Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 6 June 2002
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Report from the Field
2002 SIIA Annual Conference
Synergy abounded at this San Diego event
by Gail Dykstra

This was a good conference. Imagine the synergy. Software developers were sitting next to content industry executives, K-12 school administrators, and publishers. They were mixing, mingling, and sharing stories.

The April Software Information & Industry Association (SIIA) Conference in San Diego brought together 300 senior
executives whose interests reflect SIIA's three divisions: Content, Software, and Education. The event, titled "Trends Shaping the Digital Economy," was an opportunity to cross industry borders and in the process learn about each other's markets, products, and business models.

Conference tracks aptly mirrored the challenges and key corporate issues facing the three divisions: Translating ePublishing to Profitability (Content), Software is Everywhere (Software), and Redefining Education (Education). Everyone came together for morning and lunchtime keynote addresses, and wise attendees chose to sit in on sessions from all three tracks. Their reward was hearing new ideas from new people, resulting in new energy and fresh perspectives on old problems.

Executives shared often disarmingly candid stories about the cost of creating change within their organizations and offerings. Industry leaders talked about the corporate partnerships and integration of resources that are shaping information services and product development.

SIIA made it easy to meet people. "Birds of a Feather" dinners gave attendees a way to make new contacts. People could choose to dine with the joint Content and Software groups, or to dine with the Education division.Afterward, everyone adjourned to chat, see old friends, meet new ones, and enjoy the historic Hotel del Coronado's panoramic view of the San Diego harbor.

At this conference, SIIA disproved three common assumptions:

Nobody will show up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Wrong. People were there at 7:30, and the opening keynote was packed. As for the rest of the meeting, normal "conference-itis attrition" didn't occur. People stayed. Panel sessions were full, often with standing room only.

Business is in a holding pattern. SIIA attendees were in a positive mood. While not wildly enthusiastic, they were optimistic in their projections for market growth (especially in K-12 education). This was certainly a more positive mood than expressed by many of the same people in January at theSIIA Information Industry Summit (see p. 1 of the March 2002 issue or http://www.infotoday.com/it/mar02/christiani.htm).

April in San Diego will be warm and sunny. It was cold, gray, and blustery, but it didn't dampen anyone's spirits or enthusiasm.

Deals to 'Game Changers'
A Saturday night deal-making session opened the conference. This was a chance for attendees to advertise corporate interests and alert others looking for business relationships. Although the number of participants was down from the frenzied pace of the dot-com years, major companies were represented. Moderator Peter Marx kept the event flowing.

In her opening keynote address, Sandy Carter, IBM's vice president of marketing for Tivoli, stated, "Today, collaboration is power." She sketched a world of collaborative organizational business processes, but warned: "There are painful realities of the business. It isn't that companies aren't purchasing, they aren't purchasing as much." Success will mean delivering collaborative integrated products to match corporate processes. Citing the Gartner Group estimate that 40 percent of all business spending willbe for integrating business processes, Carter's recommendations for success were, "Be passionate, be paranoid, name your market and claim it."

John Murray, CEO of Plato Learning, noted that when the game changed for his company in 1997, "We were running for our lives. We were treating senior educators as paupers, not as senior executives with large tech budgets." In his frank keynote address, Murray told the story of the hard changes Plato had to make in the way it did business; its corporate culture; and relationships with customers, partners, and the 22-year-old financial analysts who value a company by its "management experience and haven't managed anything in their lives." He had a rapt audience as he described how Plato turned itself around by building on the confidence of its employees in the company's vision, heritage, and sustainability.

Kindergarten and Beyond
Attending this conference was akin to benefiting from a crash course in educational markets, regulatory issues, products, and new technologies. Seasoned veterans of the educational publishing and software industries, as well as new companies contemplating the educational market, learned about new opportunities in this highly regulated sector.

One of the best sessions in the Education track brought together the senior executives who lead the product-development divisions of major e-publishers to talk about changes in licensing models for information services and educational products. Marilyn Quinsaat, senior vice president of Compass Learning, outlined three case studies of what can happen when a company changes its business and licensing models.

"How do I get data about my students? How do I use data for change?" were two questions asked by Gail Pierson, vice president of Riverdeep, on the need for new performance-monitoring tools, data warehousing techniques, and portal development. "Thirty percent of the time, schools are not up and running on their networks," observed Craig Larsen, CEO of Learning Station. "Make sure the data can follow the student."

"You've got to have the 'quah'!" said Joe Reynolds, president and CEO of ProQuest Information and Learning. For Reynolds, "quah" means quality. He said, "Quality is the only way to deliver premium content at premium prices, with competitive advantage and super distribution."

No Pulling Punches
Candor, stories, and debate characterized the Content track. Mark Capaldini of MCG Capital Corp. set the stage with hard numbers and plain truths about the size and growth of the information services business. His "Top Ten List" was clear, concise, and a stylish presentation that enumerated the critical success factors investors are looking for from information services.

"You need to fish with a fish hook," said Rob Calcagni, vice president of Cahners' In-Stat group. Translating this Vermont saying, Calcagni said, "Give people something they want." He outlined the process requiredto introduce change to a "research market that is 33 years old and hasn't changed that much." In-Stat created a business model that is a radical rethinking of its market and products, continued Calcagni, and has made a "transition from the safe, well-worn path of selling annual retainers to selling any report individually."

"We were prepared to flinch," said Bob Merry, president of Congressional Quarterly (CQ). CQ went from being a safe, respected revenue producer until 1997 when "the bottom dropped out of the market." The company didn't flinch. When asked why, his advice was to always control the development process, define and aggressively go for market share, and constantly upgrade. "Today, CQ.com is the most profitable part of the business," he said, "and the single biggest revenue producer."

