Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 5 — May 2002
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IT Report from the Field •
Information Highways 2002
The theme of this year's Canadian industry event was 'e-Content: Discovering and Driving Value'
by Gail Dykstra

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 service sectors.

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

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 (

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 customers.

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 experience."

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.

Vendor Pavilions
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 are connected."

Great Quotes
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 24­36 months.

  • 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 Forum.

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 content products.

"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

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