there was a one-on-one conversation with every person in the organization,” Chilton noted. “[These conversations] helped me understand what was going on in the company and understand what was important to the people that were on my team.”

Cengage continues to prioritize digital transformation. The company is constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to leverage digital technologies. Also, Cengage allocates budget to ensure that its team can continuously explore ways to foster digital transformation.

“You need to have money allocated to your future,” Chilton said. “If you’re spending all of your money focused on running, then you have a problem because you’re not spending money on growth or transformation.”

New digital technologies are emerging, and Cengage is committed to using these technologies in any way possible. With its ongoing commitment to digital transformation, Cengage looks poised to provide individuals around the world with digital educational tools and resources that foster unprecedented learning.



James Chilton is a five-time CIO with broad business experience in the global enterprise software, high tech, education, biomedical and manufacturing industries. With 25+ years of experience in both start-ups and larger businesses, he has driven technology and business system innovations throughout his career.

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