Content and the Next-Generation Portal Experience

Last week I was pleased to have my second paper published here at Gilbane "Content and the Next-Generation PortalExperience" that you can now register for and download (for free) from the Beacon area of our website.

For many organizations, access to back office services is becoming an essential part of the experience they need to provide their website visitors.Their external websites form the front line of customer service and their Intranets play a vital role in employee engagement as the expectations rise for both audiences on what they can do over the web. In the paper I discuss how a portal infrastructure can be a natural fit for providing this blend of relevant services and content and there is an opportunity for organizations to shift their portal infrastructure from internal workhorse to a contemporary services interface.

The downside, as many organizations have discovered is that a portal implementation can come at the cost of the primary fuel of web engagement – good quality, fresh, relevant content. In the paper I look at the reasons for behind that and suggest a possible solution of adding a contemporary web content management system.

Like any enterprise integration, the fusing together of a portal platform and a WCM has it’s own risks, principally that the resulting solution does nothing to improve the lot of the content author as it has the potential to expose these business users to multiple interfaces and complex processes. In the paper I go on to take a look at how to avoid and mitigate these risks, with the advice on some key attributes organizations need to look for when selecting the WCM system.

I hope you enjoy the paper and I’d very much like to hear your feedback – either here or you can find me on Twitter (@iantruscott)


The paper is now available from the Beacon area of our website and from e-Spirit, who sponsored the paper. You can also register for a webinar that e-Spirit will be hosting on 10th February 2011 during which I will be talking through the main points of the paper.  


What is Your Ebook Format?

Bill Trippe and I were speaking with someone at a mid-sized education publisher the other day, and we heard a well-informed and articulated series of complaints about the Kindle format. The frustration behind these comments was palpable: Kindle is where so much of the early and encouraging growth of the ebook market has happened, but the E-ink display and .AWZ format is really not good for any content beyond straight-forward text constrained within narrative paragraph structure.  While such constraint works fine for many titles, any publisher producing educational, professional, STM, or any other even moderately complex content has to compromise way too much.

Book publishers still not committing to the ebook market certainly like the news of the potential—Forrester’s James McQuivey, with the projection of the ebook market hitting $3 billion in sales sometime soon, is the latest word, perhaps—but these same book publishers, who after all, are the ones having to do the work, find themselves wondering if they can get there from here. Hannah Johnson, at PublishingPerspectives, posted a blog titled “Forrester’s James McQuivey Says Digital Publishing is About Economics, Not Format” The post is on the post by James McQuivey of Forrester Research about the projected growth of ebook sales and the emphasis on economics, not formats, when assessing ebooks’ future.

McQuivey’s point is right, of course, although it isn’t a startling conclusion, but one more on par with pointing out that, for print books, it matters very little whether the title comes out in hard cover or paperback, or in one trim size over another.  Still, in today’s ebook hysteria, it remains valuable to point out the sensible perspective.

In book publishing, the main consideration is producing a book that is of strong interest to readers, while also making sure that these readers can get their hands on the title in ways that produce sufficient monetary gain for the publisher. The only reasons why ebook formats are such a concern at the moment is that the question of ebook formats is a new one that book publishers are struggling to figure out how to implement, even while the marketplace for any and all such ebook formats remains nascent.

The Gilbane Group has been in the business of helping companies with all kinds of content—including publishers of many stripes—more effectively manage their content and get it to those who need it, at the right time, in the right form. Our recent 277-page study, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Systems to Re-Invent Publishing (which is free, for download, by the way), discusses the issue of ebook formats and makes the point that book publishers need to move toward digital workflow—and, preferably, XML-based—as early in the editorial and production process as possible, so that all desirable formats the publisher may want to produce now and in the years ahead can be realized much more efficiently and much less expensively. One section in our industry forecast chapter is titled, “Ebook Reader Devices in Flux, But so What?”

But good strategic planning in book publishing doesn’t necessarily resolve each and every particular requirement for market success, and given the confused state of ebook format s and their varying production demands, we’re developing our next study that drills down on this very issue.  Working title: Ebooks, Apps, and Formats: The Practical Issues.

Stay tuned.  Drop a line.


