Transcript: The Road to Digital Transformation

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Recorded at London Book Fair 2017

For podcast release Monday, April 3, 2017

Panel discussion with

  • Max Gabriel, Taylor & Francis Group
  • Valentina Kalk, Brookings Institution Press
  • David Worlock, independent analyst

KENNEALLY: Digital transformation is not a destination. It is a journey. And heading down the road to digital transformation can certainly feel like traveling without a guide or a map. By 2020, according to Gartner estimates, three out of four businesses will be digital or have digital business transformations under way. However, only 30% of those efforts will prove successful. And that can be costly.

For a fix on the publishing industry’s latest digital transformation location, Ixxus, a subsidiary of Copyright Clearance Center, recently commissioned Imbue Partners to undertake a survey of leading publishers in the U.K. and around the world. The insights generated in an Imbue report being launched today are based on in-depth interviews with senior leaders from the STM, education and trade sectors.

In May 2016, Copyright Clearance Center acquired London-based Ixxus, a leading global provider of publishing solutions that reinvent the way organizations work with content to drive new revenues, speed time to market and enhance business agility.

According to the 25 executives interviewed for the Imbue report, the phrase digital transformation in the publishing industry is both aspirational and nebulous. Unanimously respondents associated digitization of their businesses to growth and market differentiation. They are also experiencing some confusion and frustration at the complexity of the journey and the perceived rate of change, which is slow. How far have we come? Is this a race? Who’s ahead? Will the journey ever end?

Now overall, the good news is that the publishing industry has a vision and a plan for the digital transformation journey. Hopefully, though, as in the ancient Chinese proverb, the journey may prove to be the reward. And to discuss all of this, I want to welcome my panel. On my very far end, I want to introduce Max Gabriel. He is the CTO, chief technical officer, at Taylor & Francis Group. Max, welcome.

GABRIEL: Thank you. Good to be here.

KENNEALLY: Max Gabriel is responsible for technology strategy, delivery and operations for Taylor & Francis Group. Prior to joining T & F, Max was CTO of Pearson India and Africa, where he was responsible for digital transformation of those markets. And he successfully launched Pearson’s first tablet-based learning product in India. Before joining Pearson, Max Gabriel held senior technology leadership roles at such companies as Diageo, Pfizer, and JP Morgan Chase.

And then in the middle, we have Valentina Kalk. Valentina, welcome.

KALK: Thank you.

KENNEALLY: Valentina is Director of the Brookings Institution Press. Based in Washington and founded in 1916, the Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization whose research focuses on governance, foreign policy, economics, development and metropolitan studies. Before joining Brookings, Valentina Kalk was head of United Nations Publications, where she led the digital transition of the UN’s publishing operations. Before that, Valentina was managing rights and digital development for the World Bank Publications.

And finally, immediately to my left is David Worlock, who has over 30 years of experience as a digital strategist and advisor in publishing. David, welcome to the program.

WORLOCK: Thank you.

KENNEALLY: In 1985, David Worlock founded Electronic Publishing Services, a research and consulting company working with the digital content industry. Outsell acquired EPS in 2006. David currently chairs Outsell’s Leadership Councils, a member service for over 150 CEOs. He is also a senior advisor at Quayle Munro, an independent mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, and a board member at Map of Agriculture, a big data startup in the agribusiness sector.

And so again, welcome to you all. Welcome to our audience. And we are talking about digital transformation. And I’m thinking that talking about digital transformation in publishing is rather like when, at the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home – she wishes it, and there she is. David Worlock, how do you feel? Do you think it’s like that? Do we have to click our heels and get to digital transformation? Can we do it the magic way or do we have to do hard work?

WORLOCK: I think an awful lot of people in our publishing community would like to think it’s like that. They would like to think they could do something quick and easy, keep all the things about the business model they like and the digital alongside it. Unfortunately, digital transformation is becoming a bit of a label. And it does seem to me that it has to mean more than simply going digital. So what must it mean? It must mean pulling your business model up by its roots and reexamining the way you do business. And it has to mean starting again with your customers to learn how you fit into their business requirement.

