|The "V" word was everywhere at the Information Highways 2002 Conference
and Showcase, Canada's information industry event held March 2527
in Toronto. "Value" was the buzzword in keynote speeches and panel discussions—even
in hallway chitchat. Everyone searched for the right words to explain the
"value of electronic content and its delivery" to their customers, and
above all, to their senior executives.
Information Highways 2002 conference organizers worked hard to get beyond
the content industry's latest jargon and its most overused marketing phrase:
"value proposition." They utilized new approaches to facilitate communication
between buyers and sellers of content. They experimented with ways to connect
research about information use and its design with customers and publishers.
As a participant in the wrap-up session said: "Words fail us. We need to
find a vocabulary to explain the new things we're trying to do."
Did the conference succeed in defining the elusive "V" word? Not completely,
but it did get people talking, thinking, and sharing ideas. Think about
it this way: Would you have been able to define "knowledge management"
in 1997? By next year, ideas from the Information Highways 2002 Conference,
its research studies, its "light bulb moments," and its hallway conversations
will help us find the "value" vocabulary needed to explain new applications
and uses for electronic content in business, government, education, and
For the sixth year in a row, this event has become a venue for producers
and buyers to reflect on the health of the Canadian content industry and
the temper of its participants. Organized by the publishers of Information
Highways magazine, this year'smeeting was an ambitious combination
of keynote addresses, themed program tracks complete with breakout workshop
sessions, 5-minute "tips and talks" in the vendor display area, and many
concurrent meetings for professional and vendor associations. It was a
packed 2-day conference. Program slides and information about speakers
are available at http://www.informationhighways.net/conf/cprogram.html.
Appealing to a Diverse Audience
Registered attendance for this year's conference climbed to 1,100,
a 300-percent increase since 1997. Attendees were a mix oflibrarians, publishers,
knowledge management and information technology specialists, and consultants.
Designed to appeal to this cross-section of interests and work responsibilities,
the conference offered four program streams for participants: Enterprise
Content Management, Information ROI, Knowledge Sharing, and e-Learning.
Speakers and panels included people from all sides of the information services,
knowledge management, and publisher/aggregator communities. They offered
their insights, best practices, and product descriptions, and talked about
customer requirements, frustrations, and desires.
Let Divergence Reign
Bill Buxton was clearly the hit of the conference. In his opening keynote,
he turned standard thinking on its head. As chief scientist of Alias/Wavefront
and its parent company, Silicon Graphics, Inc., he has integrated human
aspects of technology to support creative activities such as design, filmmaking,
and music. Buxton's premise was that divergence—vs. convergence—should
become a guiding principle for making technology respond to the way people
think and act. In his view, technology should be entertaining and invisible.
He proposed "Buxton's Law of Quality of Design," which states "If functionality
is above the threshold of frustration, nobody is going to use it." He implored
the audience to remember that "Good design is invisible. Take computing
to the user, not the user to computing." For Buxton, a refrigerator should
stay a refrigerator, rather than turning into a whiz-bang, all-in-one,
multifunctional technology device.
With a cry of "Let researchers research," Buxton was openly critical
of "the folly of research funding in Canada." In his view, government is
offloading research into universities and telling scientists and technology
researchers to "write a business plan, not a research proposal." The result
is that we "lose a good professor and gain a bad businessman." With a flourish,
Buxton closed his keynote by saying: "Renaissance man is not possible.
Renaissance team is possible."
Attendees were clearly struck by Buxton's remarks and his dynamic presentation
style. "Technology has done a poor job of communicating," said Linda Fair
of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). "Users shouldn't
have to work so hard." In considering what she'll bring back to her work
from this keynote address, Fair thought she'd be better able to communicate
with users by applying Buxton's "counterintuitive perspective" to barriers
and obstacles encountered by users.
You know the keynote speaker has made a mark when people mull over,
talk about, and debate his ideas at the end of the conference. "Yes, people
want technology to be invisible, but 'invisible' changes with one's environment
and one's generation," reflected Tom McGreevy, editor in chief of CBCA
Micromedia ProQuest. "Maybe the next generation doesn't want technology
to be invisible, and they will be quite comfortable with 15 different applications
being open at the same time."
Leave Silos Behind
"The big topic of discussion was silos," said Vicki Casey, program
director of Information Highways. She used the word "siloization" to describe
the smokestack-like structures that promote knowledge hoarding, rather
than knowledge sharing and collaboration. "Siloization of products, siloization
in organizational structures, and siloization of people can be found throughout
the content industry," said Casey. Ways to diagnose "siloization" and to
change organizational behavior were recurring themes in the keynote addresses,
panel presentations in all four of the themed tracks, and at the pre-conference
academic research seminar.
Calling it "The Content Silo Trap," Ann Rockley, president of the Rockley
Group, identified the problem as "Authors working in isolation from other
authors within the organization; walls separating content areas, which
leads to content being created, and re-created, and re-created, often with
permutations at each iteration." Rockley predicted gains for corporate
productivity and work flow by using content management software to merge
internal/external content with tacit and explicit knowledge.
Ron Bienvenu, chief planning officer of divine, Inc., was a refreshingly
original speaker. He was engaging with his ideas about how to create a
profitable, dynamic business by integrating collaborative content delivery
and tracking platforms with knowledge management software and IT systems
development. "The greatest growth in ROI [return on investment] will come
from tracking and leveraging not only what people are using, but also what
they aren't using," predicted Bienvenu. Anyone who can quote both his own
mother and Karl Marx within the same speech deserves applause. He impressed
the audience with divine's verve and its business model, which has been
built on 34 corporate acquisitions since 1999. If you see Bienvenu's name
as a conference speaker, plan to attend!