Publishers are the Masters of Publishing

As absurd as the title of this entry sounds, there is a point to it, especially when you consider all the theories being bandied about the consequences of book publishing’s encounter with ebooks specifically, and digital publishing generally. The sheer range in such theories is impressive, from the “print is dead” silliness (unless, perhaps, you are casting well into the future) to much more reasonable suppositions that book publishers as they are today may be in danger of disintermediation tomorrow (or, rather, 5, 10, or more years down the road), as digital technologies may engender significant shifts in the supply and value chains presently in place. There’s plenty of compelling evidence that real alternatives will exist, and are found in our newest study on book publishing and ebooks, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-invent Publishing, now available for free download. One such statistic is from Bowker’s own analysis of the book industry, where it reports the number of new fiction titles being traditionally published dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009, while the overall number of book titles published, including fiction, exploded due to non-traditional publishing efforts such as “self-publishing” and ebooks. 

Don’t write off book publishers yet, however.  We see that book publishing across all segments—from trade, to educational, STM, and professional—have been making good progress, especially in approaching digital workflow as a necessary process improvement, and, even with the use of XML for content creation and management within such workflows. While the industry as a whole still can’t be thought of as all that fast moving (after all, many book publishers still take a year or two to get a signed book into the hands of readers), speculation that these “dinosaurs” are doomed is simply unsupportable.

Blueprint provides an in-depth look at publisher responses to digital mandates, identifies winning strategies for ebook technologies, processes, and systems. One of the sponsors of this multi-sponsor study is the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), and in a letter to its members about the recently published Blueprint, BISG’s Executive Director, Scott Lubeck writes:

We all hear a great deal about change in our industry, but very little on how to accomplish this in a constructive way. The key to managing change is not mastering technology—however important that may seem to be—but rather in mastering process.  If you don’t understand the processes that underlie and drive your businesses you can’t change them let alone improve them, you can only watch them collide, and in the worst cases implode, as new opportunities emerge or new competencies are required.

It is the very fact that book publishing entails many processes which places the industry in the captain’s chair, even as self-publishing has its role to play as more and more services are available to self-publishers that reflect the wide range of processes (e.g., think promotion and marketing, for one) involved in book publishing. Book publishers know their business processes, and there is little that is simple about most publishing processes. Lubeck writes of one element of publishing that key to improving many publishing processes:

Good process and process awareness produce enormous value in the book industry value chain. The most salient example to my mind is metadata. Metadata is not one thing: there are bibliographic metadata, production metadata, marketing metadata, product metadata, just for starters; and all metadata maps to the core publishing process that produce it. If you want to improve metadata—and you better had in order to succeed in the digital world—you have to understand and improve these processes. The technologies follow.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that book publishing as a whole—and more so in some segments than others—has no significant challenges. Book publishing carries, in many of the companies, high debt loads, and the overall margins can be modest. And long-established industries—think music recording—can all too easily be their own worst enemies, refusing to respond to changing market realities, and there’s no guarantee that book publishing won’t be equally stupid.

But it looks good so far, perhaps because publishing has long been struggling with debt and margins and has been desperate for reducing costs and increasing revenue. Digital technologies, when applied in service to publishing processes that are sound, serve these ends quite effectively. 

Let us know what you think. Leave a comment. Drop a line.

The Gilbane Group’s Publishing Practice’s Blueprint Study is Now Out!

Our Blueprint study is the first in-depth look into ebook-related issues from the book publishers’ perspective, tying digital considerations to the everyday book publishing processes (A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing.) Book publishers across all segments are embracing ebooks, but they require guidance grounded in what they actually do, more than simply a focus on technology.

See my blog in Publishing Practices about some of our Blueprint findings.

And let us know what you think!

Blueprint Study is OUT!

Our Blueprint study is the first in-depth look into ebook-related issues from the book publishers’ perspective, tying digital considerations to the everyday book publishing processes (A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing.) Book publishers across all segments are embracing ebooks, but they require guidance grounded in what they actually do, more than simply a focus on technology.

Here is the figure in the study reporting on the book publishing segment breakout participating in the Blueprint survey that has trade publishers showing very strongly, at nearly one-third of respondents. This was a somewhat surprising showing to us, with our long and in-depth experiences with STM and education publishing. It’s good to get confirmation on claims we—and many others—have been making about trade publishing finally getting into ebooks in a serious manner.

Blueprint Fig 1.jpgOur expectations were thrown in other ways, too, and again because of The Gilbane Group traditional market focus, we’re we’ve been following content management platform development and helping with implementation in the enterprise for two decades.  We’ve seen a lot of software and hardware go into companies to make their content creation, handling, and distribution more integrated.  When it comes to book publishing, however, planning still starts—and, for many—ends with Word docs and spreadsheets. We believe this will change in the years ahead, and we certainly see a number of strong efforts toward integration of publishing processes out among the vendor community’s offerings.  Process integration must and will happen in book publishing, but we con only guess at the timetable for this, presently.

