” Well,” she said, in a determined and slightly defensive tone of voice “the last thing we intend to do is turn ourselves into a software house. We are publishers and cannot be expected to understand software, which is such a terrible distraction.  I took my correction silently and philosophically. After all, this has been a litany I have heard for a decade. And the paradox is that the more that software controls and modulates the way publishers create content, and the more it dominates the way in which users view it, the more permissible it has become for very senior executives in all sorts of places that do “publishing” (rapidly becoming a meaningless term) to proclaim with pride their ignorance of some of the basics. Some tell me “that’s what we have a CTO for”, while others tell me that it is not a creative area (yes, really!!) of their business. The largest decisions a modern information industry CEO will make concern software. The delivery – critical decisions a publisher of romantic novels will mainly concern software. We cannot avoid it – so surely every senior executive should know enough to intelligently quiz the CTO, outside suppliers and potential alliance partners?

You have now been reading for about 60 seconds. During that time, the software that holds us all in place in the network has been mightily engaged. 168 million emails were sent during that time. 694,445 Google searches took place. 320 new Twitter accounts were opened and 58,000 new tweets were posted. 600 new videos were posted – I could go on (courtesy of Go-Globe.com) but I hope you get the message. If people who run businesses they call “publishing” do not understand the platform upon which they stand, as they once understood the possibilities of print, then what hope is there for the traditional end of the market? I meet very many CEOs in the course of a working year, and in every 10 there are three who are brilliant on the bedrock technologies that drive their businesses. There are three more who struggle but know it is important. After that come four who do not really see it at all, and this group is strongest in the areas of greatest current risk – consumer book publishing, magazines and events. I almost feel as if there should be a test: Differentiate and suggest how you would use HTML5 and XML. Distinguish RDBMS databases from NoSQL databases and explain the advantages of the latter over the former. What does Epub3 allow you to do that you could not do before? How would you use the Cloud to support a reduction in Capex in your development programme? What is Open Source and is it cheaper or more expensive than proprietary software? What is entity extraction and how do I use the semantic web to add value? What is SaaS and how does it create scope for your expansion?

Readers here would doubtless have no difficulty with any of this. But still, we all – me especially – need a jolt of recognition of the speed of change at the moment. Venture Capital has a current investment of some $16 billion in SaaS software alone, with about half in business functionality (FactSet). The global software industry will top $1.1 trillion in 2016 (Gartner) – for comparison the current sizing of the publishing and information marketplace is $400 billion today (Outsell). Gartner see media and communications as a key area for the software businesses, with 2012’s spend by the sector of $61 billion rising to $78 billion in 2016. Some $21 billion of this spend ($25 billion in 2016) is for media-specialized applications. This is the top ranked vertical sector for software in 2016. My argument at the moment would be that this sale is resting on the shoulders of a very small, technically-capable group of senior buyers – it is time now for a better informed cadre of senior management to help to bear this burden, and for boards to have a generally better informed decision-making discussion which is capable of putting the view of the CTO and the professional advisers and evaluators into the medium term context of the business.

Finally, lets just look at one section of the information waterfront. This week I noted with interest the acquisition of a company called Edaboard.com by Design World (WTWH Media LLC). This brings together a leading brand which provides information services on design engineering with a community-driven forum focussed on electrical engineering topics. We have seen deals like this, and will see a lot more. But the decisions that come next – one platform or two, in-house or outsource, service integration, Cloud-based services etc will be critical to the success of this investment. I do not know Design World and I have no reason to believe that they are not fully capable of doing the job, but in many corporations of my acquaintance many of these decisions would be taken by a small coterie of tech-savvy operators, with some of the most senior people acting in faith and trust that someone else had made the right tech bets.

In a great allusion, Mike Olson of Cloudera remarked that “We are living through a Cambrian moment in database history”. As the Age of Data morphs into Data Science, we all struggle to keep up. As major data concentrations meet the Cloud, and we have to work with PaaS (Platform as a service) and DaaS (database as a service) it is not going to get slower or easier. But it is clear that the boundaries around “what we need to know to do the job” are radically changed as well. None of us should be frightened about going back to school!

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