I first read Fred Warburg’s volume of autobiography, title as above, in 1968. I have noted on the flyleaf that I bought it in the Charing Cross Road, and, a great blow no doubt to that charismatic publisher, it had been remaindered! This did not stop me from buying, reading and enjoying the second volume from the owner of Secker and Warburg, entitled “All Authors are Equal”. Along with many others in the same genre they formed my first (and intensely romantic) ideas of what a publisher was. Like an amateur rider in a country steeplechase, the thing was to be stylish and show conviction: getting round the course was as good as winning. Publishing was not to be reduced to a science (Sir Stanley Unwin and Geoffrey Cass notwithstanding): we did what we did with something indefinably mysterious called “flair” and devil take the consequences.

That glorious past is both past and, probably, glorious. Yet the “publisher” word, once a badge of pride, now threatens to become a noose around our necks as fatal to breathing as the Old School Tie. Last week, which moved me merrily between the Imperial Boardroom in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, and the David Lean Room at London’s Bafta (there is a link there but I have no time to fish it out), was lit up for me by a colleague quoting the chairman of a major “publisher” as saying that they could not look at the potential of workflow software to support their users because “we are content people and do not wish to become a software house”. Now, chairmen of large companies make statements like this for three reasons: to confuse the enemy, to console staff for whom the speed of change is too great, and to stop the IT department investing margins in long term developments which are needed for debt repayment or to support re-financing. I quite understand. But in my view that statement draws a line in the sand which is well behind the real situation. Any “publisher” with any reasonable chance of survival already is a software house, even if all the learning experiences associated with that are outsourced and the skills base available inside is not up to the job. It has happened, and if we do not want to call it publishing lets leave that in the museum with Fred and find another word (but, please, a better one than “information services and solutions provider”!).

My collection of news from the week aligns well with this argument. The spate of announcements from Wolters Kluwer , starting on 17 February and concluding with the Enterprize Risk Management software announcement for financial services is a case in point (http://www.wolterskluwer.com/Press/Latest-News/2011/Pages/pr16mar2011a.aspx). Here, following the Lexis and Thomson Reuters lead, Wolters Kluwer are consolidating other content -enhanced workflow environments under the ARC Logic brand. The game here is about providing links that enable a group of corporate functions – compliance risk, operational risk and internal audit – to operate in conjunction with each other while remaining fully updated, sharing the content they need to share while retaining access to those things that one function alone needs. ARC Logics brings together a group of services which the company bought separately – brands include AXENTIS, Sword, TeamMate – and now seeks to deploy them  to combine the “advantages of solution specific software platforms and enterprize integration”. In other words, these are not entirely off-the-shelf packages: they are modularized to create solutions and are intended to integrate with the corporations’ enterprize systems. And once integrated they are very hard to prize loose.

While this announcement was intended for financial services, Wolters Kluwer point out that they serve the same functions in other verticals. They specify insurance,  government, life sciences, manfacturing, healthcare and energy as places where they have clients. In this the are operating in a similar manner to Thomson Reuter’s GRC division, who were organized last year around the Complinet and Paisley acquisitions. And they have a similarly “horizontal” view, which says that similar requirements can be found in a very wide range of vertical market sectors, and that the issues are not about creating new or customized workflow management systems, but finding out how to get the right matrix of functionalities with the right lines of content.

The opposite camp, in some ways, would be Lexis, since its most successful model is in the insurance industry, and what has been built is both an industry risk management model (because insurance is all about risk) but more importantly, a core operational workflow model for running an insurance company. Here there can never be enough data, and while this model works well the US (low-level privacy and data protection legislation) it works less well in Europe. Or does it? The recent announcement that Equifax UK had bought Workload, a company that researches private wealth and asset management information, and is thus able to add content on ISAs, bonds, unit trusts, pensions and mortgages to the existing Equifax consumer files is indicative that data is like water – it usually finds its way round a dam. And it is no accident that the big credit rating companies are becoming entrenched in workflow markets: Experian is a partner of Lexis in the US, and the strategic alliance trend around content looks set to continue.

When we were publishers our duty was to our readers. But access was static and not interactive. In the age of networks  collaboration to build solutions is the requirement if we recognize that readers have become users. We talk change before we live change. Time to get real about “publishing”. And remember that, like authors, all users are equal too.

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