Blueprint Fig 7.jpg

One reason for our faith in book publishing process integration is that almost half of the surveyed respondents claim that they’re routinely working on print and digital versions concurrently, and this number goes to about three-quarters if the concurrent development is not necessarily routine, but pursued nonetheless. These numbers tell us several things, but the best news form them may be that book publishing is, indeed, seriously engaged in ebooks.  Technology has a fierce and deserved reputation for being over-hyped (and, yes, despite my best efforts to get into Heaven, I’m guilty enough of this charge myself, in too many instances over the years); ebooks are in early days, but the inflection point is solidly behind us.

Blueprint Fig 9.jpg

One proof of “early days” is the high level of confusion about ebook formats.  This confusion on the part of book publishers isn’t about what these formats are, but rather how to produce the various desirable (or market-demanding) ebook formats. While some publishing platforms offer flexible format production, many book publishers are using outside partners—like Blueprint sponsor Aptara—to take on conversion and production.


Blueprint Fig 39.jpg

Speaking of ebook formats, our next study, now in planning stage, looks to describe the various practical approaches for book publishers wanting to master this often-confusing issue.  Working title: Ebooks, Apps, and Formats:  The Practical Issues of XML, ePub, PDF, ONIX, .AWZ, DRM, ETC.

Stay tuned. Drop a line.




Mergers, Acquisitions, and the Publishing Processes Integration Challenge

From our new study, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing:

[Today’s] publishing processes are replete with spreadsheets and ad hoc databases (many built in FileMaker and Microsoft Access). These are used for tasks as various as tracking and calculating royalties, managing contracts, tracking digital assets, and managing editorial and production schedules.

Mergers, acquisitions, and divestments have an impact on both processes and their associated systems and tools. A large publisher that acquires a smaller one might move quickly to have the new group adopt processes and systems used by the larger company. Or, seeing that the new group has unique needs and requirements, the publisher might leave their processes and systems intact.

Of the process areas we looked at, planning is one where investments in technology range widely. In regard to editorial and production processes, some publishers have gone so far as to specifically redesign this process with an eye toward “digital first”—the idea being to have digital products ready first—or sometimes “media neutral”—with the idea being print and digital products are developed in concert. Aptara, one of the sponsors of Blueprint, sees a lot of their recent business with publishers helping the publishers do just this. (Blueprint is also available from the Aptara site.)

While the desktop war has largely seen QuarkXPress cede more ground to Adobe’s Creative Suite in a lopsided two-horse race, the broader market for editorial and production systems is wide open, with a long list of small- and medium-sized vendors carving out corners of the marketplace.

Despite these many editorial and production tools and systems, the Blueprint survey results does shed light on some trends we have seen in practice at publishing companies. These trends include:

  1. Even print books have digital workflow and digital underpinnings.
  2. XML is gaining in usage, and being seen further upstream in the editorial process.
  3. Book publishers are taking more control of their assets.
  4. Outsourcing is the rule and not the exception in editorial and production.

We see this penetration of XML as highly significant, especially in a survey where trade and educational publishers account for two-thirds of the respondents and STM, Professional, and Legal accounts for only 22%. These latter segments, after all, represent the early adopters for XML usage upstream in the workflow (and SGML before that), and trade and educational publishers have traditionally lagged. It suggests to us that market forces are driving publishers to work hard at creating the kind of multi-channel publishing XML is best at driving.

Another of Blueprint’s sponsors is Really Strategies (you can download Blueprint from them, too), which offers R/Suite, a publishing-focused content management system that incorporates Mark Logic’s XML repository platform. There is a lot more for publishers to do to integrate their various publishing processes, but getting control of source files is the best first step.

Let us know what you think of the Blueprint study, and stay tuned for news of upcoming studies from The Gilbane Group Publishing Practice.

You Are Your Organization’s Chief Collaboration Officer

There have been a couple of interesting blog posts about organizational collaboration leadership penned recently by respected, influential thinkers. Last week, Morten Hansen and Scott Tapp published Who Should Be Your Chief Collaboration Officer? on the Harvard Business Review site. Yesterday, Dion Hinchcliffe posted Who should be in charge of Enterprise 2.0? on Enterprise Irregulars.

It is logical that the question of the proper seat of ownership for enterprise collaboration efforts is being raised frequently at this moment. Many organizations are starting the process of rationalizing numerous, small collaboration projects supported by enterprise social software. Those social pilots not only need to be reconciled with each other, but with legacy collaboration efforts as well. That effort requires leadership and accountability.