KENNEALLY: And isn’t the point that, had we been sort of thinking ahead in publishing – and in many other industries – we would be talking about the digital evolution rather than the digital transformation?

WORLOCK: Exactly. Yes.

KENNEALLY: You feel that’s true?

WORLOCK: Oh, I think that’s true. And I think that’s why we make many false turns. And that’s why we only learn from disastrous experience. If we looked at it as an iterative process, and most digital processes are reiterative, learning from the last point we got to – then we would, I think, find it a lot easier a process to accomplish.

KENNEALLY: Well, David, you certainly know about this whole transformation process. It’s been one, as you say, that’s been going on for some time. And for you personally, in 1979, you built one of the first databases for a law publication. And there was a sort of a eureka moment for you in 1979 about what was different about digital publishing from traditional print publishing. Tell us about that.

WORLOCK: Well, I asked my lawyer clients what they wanted to see on the database. I thought this was a good point of market research here. Back came the replies. All my customers told me the same thing – that sounded great. What they wanted was everything. Every word of law in the United Kingdom and the European Community, every statute, every directive, every piece of case law – we’ll have the lot, thank you.

So when we calmed down, we went back to our customers and we started to stop interviewing them and begin observing them. The object of the digital world is, we discovered, to add value to what they do, not to try to impose the formats and values of the previous age upon them. And so we observed them every time they asked a question which required an information reply. And when we had that data, we then began to know how we might add value to their work process.

And I often think, in the scholarly field, we know an awful lot about publishing but we seldom know as much as we should know about how researchers work and where we’re going to provide value, solutions, ways of improving their working lives. That’s where our digital world should be driving us.

KENNEALLY: Well, Valentina Kalk with Brookings Institution, I want to pick up on that – understanding the customer. At Brookings, you have a very special kind of customer. Perhaps for people who may not be familiar, tell us about who that customer is for Brookings.

KALK: Well, Brookings, as you may know, is a think tank based in Washington, and a quite important one that does a lot of research and analysis. And it has a press. And I run this Brookings Press. So our readers are of course traditional academics. They are policymakers. They are policy wonks. They are the educated NPR listeners or maybe Guardian readers. This is our audience.

So it can be quite varied. And at the same time, they have, as I can understand, one requirement – read easily – actually two – read very easily in an undisturbed way and find the information that they want quickly and immediately. So that is really what they want. And we are trying to serve them in ways that I would describe in terms of digital evolution. Digital evolution with a grain of salt, because we know that, for the type of content that we have, that is primarily text-based, so very few databases, primarily, in the case of the Brookings Press, book format, not many journals – what we can do to enhance our content is relatively limited.

And I noticed that every time we tried, there was not much demand for it. So I think that, for us, the digital evolution – and for our readers, I guess – means try to do this with partners. So for example, how we distribute, how our metadata are structured, so it’s more back office than infrastructure – and also find the right licensees, the right partners, because our content has to be in places that are not necessarily the Brookings Website or the Brookings book.

KENNEALLY: Well, in fact that’s a point I want to pick up on, because as you described it before, the Brookings Institution is rather like a university without students.

KALK: Exactly.

KENNEALLY: There’s a faculty there. They need to publish and they need to feel as if they’re having an impact – that their research is having an impact. And so, as you say, for Brookings Press, it is book based, it is text based. But the kind of digital transformation that you’ve undertaken there is to move beyond text to go into podcasting, to deliver animation, to do the kinds of things that might get, first of all, a wider audience but also might get picked up by news outlets. So you’re really publishing marketing material, but it is still very sort of rigorous and it has to meet the same demands that the books meet.

KALK: Yeah. Actually, in many cases, what could be described as marketing collateral to a book is really something that is a discrete unit of content that can be appreciated individually. Then we try to build a package of content that goes around the book – but for example, a book on Putin can have a video that talks about Putin or a book that talks about inequality in the United States can – we did a video with Lego pieces that was very interesting, and it has a life by itself. And so expanding the readership, and also expanding the age of our readers, so moving from gray hair to hair of the original color – is something that we should do with media that are not necessarily print.

