Ian Wareing is responsible for product management of the publisher OpenAthens product. Find out more about his background, the challenges the industry faces and what the future could look like for publishers.
Tell me a bit more about yourself and your background
I’m a creative by training, having studied photography at university and begun my career working in art galleries and museums. But I’ve always been interested in technology, so each career move has nudged me further in this direction. Along the way, I’ve worked to support the games industry, produced interactive content for the digital media industry, and managed the key accounts for a digital design agency.
How did you end up in product management?
When I was working as an account director, I couldn’t help myself from getting involved in the various stages of the product lifecycle of the projects the agency was working on, even if I knew that this was distracting me from my account management responsibilities. It was around that time when I also became aware of product management as a discipline, and so I decided to pivot my career to where my interests clearly lay. That led me to a delivery management position at Manchester Metropolitan University, where, relatively quickly, I established myself as the product owner of the web platform I was involved in delivering. And from there, I joined OpenAthens.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Education and talent development have always been things close to my heart, so I was really excited when, a few years back, I was invited to chair the trailblazer group responsible for developing the standard for the Level 6 Digital User Experience (UX) Professional degree apprenticeship.
The surprise came when our first submission was flat-out rejected, based on the perception that it was not appropriate to teach UX at level 6. We couldn’t disagree more, so this really lit a fire in the group’s belly and we fought tooth and nail to prove this assessment to be wildly inaccurate. I’m proud to say that we managed to turn things around and today, based on the standard we developed, UX courses are being taught across the UK at level 6. This has not only helped to expand the talent pipeline for UX – to meet the demand of the growing number of employers seeking UX skills, but by doing so using a degree apprenticeship model, it has also made a career in UX more accessible. A truly win-win situation!
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love having the space to understand people’s problems and working with the talented teams around me to deliver solutions that address those problems. And given OpenAthens’ mission to remove barriers to knowledge, what’s not to love about being a part of the team working day-in-day-out to make accessing knowledge easier?
As part of my role, I’m responsible for the products and services aimed at our publisher customers, and I must say it’s been great to have the opportunity to speak to so many of our publisher customers already and get to understand their businesses, the challenges they’re facing, and how OpenAthens might support them in achieving their business goals.
Why did you join OpenAthens and how has the experience been so far?
I actually had the pleasure of working with Jisc for some years and admired their user-centric approach to delivering digital solutions for UK education and research. So when I became aware of the opportunity to join a growing product team within OpenAthens, which is part of the Jisc family but with an international remit, I jumped at the chance.
Quite honestly, my experience since joining has been everything I had hoped for and more. The whole OpenAthens team is united in its mission and is supportive of each other to allow everyone to flourish in their role. You never quite know the culture you’re walking into when starting a new job and I’ve been a little blown away at how positive my experience has been these first few months.
What are you hoping to achieve in your new role as product manager?
I believe I am trying to achieve what probably every product manager aims for when starting a new role; I want to ensure that the OpenAthens product offering continues to evolve in response to the needs and challenges of our products’ users and the wider market: I want to continue to improve the existing products in our portfolio, I want to recognize when a product is nearing its end of life, and, where new product opportunities arise (if you’ll excuse the design thinking cliché) I want to ensure that we build the right thing and build it right. Some of the areas I’m already exploring include enhancements to the Service provider dashboard, particularly around reporting, and further expanding the interoperability of our OpenAthens Keystone product with other systems in publishers’ identity and access management toolkits.
However, my current priority is a research study designed to help OpenAthens better understand the needs and challenges of publishers and service providers in relation to access management and I would love to hear from anyone interested in participating in it.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry faces?
I think that one of the biggest challenges everyone working in web products is facing is how we balance data privacy with user experience. Both things are for the benefit of our end users, but they occasionally find themselves at odds with each other. It goes without saying that preserving user privacy is paramount, so it is a challenge that personalization features which can improve the user experience of a product are often dependent upon at least some identifiable information about the user. This is how the web has become littered with cookie consent banners, pop-ups, and other intrusive paraphernalia. If this was not enough, the future of browsers’ support for third-party cookies is also uncertain. So, over the next year, I will be closely monitoring how we, as an industry, can continue to improve the user experience of online resources, and access to them, while preserving user privacy.
What do you think are the biggest challenges publishers face?
As with most businesses, I think the biggest challenge for publishers is managing the bottom line during increasingly volatile economic times. The expectation upon them from their customers to deliver greater and greater value in return for the subscription fees they receive puts publishers under pressure to provide more content, more secure services, and a better user experience, with the same, or in some cases, fewer resources. So publishers are actively exploring new business models, new products and, services and other ways of creating value for their customers, in what is already a highly competitive industry.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Well, I’m a dad to two small children; a four-year-old boy and an eight-month-old girl, so I don’t get an awful lot of time for hobbies and interests these days! I spend most of my ‘free’ time on home improvement, gardening, and the occasional away day with my football team, Blackpool FC. I love music, podcasts, and gaming, and back in my fitter days when I used to be more active, I used to run, play squash and go rock climbing, but am finding fewer and fewer opportunities to do those things these days.
What do you think the future of the industry will look like?
This is such a difficult one to answer, and I’m generally a believer that all things in life swing like a pendulum, so periods of consolidation will always be followed by periods of fragmentation, for example. So I believe they’ll always be monopolies within the publishing industry, just as they’ll always be emerging challengers who look to disrupt the market. But by the same token, one of the things I love about the publishing industry is that it’s an ecosystem, which serves to connect audiences to what they’re interested in, no matter how niche that might be. Content creators will always find their audience and audiences will always find their content, and that’s only been bolstered by the digitization of the publishing industry.
Narrowing things into identity and access management in particular, one of the areas that does interest me quite a lot is the idea of lifelong learning and, in particular, how digital identities will be required to evolve in order to support lifelong learning. Some European countries such as Finland and the Netherlands have single student identity systems in place. However, in the UK, where I’m based, we don’t, and OpenAthens largely supports authentication using institutional credentials, but this feels to me like an area ripe for disruption in the future. Who knows, I might play a part in that disruption myself in my new role! We’ll have to see I guess.
Meet Ian at Frankfurt book fair 2022
Ian will be attending the Frankfurt book fair this year from 19-21 October. Visit him at our workstation in Hall 4.2 Workstation M51.