Multi-tasking may be beyond me. I am finding it very hard to travel and blog at the same time. And having traveled 10 hours by train and over 50 in a plane in the past 14 days I must beg forgiveness for the gap in production on this blog. And the annoying thing is that many of the things encountered on these travels have been red meat for bloggers.
Take as an example last week’s Information Industry Summit, organized as ever by the SIIA and held this year at New York’s Pier 60. This is a really important industry event, and I was pleased to be amongst a crowd of some 250 who enjoyed a very varied and interesting agenda. And specially interesting for me these days since these conferences provide a verbal map of industry sentiment. One would have thought, for example, that for many SIIA members 2012 was a disaster worth forgetting. Consolidation goes on apace but many of the “great” players of yesteryear took considerable reverses, and investor sentiment about the “information industry”, if that means failing print to some, must be flagging. With McGraw-Hill dividing into two, and selling the weaker part, and News Corp dividing into two and racking up real problems in the bad bank side, there are plenty of examples of near terminal troubles. And yet the room was full as ever of investors and analysts. I cannot be certain of course whether they were there to pick over the wreckage, or to re-invest post-digital development, but they are still there. And while they are there I really think we should give them a vision of the future which is not framed by our rear view mirror.
So the conference began with George Colony, the articulate and persuasive father of Forrester, giving a talk about Thunderstorms. Indeed, this was a recurrent theme. It reminded me of where we have been these last 20 years. Do you remember the long years when every conference started with a Christensen-esque speech on Disruption? Well, we learnt to live with Disruption, and we ignored the wonderful advice of the author of the Innovator’s Dilemma. For the next five years we were Crossing Chasms, getting one foot into the digital world, rebalancing ourselves. Well, does anyone know if we crossed? Or are we still poised? Then every media sector got involved, and all of a sudden we were Transitioning and Migrating. These may have been words which pleased investors at the time, and helped to explain why nothing much was happening at discernible speeds, but using them now seems laughable. How many major print-based powerhouses of 1993 can you name that have a stake in digital markets that matches a Google, or an Amazon, or a Facebook? We have businesses like Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier who have carved out niches in digital workflow, and players like Pearson who dominate education markets which have been slower to move to the network. But giants? Those have been built anew and elsewhere.
So when the conversation turned to Thunderstorm last week I wondered whether Americans had adopted the English art of under-statement. Cataclysm was the word that came to mind that week as I read Gannett’s results statement. If George Colony meant that our industry was under water then I might agree, but I suspect that he was looking or a metaphor for mindless violence, but came up short. Yet the metaphor led me to the totally sane, healthy and interesting part of the week. One objective of my trip was to help my friends at TEMIS, the French semantic analysis software company, launch their LUXID Community, a collaborative network of software players, content companies and platform providers. I was delighted to find some of the themes of the launch event taken up in the main conference. Look for yourself at http://www.temis.com/join-the-luxid-community or come to one of their meetings and express a view.
When extra-ordinary events take place, and change the entire landscape in which we work within a timeframe as short as 20 years, our reaction as businesses might reflect how we react as individuals in an earthquake or a tsunami. We pool our resources and pull together. I believe in what TEMIS are proposing because I do not think we will develop solutions for customers, or exploit to the full the digital opportunities given us by our content, our data, our market knowledge or our ability to develop high quality software unless we work together. Collaboration and co-operation are essential even if tomorrow we also need to buy or merge with some of those with whom we work today. Above all, this collaboration must extend to our customers: the lonely years of competition for competition’s sake must end, and we have to embrace our customers as partners – or they will become our competitors in ways which would be very toxic indeed.
Here then is a theme we could use to re-invigorate investors. Ask them to score us in terms of our proclivity for partnership. Look at us to see if we have a culture of experimentation that involves combining resources and attributes from several different sources to create a value which would have been otherwise impossible. As we move into a networked world where most service and solutions providers will sub-contract, outsource, partner and collaborate as easily as breathing then we in vital information markets could be leaders in proving that Vital is just as important as Big – and maybe more profitable. The LUXID Community may be a small step, but we could look back at this week as a very important one.« go back — keep looking »