KENNEALLY: Right. And we’re talking about digital transformation, but we live in a world that’s transforming, evolving before our eyes, really. How hard is it for you there at Brookings, which is an institution that just celebrated its 100th anniversary, really grounded in very serious subjects, to make sure that the people you work with, your colleagues, understand how quickly things are changing beyond the university walls?

KALK: Yeah. Well, I guess I’m also lucky because we have scholars that are quite receptive. Again, because they are supposed to speak to a broader public, they understand that it’s not just entirely peer-to-peer communication, and they appreciate a lot when we propose to them new formats to reach different audiences. So we will not be able, again, to do many creative, fantastic things with a book per se, but the moment they know that a video can take them to NPR for an interview, the moment they know that maybe a podcast that can attract thousands of listeners that maybe the book would have not attracted – for them, it’s very important.

So for us, I guess the process was to build little success stories that then became bigger and bigger, so the success story of one podcast that then becomes a series of podcasts that then becomes two series of podcasts I think has worked out pretty well.

KENNEALLY: And it must be difficult to manage all of that. I mean those are different forms, different audiences, different production, so you need to have a single place where you can get to all of that, I would think, and yet they’re also different in their own ways. Is it difficult?

KALK: Well, for us, we’ve been lucky because, again, working for a university press that is within a bigger institution has the advantage of having maybe a whole communications group that works on communicating for the institution and not necessarily for the press. But if you can enlist them as your helpers, this is very – this is great because it’s like having free labor and free brains. And so I think that, if there are here people who work, for example, in university presses, I think it would be very useful to connect with the rest of the institution to help you with maybe skills and expertise that you don’t have. Again it’s about partnering, whether inside your institution or outside.

KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Max Gabriel, we’re talking about digital transformation, digital evolution, but I understand for you this is about something else entirely. It’s about digital survival. Tell us why.

GABRIEL: That’s how I see it. You know, we can label it as evolution, revolution, transformation, but it’s my own personal reflection on watching multiple industry there’s a profound change that’s happening here, right? It’s the fundamental equation of demand and supply is just getting rewritten right in front of our eyes. So the worst thing we can do is saying it’s about the format, it’s about a channel, it’s about how we engage our customer in social media.

It’s the worst thing we can do, because it’s all of those things but the – you know, to David’s point earlier, the fundamentals of how content is consumed, how information is sought after – those equations are changing. It doesn’t mean you need to make a big bet and throw all the money at it but acknowledging that this is profound, this is how we look at our distribution, how we look at our product mix, pricing mix – all of that need to evolve along with that.

KENNEALLY: Well, you have a really rich perspective because of your background in so many different fields. And publishing needs to hear, I think, from people like yourself, who do come from outside of it, who see things in a different way. And David Worlock has already brought up the importance – that digital transformation brings you closer to the customer.

And I’m sure certainly at Diageo, which is a supplier of a variety of very famous brands that people enjoy in the evenings, there getting closer to the customer really meant something immediate. The publishers see the customers perhaps at a little bit more distance, but yet I wonder where there are some lessons from Diageo that you could apply to publishing.

GABRIEL: Well, don’t quote me on it. I mean the last place you want to look for insights is a booze company. But because it was a –

KENNEALLY: It’s supposed to be inspirational, I thought.

GABRIEL: (laughter) Well, their mission is celebrate life, so they didn’t get that wrong, for sure. But what’s interesting about Diageo is, because it’s a fast-moving consumer goods company, they do have to stay connected in terms of is your customer buying your product, is it getting used? If not, you know, you got to continue to innovate.

But the broader point here, David – whether during my time at financial services or pharmaceutical or consumer goods – when you look at all that, whatever’s happening now is at the core truly understanding what is the problem you want to solve for the customer? I know that sounds blindingly obvious, but it’s extremely hard – if I can make a general point – for a publisher to do, because we are in the business of telling what makes a good title, what belongs in the right journal. And we decide what the right content – what the quality threshold is.

