It is about seven years ago now that I crowded into a meeting room in San Mateo, California, and was introduced to the entire staff of MarkLogic. I was in the midst of a negotiation just up the road in Burlingame to sell my company to Outsell, but I had been energised by a conversation with Dave Kellogg, the very charismatic CEO of the young MarkLogic, to pay them a visit. “Stand over here”, said Kellogg, “and tell us where Europe is”. Presuming that he meant European publishing, rather than the Alps and the Pyrenees, I began a halting description of a market in slow digital transition, but was soon overtaken by other voices. Apparently, MarkLogic was the latest thing in database technology, and apparently the primitive nature of the market I had been apologetically describing, was pure opportunity lurking in the shadows and waiting to be turned into the stardust of a new age of media management. I drove away feeling that we might have gone an adjective too far in our enthusiasm but that something here had to be watched. This week I found out what that was.

Since that meeting I have had a long and pleasurable association with the company, and last week its annual user show arrived in a Europe it now knows intimately, with MarkLogic World 2015 conferences in Amsterdam and London. Alongside these events a dinner for publishing people took place, and I was able to attend and speak at both. With revenues last year marching past the $100m marker, and with a further funding round completed last week producing a further $100m in investment from backers that included Sequoia and Wellington, this is another emerging Silicon Valley force to be reckoned with in software. You would need a conference facility to speak to its 400 plus staff, and it is currently just discovering where AsiaPacific is – in media terms. And while publishing was a very proper starter market, the company is deeply embedded in government computing (Obamacare), broadcasting (the BBC Sports Olympic coverage was a breakthrough moment for a database that could allow 13 million viewers that ability to configure their own personalised view of the content), financial services and in all those accidental publishing places where entities who never thought of themselves as media now find that in a network context that is exactly what they are.

I am not the right person to expound on NoSQL databases, though I get a stronger sense each year that I am looking at the next Oracle, now directed by the equally charismatic Gary Bloom, a business leader whose own experiences were shaped in the Oracle that now faces this competitive pressure. Nor should I be writing about semantic analysis, triple stores or the vital importance of being able to work with structured and unstructured data in the same context. But I do now see clearly what happens as a result, and the transformation these technologies are creating in the lives of the people around those dinner tables. Job titles here become meaningless. These hard-working people were various designated as CTO, CIO, Chief Data Officer, Data Architect, Chief Product Manager, Business Development Manager and many more combinations of these. But they were around those tables because of a shift in power that has taken place throughout the media, and I slowly realised how little we have taken that shift into account and what it means for creativity in our businesses.

In the dim and distant past, in Old Publishing, editorial direction was the root of creativity. We spoke of “flair” and “hunch” as components in the business of selectivity. Then, we had Marketing, and we spoke of “fieldwork” and “research” as the drivers of creative decision making about how to formulate our products and develop our offerings. Many of us have now moved to the next stage as well, but it could be argued that we are in some respects still living in the Marketing-driven world. In very crude terms I could argue that the Editorial world was driven by format – books, magazines, newspapers. The Marketing phase was driven by content – trying to assemble content ever more carefully to meet the perceived needs of customers. The current drive, although it began in the search for ways of speeding up new product development, is towards Solutions, producing answers to real problems expressed by users, but creatively organising those solutions so that they produce measurable customer benefit, aka Value, often expressed in terms of productivity or cost saving.

And who in our information business is organising this new creativity? Not the editorial department, who are now just a part of process, if they exist at all. Not the Marketing department, who are solely occupied in presenting the results of what we produce to the customers we are trying to reach. The real creatives in information companies are those responsive to the unrecognised force derived from living in a networked society: in a networked economy the service requirement derives from the all-powerful user. All those job titles listed above, from CTO to Data Architect, are increasingly being turned inside out, and ceasing to be functions of internal systems development. Instead they are becoming the way in which we respond to what markets need, design solutions that make sense to end users, and create wealth.

