Since I last wrote a piece here I am older by three conferences and an exhibition. And no wiser for having spoken twice on cyber-security, a subject that baffles me every time I stand up to talk about it. The simple truth is that the world is changing in the networks at a pace that bewilders, yet the visions we have of where we are going hang before us like a tantalising but currently unattainable vision. Thus, if you ask me about the future of education, i can spin you a glowing tale of individuals learning individually, at their own pace, yet guided by the learning journey layer out by their teachers, who have now become their mentors.
The journey is self-diagnostic and self-assessing, examinations have become redundant and we know what everyone knows and where their primary skills lie. Or in academic or industrial research, projects are driven by results, research teams recruited on that basis, and their reputation is scored in terms of the value their peers set on their accomplishments.
The results of research are logged and cited in ways that make them accessible to fellow researchers in aligned fields – by loading and pointing to evidential data, or noting results and referencing them on specialized or community sites, or by conventional research reporting. Peer review is continual, as research remains valid until it is invalidated and may rise and fall in popularity more than once. And so on through business domains, medicine and healthcare, agriculture and the whole range of human activity…
But at this point, when I talk about the growing commonality of vision, the role of workflow analysis, RPA, what happens next with machine learning, the eventual promise of AI, a hand shoots up and i find myself answering questions from the ex-CFO / now CEO about next years budget, and when will the existing IT investment pay back, and can this all be outsourced and surely we don’t need to do any more than buy the future when it arrives? And of course these questions are all very pertinent.
We all need to assure revenues and margins next year if we are to see any part of this future. And next years revenues will come from products and services which will look more like last years than they do like the things we shall be doing in 2025, even if we had an idea of what those might be. It is one thing knowing something about the horizons, quite another to design a map to get there. So at every point we seek every way we can to buttress future-proofing, and at the moment I am seeing a spate of that in acquisitions. Just as last year putting the word "Analytics"at the end of your name (Clarivate, Trevino) added a billion to the exit valuation, so this year the dotai suffix has proved to be a real M&A draw.
But those big Analytics sales were made, and will be onsold to people who want to expand their data and services holdings. The.ai sales are transplants from the seedbed, and far earlier stages of transplantation are involved. Having worked for some years as an advisor to Quayle Munro (now, as an element of Houlihan Lokey, part of one of the largest global M&A outfits) I realise that smaller and smaller sales may not be considered a good thing, but I cannot resist the idea that seeking some future tech developments into your incubator environment is going to have some really beneficial long term effects. It already has at Digital Science. As Clarivate lerans from what Kopernio knows it will help. As the magic of Wizdom.ai rubs off on T&F, it will help there.
But, again, we are begging a hundred questions. Can you really future proof by buying innovation? Well, only to a limited effect, but by having innovators inside you can learn a lot, nt least from their different perspective on your existing customers. Don't you need to keep them from being crushed by the managerial bureaucracy of the rest of the business? Yes, but why not try to fee up the arthritic bits rather than treating the flexible bits? What if you have bought the wrong future tech? Even the act of misbuying will give you useful pointers the next time round, but if you have bought the right people they will be able to change direction. What if software people and text publishing people do not get on? They will need to be managed – this is your test – since if we fail the future will be conditioned entirely by software giants licensing data from residual fixed income publishers.
Are there any conditioning steps I should be taking to ease into this future? Yes, forget ease and go faster. Look first at your own workflow. To what extent is workflow automated? Do you have optimum ways of processing text? Are people or machines taking the big burdens on proof reading, or desk editing or manuscript preparation? Is your marketing as digital as it could be? Are you talking the language of services, and designing solutions for your users, or are you giving your users reference sources and expecting them to find the answers? Indeed, do you talk the language of solutions, or the ritual language of format – book, journal, page, article. Are we part of the world our users are entering, or are we stuck in the world they are exiting?
The exhibition I attended this month was the London Book Fair. I love it in all its inward-looking entrancement with itself, and its love affair with the title Publisher, the profession for which no qualification other than skill at explaining away unsuccess has ever been required. I can only take one day since I rapidly become depressed. But still there were very sparky moments – an impromptu discussion with the Chennai computer typesetter TNQ (www.tnq.co.in) about their ProofControl 3.0 service told me that these guys are on the ball. But moments like this were rare. More often i felt i was watching the future – of the industry in 1945!
Originally published on davidworlock.com On 20th April 2018