So the more we start paying attention to what the authors’ needs are, what the researcher needs are – and at the end of the cycle, what the readers and users want – that’s really the crux of the problem. You can learn it from many other industries. Not that anyone has cracked it, but they’re far along the journey that (inaudible).

KENNEALLY: So with that in mind, where are you putting your emphasis at Taylor & Francis then? Is there a particular piece of the – you talked about sort of understanding what the problem is and trying to solve the problem for the customer. What’s the problem for the researchers that you are attempting to solve right now?

GABRIEL: Yeah, I’m not going to give that away. No, but what’s interesting is, when you look at publishing, production – how we produce content – used to influence consumption. We produced books, and that’s what the consumers read. We produced journals – so the format and the production actually influenced the consumption behavior for decades, for years, right? Now it’s actually how people consume content is putting pressure on the production process, our distribution process.

So a fundamental issue for T & F, as well as broadly for other publishers are how do you make your content discoverable, liberate them out of the formats that we think used to work and then make it valuable to the customer, so that nobody wakes up and says I want to read a book or a journal – they have a question, they’re looking for insight, and the fastest way you can get that insight through any channel, any format is really the mission right now.

KENNEALLY: Right. Well, David Worlock, to that point – understanding the customer – they may be telling you, the publisher, that they want something you don’t want to give them. So for example, they may be saying, well I don’t want the whole book. I might want the index.

WORLOCK: Yes, exactly so. They may be telling you that. They may be telling you I want to pay by the drink and – to use your Diageo metaphor – rather than by the bottle. And they may be telling you something else as well. I sometimes think about scholarly marketplaces. And I heard before this discussion began a debate amongst small scholarly publishers about how extensive open access was ever going to be.

And I thought it seemed to me like hypothesizing about something which may never happen. By the time it arrives, open access may be over. The user may be the publisher. Self-publishing of the platforms of the major publishers may become the way in which you get your work into the scholarly workflow. And if that is the case, the role of the publisher changes to being the person who adds the discoverability or the access or all sorts of other things.

Always we have to be prepared in this evolutionary process to give up what we think are our core roles in order to take on the roles which people actually require in their workflow.

KENNEALLY: Right. And David, as a good analyst, you’ve got a great way with words. And when we were talking in advance of this program, I was asking about what kind of business are publishers in in this digitally transformed age, and you said something that intrigued me – that they’re in the solutioning business.


KENNEALLY: Explain what that means.

WORLOCK: I hate the expression solutioning, which your fellow countrymen have invented as a burden for us, but yes, I think it exactly describes the thing. So solutions are environments which enable scholars to move quickly through knotty problems of access, problems of indexation, problems of discoverability, problems of cross-referencing. And here publishers who might otherwise describe themselves as rivals are collaborators. And in a network, you have to have a great deal of collaboration to produce solutions for end users. And this is a different style of working, and it may take a lot of time. I, as an advisor, witnessed the death of the newspaper industry in the United Kingdom. It’s still going on, but it’s dead.

KENNEALLY: It’s not very well – we’ll put it that way.

WORLOCK: I witnessed the death agonies because people who had monopolies in every small town in England still thought they were national rivals. How could that possibly be? Now journal publishers are clearly not natural rivals in the sense that every piece of research in HSS or in STM is unique, so – but each one may have an impact on a particular research program, and they have to be aligned and they have to be usable in a marketplace where were are overproducing so much research that reading the articles in any particular subject domain becomes a major challenge for researchers. How do we summarize it? How do we map it? How do we get people to find the things which are really important and distinguish them from the fuzz and the buzz of the scholarly marketplace?

KENNEALLY: Right. And Valentina Kalk, that must be a problem you’re familiar with. There’s this surplus of information. Brookings wants to be heard. As you lead it towards this digital transformed world and into this new place, what are your requirements? What kind of things are you looking for particularly? If Max was speaking about discoverability, is that something you’re concerned about? Are there other issues? Is there something even at a higher level that you’re concerned with?