If this is the case then some will feel that the creative role of the Data Architect is grossly under-recognised. I would agree, though the power in these roles, derived at once from a networked economy and from the rapid proliferation of intelligent ways of organising data like MarkLogic, is shown both in the scramble to recruit talent in this field and by the growing influence it has on budgets and expenditure. And this also raises a worry. If these people are the creative cadre of the future, are information businesses exposing them sufficiently to their customers. And given that customers never entirely told the truth in the long history of market research (a bit like political opinion polling?) do the designers of our solutions get enough observation time inside the customer context to discern where value may lie? We have the project development strategies (Agile et al) and we have the tools and structures, but do we have the evidence upon which to make decisions that will add value in contexts where our customers expect ever more customized responses from us?

Back in Germany after a weekend, I find that everything has changed. I am in Gendarmenmarkt and not in Ku’damm, and we are celebrating an end to war on all sides. And I am at the wonderful Fiesole Retreat, out in full strength to once more bring STM publishers, librarians and academics together in a conference small enough for meaningful dialogue, and sufficiently heterodox to throw up thinking that skews the accepted beliefs. In its fifteenth year, it remains a huge credit to its founders, Casalini Libri, to whose bosom it returns next year in Fiesole, and the Charleston conference. This year, in Berlin with the support of the Humboldt University, Walter de Gruyter and Springer, was well up to the high standards of the series.

The speaker of the event, for me, was Anya Smit, the challenging university librarian from Utrecht. Designing a library which will soon be an entirely digital concept, she and her colleagues set aside the format limitations of “book”, or rather reconstruct them so that a blog becomes a “book”. I loved the openness of her approach and her disdain for limitations as to what a library might contain and how it’s knowledge exploration might be bounded. We had, after all, started the meeting quite conventionally with Michael Mabe, in non-confrontational mode, giving a fascinating account of the history of the journal and the article from Henry Oldenburg onwards to celebrate the foundation of the Royal Society Transactions in 1665. In many ways this made an admirable book-end to Anya Smit’s talk, illustrating how completely we have removed ourselves from the age of format and how completely the chain of scholarly communication in a digitally networked world values contributions by impact and timing, and not by process and format.

In many ways Deni Auclair of Outsell hammered this home when she gave a complete analysis of how the STM marketplace is behaving. I am still slightly alarmed by the fact that there is a $10 billion gap between Outsell’s estimated market sizing and the $25 billion revenue base claimed by the STM association of publishers. There is of course bound to be a difference between a measurement of publishing revenues and the information actually bought by customers, given that data sales are so important to research and will arguably become more important. Will we see the journal market continue to grow but diminish in overall terms as a proportion of what it’s market actually buys? And will this be exacerbated by the impact of Open Access? Deni pointed to the relative lack of impact of OA on publisher revenues, less than 1% of which were derived from author publication fees. Given that publishers were the recipients of prophecies of doom and extinction from OA fundamentalists like Professor Stevan Harnad some years back , I had the temerity to tweet this at #fiesoleretreat15, wondering if that great warrior was prepared to acknowledge predictions unmet. I had the reply immediately: “umm, where did I predict OA by (any date)?-Did say it could be provided overnight, was greatly overdue, optimal, and inevitable”. Which demonstrates both the glories of the global conferencing of Twitter and my need to apologise to the Professor. I clearly misunderstood him to mean that it was coming before it was overtaken by other inevitabilities like the death of the journal, the end of the article and the decay of peer review!

The polar opposite of the feisty Professor might well be Derk Haank, now CEO of Springer, who gave the evening session at the conference. Bursting with energy and confidence after launching the new name of the merged company earlier in the day (apparently it could not have been Nature-Springer since the resulting initials would have been unacceptable in Germany!), he roundly declared that the tasks ahead were nothing for a team which had made Elsevier likeable to the academic community. And even more gratifying was his promise, addressed directly to this blogger over the heads of his audience, that he was not going to retire any time soon, and certainly not when the IPO of Springer-Nature takes place.

Now did I ever say that? Or is it subject to the retrospective Harnad rules of recall? For all I know I wrote a blog on the Bush-Blair initiative in Iraq as a humanitarian gesture, or one on How Labour really won the 2015 UK election. Historians in the archives of the Utrecht university library will have to sort it out. My hope is that neither Professor Harnad or Derk Haank retire. They are far too entertaining in a grey world to be spared but if they could be persuaded to do an Open Access start-up together….

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