Both of the posts cited above – as well as the comments made on them – add valuable ideas to the debate about who should be responsible for stimulating and guiding collaboration efforts within organizations. However, both discussions miss a critical conclusion, which I will make below. First, allow me to share my thoughts on the leadership models suggested in the posts and comments.

While it is critical to have collaboration leadership articulated and demonstrated at the senior executive level, the responsibility for enterprise collaboration cannot rest on one person, especially one who is already extremely busy and most likely does not have the nurturing and coaching skills needed for the job. Besides, any function that is so widely distributed as collaboration cannot be owned by one individual; organizations proved that long ago when they unsuccessfully appointed Chief Knowledge Officers.

Governance of enterprise collaboration can (and should) be provided by a Collaboration Board. That body can offer and prescribe tools, and establish and communicate policy, as well as good practices. However, they cannot compel others in the organization to collaborate more or better. Yes, Human Resources can measure and reward collaboration efforts of individuals, but they can only dangle the carrot; I have never seen an organization punish an employee for not collaborating when they are meeting other goals and objectives that are given higher value by the organization.

There is only one person (or many, depending on your perspective) for the job of actively collaborating – YOU! Ultimately, each individual in the organization is responsible for collaboration. He can be encouraged and incented to collaborate, but the will to work with others must come from the individual.

Collaboration in the enterprise is similar in this regard to knowledge management, where the notion of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) has been gaining acceptance. PKM advocates believe that having each member of the organization capture, share, and reuse knowledge, in ways that benefit them personally, is far more effective than corporate mandated knowledge management efforts, which generally produce benefits for the enterprise, but not the individuals of which it is comprised.

So it is with collaboration. If an individual does not see any direct benefit from working with others, they will not do so. Conversely, if every employee is empowered to collaborate and rewarded in ways that make their job easier, they will.

The Enterprise 2.0 movement has correctly emphasized the emergent nature of collaboration. Individuals must be given collaboration tools and guidance by the organization, but then must be trusted to work together to meet personal goals that roll-up into measures of organizational success. The only individual that can “own” collaboration is each of us.

What’s Next with Smart Content?

Over the past few weeks, since publishing Smart Content in the Enterprise, I’ve had several fascinating lunchtime conversations with colleagues concerned about content technologies. Our exchanges wind up with a familiar refrain that goes something like this. “Geoffrey, you have great insights about smart content but what am I supposed to do with all this information?” Ah, it’s the damning with faint praise gambit that often signals an analysis paralysis conundrum for decision-making.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear — I do not have an out-of-the-box prescription for a solution. It’s not simply a matter of focusing on your customer experience, optimizing your content for search, investing in a component content management platform, or adopting DITA – although, depending on the situation, I may recommend some combination of these items as part of a smart content strategy.

For me, smart content remains a work in progress. I expect to develop the prescriptive road map in the months ahead. Here’s a quick take on where I am right now.

  • For publishers, it’s all about transforming the publishing paradigm through content enrichment – defining the appropriate level of granularity and then adding the semantic metadata for automated processing.
  • For application developers, it’s all about getting the information architecture right and ensuring that it’s extensible. There needs to be sensible storage, the right editing and management tools, multiple methods for organizing content, as well as a flexible rendering and production environment.
  • For business leaders and decision makers, there needs to be an upfront investment in the right set of content technologies that will increase profits, reduce operating costs, and mitigate risks. No, I am not talking about rocket science. But you do need a technology strategy and a business plan.

As highlighted by the case studies included in the report, I can point to multiple examples where organizations have done the right things to produce notable results. Dale and I will continue the smart content discussions at the Gilbane Boston conference right after Thanksgiving, both through our preconference workshop, and at a conference session “Smart Content in the Real World: Case Studies and Real Results.”

We are also launching a Smart Content Readiness Service, where we will engage with organizations on a consulting basis to identify:

  • The business drivers where smart content will ensure competitive advantage when distributing business information to customers and stakeholders
  • The technologies, tools, and skills required to componentized content, and target distribution to various audiences using multiple devices
  • The operational roles and governance needed to support smart content development and deployment across an organization
  • The implementation planning strategies and challenges to upgrade content and creation and delivery environments

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more.

In short, to answer my lunchtime colleagues, I cannot (yet) prescribe a fully baked solution. It’s too early for the recipes and the cookbook. But I do believe that the business opportunities and benefits are readily at hand. At this point, I would invite you to join the discussion by letting me know what you expect, what approaches you’ve tried, where you’ve wound up, what you think needs to come next – and how we might help you.