KALK: Well, I’m looking for – well, something that we do that is very traditional in terms of all the messages that Brookings would want to put out is to be selective, like every publisher has to do – meaning select the best and publish it. And maybe the best of the rest can be published in some other way. Maybe it can be something digital, maybe something that was a boring policy paper can become an interesting blog, and so it just find the right format for pieces of content that do not necessarily have to be long form or that have to be published at books. That’s number one.

Number two, though – I have to say I’m a bit concerned in terms of long form content in order to find different ways to carve it, chop it, repurpose it, because I think that here is where technology has sort of slowed down. So I would love for all of our books to be available chapter by chapter to offer an interface to the public – to scholars – to mix and match, to create their own e-book.

The reality is that, because we are relatively small as a publisher, we cannot afford to develop the technology ourselves. I’ve seen many promising startups in the U.S. unfortunately going bankrupt. They were trying to do exactly that. Offer a user interface to repurpose content, provided that the rights were of course cleared. And this didn’t work.

I also see, in terms of reading experience, that beyond Kindle there hasn’t been much. And so my – I guess my big question in order to be able to offer content in different ways is also who do I partner with?

KENNEALLY: Right. In the Imbue partner report that people have a copy of here at London Book Fair and they can get online, there was a phrase that captured my attention, which was that publishers today aren’t so much in the content creation business as they are in the content description business, and this is key to, I think, what everyone here is speaking about – metadata by another name. And so how much of a challenge is that for you at Brookings? Is that something you feel like you’ve got under control or is it still something you’re wrestling with?

KALK: I think we get it under control when it comes to the smaller production of books. That’s relatively easy – and although it’s always work in progress. For example, when we change distributors, which has happened only once – and I hope it doesn’t happen again because it’s very tough work to change distributors – you also have to change the way you create metadata. The moment there is a new business partner or new requirements from, say, a big wholesaler, you have to change the way you distribute metadata. But this is more or less in control.

Where I wish I could find better solutions is how to integrate the content of the press with the content of the rest of the institution to really have a powerhouse of metadata that works well for the whole institution and not only for its books and journals. And so I think we have this powerhouse for books but not for the rest. And so the next challenge for us will be to integrate really the metadata for all of our content and be able to redistribute it in a coherent and uniform way.

KENNEALLY: All right. Well, Max Gabriel, David Worlock has gotten us from digital transformation and digital evolution. I think you mentioned digital revolution. But he would take it a step further – that the real transformation here is a value transformation. And I think you would agree with him there. You have some interesting insights based on your experience working in India that really this is one of the largest – the second largest English language reading population in the world, a very young population thirsty for knowledge, just now getting access to it – probably not as much as they might like.

Talk about how the digital transformation undergone – or going on – in India really is a challenge. What are the things you have to do? What are the partners you need to work with?

GABRIEL: Yeah. That applies for many other markets that skips trends, right, so a lot – a few hundred million people there access the Internet for the first time in their life on a mobile device, and that’s what they grow up with. So our conventional delivery of content doesn’t necessarily work there. So it’s actually understanding where the learners are, where the teachers are and actually working with them to deliver the content the way they need it and they’re able to consume it.

One of the encouraging things I’ve seen, particularly in the education industry, is what’s happening with MOOCs, which is the massive –

KENNEALLY: And we should tell people – and I wrote it down – it’s massive open online courses. MIT is one of the leaders, and they make available the course materials, the lectures – everything associated with an MIT course – online, open to everyone.

GABRIEL: Yeah. And it’s free. So when it opened up over the past few years, while they are still trying to figure out the monetization opportunity around it – but what it’s fundamentally changed is you have the world’s best expert on artificial intelligence sitting in Stanford University offering a course for millions of students throughout the world. It solved the access problem, right? It’s no longer restricted to the university or the publishers – their individual constraints. Technology – and particularly Internet and mobile devices – completely opens that up. That a professor sitting in one part of the world can reach the other side.

