Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
As technology continues to play a more central role in business strategy and as technology continues to shape the publishing world, more and more publishers are diving head first into the world of IT. If you subscribe to digital publishing newsletters or blogs, it is likely you have been seeing a lot of coverage on things like big data, agility, cloud computing, and other fancy terminology that might sound, amazingly enough, simultaneously foreign and familiar. Though each of these topics is deserving of its own post, I thought might be helpful to provide a quick overview of a couple of these terms and why they are so important for the publishing industry today.
“Big data” has been around for several years now but it has dramatically increased in popularity, particularly over the last couple of years. Identified as one of the top ten IT trends for 2012 by Gartner, this one is getting a whole lot of attention. So much so, in fact, that companies like IBM (one of the leaders in this area) have built dedicated big data platforms to help companies grapple with this challenge. But what is big data?
As more and more of our work and consumer habits are heading down digital pathways, data consumption and usage is growing exponentially. Remember when your computer threatened to teeter over back in the ’90s because you had downloaded a few too many 3-5MB audio files? (Maybe that was just me?) Anyway, with streaming content, enhanced media, and all sorts of miscellaneous information, now we’re dealing with petabytes and exabytes.
But big data is about so much more than quantity. Rather, the concept is about finding ways to analyze and leverage enormous sets of data, as a whole, to improve processes, increase efficiency, and learn more about key customers. Oftentimes, data is reviewed in small subsets, but the danger of analyzing these sets in isolation is that you miss a lot of key information. Big data is the “big picture” view. And as the volume of information continues to increase, finding a way to organize, categorize, and analyze is going to continue to be a huge challenge. Not only that, but security and privacy will continue to become a growing challenge.
Digital Book World is doing a five-part series on big data with specific coverage of how big data applies to the publishing industry, and it’s an important topic to consider. It is a tough challenge, because, as Chris Rechtsteiner points out in the DBW article “Big publishers, big books, little data,” it is hard to leverage big data potential when so much key data is guarded by others.
So. That’s big data.
Agility is another term that’s been around for a while but continues to play an important role as markets change at an extremely fast pace. The concept of enterprise agility is deceptively complex. In a super succinct nutshell, agile organizations develop a flexible framework that drives them toward continuous improvement, cost reductions, increased innovation, and the ability to rapidly respond to changing market conditions. Software companies in particular depend greatly on agile frameworks. In her Digital Book World piece “Getting agile about books,” Anne Kostick explains the origins of agile development:
Agile methodology comes from the world of software development. It was intended to cure some major problems in that field: projects taking too long to complete; projects so complex and expensive that mistakes, only discovered at the far end, amounted to disaster: projects that, upon completion, were found to miss the mark in major and minor ways because communication among stakeholders had fallen down: projects that simply failed to fulfill the user’s requirements.
What agile development provided was a way to work in short “sprints,” resulting in “iterations”—versions of all or part of the product—for testing and feedback from “stakeholders,” a group that included the end user or the funder. One manager oversees the process, not the product. A series of sprints might or might not lead to a product that was ready for distribution and/or sale.
Oftentimes it is a lot easier for smaller organizations to adopt agile methodologies: the larger the organization, the greater the likelihood of more silos, layers, departments, and processes. Complex layers make it more difficult to respond to changing conditions, and companies striving toward enterprise agility will often need to undergo organizational restructuring to better streamline processes.
However, where publishing is being heavily influenced by technology and new tablets and ereaders are dropping on the market faster than people can buy the last one, it makes sense that publishers could benefit from studying agile practices and finding ways to adopt some of these practices in their strategic frameworks.
Becoming more tech savvy
The world of technology and the world of publishing can be two entirely different entities, but they are now smashing together at rapid speed. As a result, it behooves publishers to find the right talent that can blend these two environments and gain control of things like data, which ultimately, will provide competitive advantage.
It is refreshing to see that a growing number of publishers are bringing on new skill sets to tackle today’s challenges, because right now, things are still chaotic. According to a recent Publishing Trends article, “Execs mark the spot: Trends in digital hires,” it is still very early in the game, but more and more digital and tech-oriented positions are being created to redefine strategy and adapt to our tech-driven environment.
The article also reveals that more individuals are being hired from outside the publishing industry…which makes a lot of sense. For example, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, former head of media corporate finance for ING Bank in London, has recently been appointed as the chief digital officer at HarperCollins.
By merging best practices across multiple industries and applying key concepts like big data and agility, publishing companies are positioning themselves strategically to better compete with major technology players.