Monday, March 15, 2010

Enterprise Publishing and the "New Normal" in I.T. - Are You Missing the Trend?

I've been mini-blogging quite a bit lately on Google Buzz - you can pick up my feed here if you'd like until I brain out a way to integrate it into my newsletter - so I have been a little quieter than usual on ContentBlogger. One of the more interesting items I've come across in buzzing is a great article from CIO Magazine that outlines the enormous value gap that's been arising in enterprise information technologies. With the latest economic downturn many major organizations began to look much more carefully at what kind of value that they were getting from their I.T. operations. In a nutshell, many organizations didn't like what they saw. Some of the key items revealed by CIO Magazine included:
  • Fewer than half of people in enterprises are using installed software effectively
  • 60 percent of enterprise staffs blame their I.T. departments for a "lack of success"
  • In 2009, I.T.'s top priority is modernizing legacy applications
  • Walt Shill, head of the North American management consulting practice for Accenture, declared that "strategy, as we knew it, is dead." It's now all about operational flexibility and how fast businesses can seize opportunity. If strategies and forecasts have to change daily or weekly, then so be it.
Although this may cause enterprise information services companies jump for joy at first reading, I have to suggest that it should be a strong cause for alarm for them to consider. While this may mean that enterprises are going to rely upon external and information service providers more frequently to get the jobs done that their I.T. departments cannot get done, it also means that the trend towards agnosticism in finding solutions to information problems is only going to get stronger. Whatever platform, tool or information service can solve the job today will get used, as long as it's affordable and helps major organizations adapt to their needs. If you thought that your information products and services had branding problems already, hold on to your hat.

Perhaps more to the point the CIO Magazine article is also pointing towards a broader and more troubling trend for major enterprise information providers; will there in fact be a market for them once the economy recovers? Of course law firms, banks, manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and other major consumers of information services are not going to disappear overnight. But what seems to be happening is that many of the business processes through which these enterprises survived and thrived over the past several decades are shooting blanks. We already know that central budgets for buying enterprise information services are more challenged than ever; but as the economy recovers, it's not only doubtful that enterprises will be willing to stoke up on huge subscriptions, but also doubtful that they will be stoking up on big I.T. initiatives to integrate internal and external content sources.

The "agile enterprise" meme sold these days by Gartner - the same analyst firm that sold enterprises on the "everything in one big database" concept that they've spent so much money on the past twenty years - is in essence a reskinning of the problem to find ways to keep enterprise I.T. departments in the strategic loop in their organizations by telling them how to create "people-centric workplaces." Well, these managers have been working with people all of these years already, so I am not sure exactly what wand will be waved over their heads to make them able to respond to their needs better just because their managers demand it. Moreover, as the CIO magazine article points out, while their bosses may be deploying their workforce in office-less environments increasingly, their information assets are mostly oriented towards fixed locations and technology platforms and will have to remain that way until their organizations go completely mobile. In other words, they will have to spend both on "agile" I.T. initiatives and traditional initiatives just to keep everything I.T. afloat.

In other words, many of the fundamental concepts of IT that have been promoted for the past few decades no longer give businesses operational advantages but they have to keep spending on them anyway. The Web has accelerated the flow of information and services that can lead to effective decision-making far more rapidly than enterprise IT managers have been able to accommodate.

This is likely to leave less of the information pie available for spending on any specific set of external information resources. Information needs will shift more rapidly than ever, placing a premium on content services that can aggregate content from any source, be it content that a vendor has licensed or the latest information from key Web sites and feeds. Worse yet, what spending will be increasing is less likely than ever to be on large-scale information subscriptions. With search engines and social media tools enabling people to find the content that professionals need in more contexts than ever, there will be more pressure for both on-demand content purchases and content subscriptions more oriented towards specific people in specific work roles. Yes, workflow will be a key factor in servicing these clients, but the assumption that major enterprises will pay major monies for across-the-board access to workflow tools provided by a central vendor assumes that these organizations' tools and goals are constant enough to respond to such long-term investments.

Instead, enterprise information services are facing an era in which, like their customers, they will have to enable their content to show up on more platforms through more channels than ever before. Moreover, as with the growth of Salesforce.com, many solutions oriented at first towards small to medium enterprises are likely to scale up cost-effectively as platforms from which more targeted information services can be launched to meet the needs of larger enterprises. If agility favors smaller companies that lack the legacy of failed I.T. investments that larger organizations must still bear, then there will be increasing pressure on large organizations to adopt similar methods. We can see the beginnings of this trend as major organizations begin to embrace cloud computing resources, but that's just the start of a broader trend towards in-house enterprise I.T. resources dwindling rapidly over the next decade.

At the end of the day, this means one very important thing for enterprise information providers: if you thought that your business could be segregated from the Web as a whole, increasingly you'll be dead wrong. In an era in which business advantages go to those who can connect with people more efficiently rather than those who can segregate their information resources more effectively, the ability to have your information anywhere on any platform will become a mission-critical requirement for enterprise publishers. Yes, your customers are thinking workflow, but look carefully at where they're headed with those workflows. Few will have the luxury of it staying on the same platforms that they're on today over the next few years. It will be more important for you to be a part of those workflows wherever they're headed than to own them all. Feeds, APIs, on-the-fly aggregation and rapid service development tools will be more important than ever this year. It's the "new normal" for enterprise information services - one which means that business will be far from normal as the economy recovers.

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