Imagine if – to David’s point earlier – imagine if research can be disseminated in that channel, where anyone in the world can get access to it. And I know open access is a step in that direction, but it shouldn’t be constrained by who publishes it and where it gets locked up. There’s a lot to be gained by adding research on top of each other rather than hiding them behind (inaudible).

KENNEALLY: Right. But there’s a practical matter too, which you addressed at Pearson, because you were launching a tablet-based learning product. And that is devices matter in this discussion as well. It’s important to remember that these devices appear and then publishers need to react to them. It’s a device in someone’s pocket, in their backpack. They have an intimate connection to that content now in ways they didn’t before. How does that transform this discussion?

GABRIEL: Yeah. No, it adds a whole new dimension to it. And particularly in learning – right – it’s no longer, you know, you got to go into a different place to do your homework or go to your library to read the content. You want access to the information all the time. And that brings a whole new challenge in terms of the context where they are and the information that you know about them. All of that plays into it. So our current delivery model is completely challenged by that. So you’re right, there is an on-demand and always-on need for insights and information. It’s very, very relevant if you’re a publisher. And how do you actually deliver content in that channel?

Device used to be – one final point – device used to be a challenge, right, and a lot of companies tried to figure out what is the right combination? It’s no longer the issue. Device is a personal one, and people get to choose. And you can’t make that choice. You just have to play what your consumers want.

KENNEALLY: Valentina Kalk, we’re talking about digital transformation. And your world, your background at the World Bank, at UN and in Brookings really is the world of ideas. So there’s intellectual reasons, there are reasons that are about promoting this research, getting it out, making an impact on the world. But there are also business reasons too – even at Brookings – and that really matters. You have to sell this content. You’ve got a backlist. Digital transformation isn’t only about discoverability. It’s about making sure people can get the right content, purchase it and move on, right?

KALK: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, talking about metadata for example, one of the other questions that we are trying to ask now is, for example, when you have new sales reps, are there shortcuts to giving them information about the books without them needing to read entire books? What can we give them that, for example, helps them connect front list with backlist? What can we give them that helps them organize quickly in their minds our books by key areas, because you can give them all the presentations you want, you can give them all the sales materials you want. But if they cannot map the content in a way that is completely at their fingertips, you end up missing sales opportunities perhaps.

So that’s another metadata challenge that I think is interesting – not only how you increase discoverability but how you increase the knowledge of people that help you sell this content.

KENNEALLY: Yeah. And David Worlock, finally, it’s your job to listen to publishers and evaluate their business efforts. You’ve been listening to two publishers right now. How does this sound? Does this sound familiar? Are we making any new ground here? Where would you take us next?

WORLOCK: I think it sounds to me very enlightened. I would like to clone these two publishers and put them into the boardrooms of British publishing. And that would have a very salutary effect. But I have a feeling that we’re on the cusp of yet more change. We’re going to have more technology change – that’s a given. We’re also going to have more market change.

A researcher said to me the other day, well, my big problem is now a data mining problem. The only way I can cope in my field is to use advanced data-mining techniques to bring everything together and search it. But it takes up to six months to write the licenses with the major publishers that I need to do in order to get that data mining going. Then they demand to inspect the analytical tools that I’m using. And then they’re all worried about any intellectual property I might be creating which they don’t participate in. So my original research – but they think they think they should have a share of it because they have to have a big disk with all the stuff on it.

So we’re going to have more and more frustrations down the line until our attitudes alter closer to the attitudes we’ve heard here and we begin to say we’re in a participatory game. This is not them and us. It’s not authors, researchers, librarians, publishers. We are in a continuum. And the only way we can get sensible evolution is if we evolve together at the same rate to solve the right problems.

KENNEALLY: I want to thank you all on behalf of Copyright Clearance Center for joining us this afternoon. I want to thank again my panel – Max Gabriel, CTO at Taylor & Francis, Valentina Kalk from the Brookings Institution Press and David Warlock, man about town and a wonderful analyst. Thank you, all my panel, for joining us. And thank you for being here. (applause)

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