The slogan for the Copyright Clearance Center's (CCC) new Rightslink product is "Content Without Compromise." Users experience a seamless segue from "search" to digital rights licensing. "People are out there and they want content," said Ed Colleran, CCC's director of publisher relations, "and they're willing to pay for it."

Academic E-Learning
"This is a market that is ripe for change, yet it has steadily refused and resisted change," said Ron Dunn, president and CEO of Thomson Learning's Academic Group. "Things take time" was his prognosis for the e-learning market. "Professors take a long time to figure out how to teach a course. E-learning comes along and the professors have to rethink their entire model."

Dunn predicts a gradual evolution for the e-learning market over a 5-year transition period. "Expect print-hybrid electronic solutions and books becoming shorter, more modular, more customized, and more complex," Dunn continued. As an example, he used a recent cross-Thomson product development that combined text and a limited license to Gale's InfoTrac database. When asked about the impact of these limited database/text hybrids on libraries, Dunn replied, "We haven't had any feedback from libraries that they are experiencing any less demand."

Echoing the theme of developing assets across company divisions, Scott Smith, Gale Group's vice president of business development, said: "I believe this relationship is getting attention for two reasons. It is a fantastic, effective means for attracting curriculum to the most up-to-date resources. Second, and perhaps what the industry is recognizing, this relationship demonstrates the effectiveness of combining Thomson assets."

Corporate E-Learning
Factiva reduced its training costs for classroom-based instruction from $34,000 per employee to $6,100 by using WebEx, said company president Clare Hart in her keynote address. Hart provided several examples of corporations moving to an e-learning modeland emphasized Factiva's commitment to partnering with its customers. Factiva sees an immediate ROI for e-learning in its product training. Hart said that self-service and training are such critical metrics for Factiva that they are reported to the Factiva board of directors on a monthly basis.

"Blended learning is here to stay," said Donna Lynn, COO of KnowledgeMax. Identifying Customer-centric eLearning Relationship Management (Ce-LRM), Lynn provided a blueprint for publishers to understand how and why corporations are adopting e-learning and increasing the emphasis on training.

In 2003, Cisco Systems estimates it will save $100 million from its user-centric e-learning initiatives. Diane Bauer, senior manager of Cisco Systems E-Learning Solutions, got everyone's attention by talking about the immediate, measurable ROI from implementing e-learning across the company. Cisco discovered that users get a richer experience if they see and hear the training lesson. "Cisco is the largest user of online video training in the world," and Bauer took pride in saying that the company is striving to create a truly "learner-centric" system.

Debates to Remember
It's hard to create a freewheeling debate within the structure of an industry panel discussion. This conference was lucky to have two memorable debates within the Content and Software tracks. Both featured excellent moderators and knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate speakers.

The debate at the session on Web Services provided insights into the future. The panel included representatives from a tools company, a portal vendor, a Web services infrastructure player, and a commercial implementer of Web services. With such a group the dialogue was lively and topical, giving audience participants a firsthand look at the state of Web services. The moderator, Roman Bukary ofTalaris Corp., did a masterful job in teasing out opinions and ideas, spurring debate, and getting the audience involved.

The debate at the session on Enterprise Information Portals (EIP) described itself as the "PowerPointless panel." Every seat was occupied to hear major players in content management/EIP business.Along with the lively banter, panelists aired differing views on the business model that will drive revenue. The panel included Chris Morton, vice president of Gale Group; Ron Bienvenu, chief planning officer of divine, Inc.; Chris Dominguez, executive vice president of Screaming Media/Stockpoint; and Charles White, vice president of NewsEdge.

Andy Coutts, president and CEO of Databeacon, recounted how much he valued the opportunity to attend sessions in both the Software and Content tracks. The EIP panel was a good example of the benefits of cross-pollenization of ideas. "Publishers are our customers and I need to understand their business models. If the medium isn't the message, it is the business model."

Black Tie and Fun
The SIIA Codie Awards honored the most innovative products and services of 2001. Now in its 17th year, the annual awards dinner was a black tie/long dress affair featuring a genuinely funny comedian, Wayne Cotter, as host. Forty-one awards were selected by industry votes from the 200 products, winnowed from the original 700 nominated. For details, see http://www.siia.net/press/default.asp.

People had fun, the mood was upbeat, and everyone took pleasure in the grins and obvious delight of the winners. Products represent long months (sometimes years) spent in design, content gathering, software development, and testing, testing, and more testing. There was warm applause for Andrea Broadbent, McGraw-Hill's director of corporate licensing, as she accepted the Codie Award for Best eLearning Product of 2001. She said she was going to call and wake up the president of McGraw-Hill to let him know they'd won. Receiving an award from your industry peers is a great accolade, and winners want to share the grand news with all who contributed to the effort.

SIIA Leadership
Bringing together the information and software publishing industries, and thenadding the world of education, demonstrates the vision and leadership of the SIIA. The association continues to grow and increase the breath of its scope. On April 17, SIIA announced the acquisition of the New York New Media Association.

"We were very pleased with the number of attendees and the preponderance of senior-level information executives at this year's conference. The sessions were well-attended, with a lot of interacting among the speakers and attendees," said Emily Pilk, vice president of the SIIA Content Division. "The Content Division was revitalized earlier this year through the Information Industry Summit. The annual conference discussions will help shape the agenda for the coming year."
 

Gail Dykstra is a consultant in content business development and digital rights management. Her e-mail address is gail.dykstra@dykstraresearch.com.

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