Now , strategy is simple , execution is the real difficulty . Having written strategy for my friends in the industry for the past 25 years , I know the truth of that . And if we are going to deal in truth for a change , I was a dab hand at strategy as a digital law publisher , but found turning those elegant bullet points into service values and USPs that people would pay for a far more difficult game .

So here is a chance to salute a master this week , and at the same time acknowledge another truth : to be a maestro you need an orchestra , and it is very difficult to execute anything in a place which is not receptive to change . So it is a good job that Dr Timo Hannay works at Macmillan , where they have produced a management that welcomes change , and a trading atmosphere that concentrates on the essentials while coping with customers forever on the move and shifting their priorities . The strength of this mix is shown in last weeks announcement of the long-awaited Digital Science Ltd , which solves two problems in one : ” How does Macmillan/Nature punch above its weight in a market of larger players like Elsevier, Wiley and Springer ? ” and ” How do we find a suitable role for our chief technology change agent  and strategy inventor  given that his Nature inventions must now be given time to shake down and mature ? ”

In another age that second question would have been disallowed . At length we are beginning to realize in the industry formerly known as publishing , that talent is scarce and must be nurtured . And the first qusetion would have been answered by lateral growth : publish more things in more subjects . Fortunatly , the networked publishing world widens the options , and a content provider can now relocate himself to another place in the value chain and compete with his more traditionally minded competitors in a wholly different way . Digital Science seems to me to be a prime example of this strategy on the move . There are limits to how much can be cloned under the Nature brand . This is already a broad-based journal publishing brand now erupting into education and into collateral ebook developments . The time of rapid service experimentation is  over , and the bits that work identified and in process of being iterated ( see Nature Networks and its recent announcements ). There is clearly recognition that growth from this base is ongoing but structurally finite : any ordinary publisher at this point would make an expensive acquisition , fire half of the new staff and spend five years cutting costs while finding out which things worked and scrapping the rest .

Not the Macmillan way , at present . The option taken has been to re-concentrate on the working processes of the researcher . Not ” how can we sell him more articles ? ” but ” how can we help him to organize himself more productively , make better decisions over the content he uses from all sources , and , possibly , stay within ethical and academic guidelines for what constitutes good research ? ” In other words , Digital Science is an elegant workflow play in the making .

This sounds like a delightfully easy strategy piece to write : I may have written it myself several times in the past few years . Move up the value chain to a point in the workflow where you can provide process tools and support . Then develop said tools and become the integrated point of analysis for all content – your own , third party , and user-derived . Here you get growth , greater knowledge of changing customer behaviours and a locked-in market that finds it hard to leave the bar  once it has bought the first drink  .

But the power lies in the execution , not in the strategy . So Timo and his colleagues have beaten the bushes for tools and environments that users /researchers really respond to , and coupled them up as acquisitions to create not a 1+1=1.5 scenario , but instead a 1=1=1=4 configuration . There is chemistry in everything in science , so SureChem , a specialized text mining application ( and also a patents search engine ) was a natural building block . Macmillan bought it last year for Digital Science . Then add an equity stake in BioData Ltd , a lab management outfit designed to be a network-based answer that avoids the complexities of an Oracle enterprize solution . Bring to the boil with Symplectic , , a toolset to improve researcher productivity by tracking the writing and recording of findings to publication .As institutional repositories continue to grow , and academics and their administrators need to track versioning , control deposits and manage bibliometrics for research assessment and other exercises , this becomes more and more central .

All of this sounds like a Life Sciences concentration , and of course that would reflect Macmillan’s other interests as well as one of the fastest growth points in the sector . Symplectic will link to grants applications and proposal development , which completes another wing of the workflow . No doubt ( an old hobby horse of mine ) they will also look at the electronic lab manual as a point of synthesis for individual researchers , as well as a way of demonstarting due diligence and regulatory compliance .


And of course , it is not that these attributes do not exist elsewhere . Thomson Reuters have a strong holding of productivity tools for writing , linked to Web of Science . Elsevier have strength of a different kind  in science search and in abstracting and indexing services . What Digital Science appears to want to do is integrate its attributes on the research workbench and then go and get the rest of the requirements and integrate them as well . This strategy has taken a year to execute and now ( December 7 ) announce . It represents a new growth point and a pointer to where , after content , the competitive pressures will be felt . Really , I wish I had done that …


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