ROI and Intellectual Capital
Measuring the elusive ROI for content was covered in many of the panel
presentations. On day two, Nick Bontis delivered a high-energy and fast-paced
keynote titled "Human Capital ROI: How KM Drives Business Results." Bontis
is a professor at McMaster University and director of its Institute for
Intellectual Capital Research. In a whirlwind tour of his knowledge management
research, he showed the audience his charts and diagrams. The outcome of
his research is to predict the impact of investment in knowledge management
and its measurable financial results in corporate and organizational performance.
Using e-mail analysis, observation, and software to track and display the
connections between how and with whom people within a company communicate,
Bontis has identified patterns of communication and created maps illustrating
referential expertise within those organizations.
Bontis recognizes a direct relationship between knowledge management
investments and ROI. He linked organizational investment in HR policies
to business performance and showed how these are linked. This relationship
creates an effective deterrent to turnover, thus having a positive effect
on human capital management and financial results.
Citing his groundbreaking work for the United Nations Development Program,
Bontis explained how he created a way to measure and display the intellectual
capital of a country. He called his benchmarking study that measures the
intellectual capital of Arab countries "the most exciting research project
I've ever worked on." Check out his Website for links to his innovative
articles and current research projects (http://www.bontis.com/research.html).
Research and Content Communities
Putting a premium on original research is one of the ways in which
Information Highways and its latest initiative, the e-Content Institute,
serve as catalysts for the content community in Canada. The institute wascreated
in 2001 as a learning and networking community for the e-content industry.
It includes organizations that provide knowledge and e-business software
and information products for Canadian public and private sector enterprise
The pre-conference research seminar, also sponsored by the e-Content
Institute, brought together academics who shared results of their research
projects with members of the content industry. Conference attendees also
received "E-Content: Maximize Value," a paper written by Vicki Casey and
Doug Church (of Phase 5 Consulting). The paper proposes a decision-measure
model for use by content managers to "gain insight into how well the synergy
between people, product, and process contributes to the value of the online
Church's closing keynote, "Maximizing Value: Understanding and Managing
Value in the eContent Environment," built on results of Phase 5 Consulting's
research and case studies that identified how customers perceive "value."
It showed how companies track changes for measuring "value shifts" so as
to create business opportunities. The e-Content Institute, in conjunction
with Phase 5 Consulting, is about topublish a paper for its members, titled
"Value Management in the eContent Environment," and will be launching a
major study to identify value drivers and explore new value propositions
later this year.
Vendors were grouped into themed pavilions, each with a major corporate
or professional sponsor. New and newly acquired companies attracted interest
in the displayarea. ProQuest's recent acquisition of Micromedia generated
a steady stream of customers who were keen to find out about the newly
expanded content and product plans.
The 40 vendors had a mixed reaction to the logistics of the groupings.
Some got good mileage from themed groupings because it gave them an opportunity
to showcase the diversity of their content solutions. The competitive intelligence
(CI) pavilion was sponsored by LexisNexis and featured a series of very
practical "how to do it" 5-to-10-minute lectures on basic CI skills and
techniques. The major Canadian aggregator and international content vendors
were there, as were companies offering content management IT solutions.
Some vendors mentioned that they used time in the display hall to meet
other vendors, identify potential business partners, and see competitors'
products. As David Shinwell, publisher of Information Highways,
said: "Networking in the Canadian industry is critical. Even competitors
The following are some of the best quotes from the conference:
When asked to comment on the content lessons from the Enron collapse, Bill
Noorlander, president of TFPL, responded, "The reason Andersen is going
out of business is because they tore up the content."
"Data is no longer trapped in islands. It will be increasingly accessible
everywhere, anytime," said Steve Arnold (of Arnold Information Technology)
in discussing the future for peer-to-peer (P2P) networks within the next
In describing the role of the information industry, Elizabeth Phillips
(of MPA Communication Design) said: "I have an image of the world in which
there are only babies crawling and Olympic runners. We have a huge responsibility
to teach the crawlers to run."
"Some things are known, some things aren't, and science fiction will give
us hints about the rest," said David Modjeska (of the University of Toronto)
in his talk on information visualization at the Pre-Conference Academic
Temper of the Industry
The Canadian information industry reinvents itself on a regular basis.
As a close-knit community, it thrives on the informal cross-pollination
of ideas and people who can easily move between both the customer and producer
sides of the industry. Like its U.S. and global relatives, the Canadian
information industry is consolidating, applying content management technologies,
and searching for new business models. With an economy still affected by
the dot-com downsizing, reverberations from the September 11 disaster,
and corporate cutbacks in information products and service purchases, the
feeling at the conference was cautious optimism about the market for electronic
"Just because the economy hasn't been great, we don't want to sit on
our hands and not invent new futures," was a comment from an audience member
on the first day. Canada's economy is improving and is experiencing the
greatest job-creation rush since 1987.
"Value" needs to become more than a buzzword. Customers and producers
alike are looking for ways to define and communicate the elusive "value"
of products, services, and systems. Information Highways 2002 contributed
to the dialogue needed to make "value" a concept we can describe and develop.
Gail Dykstra is a consultant in content business development and
digital rights management. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.