Buyers and sellers address platform diversity
Monday, 23rd July 2012
A recent roundtable hosted by the Software and Information Industry Association at the SLA annual conference brought together buyers and sellers of content products to discuss key issues facing the industry. Creative dialogue on the challenges of product development and enterprise content management in a multi-platform environment got buyers and sellers considering ways they can work together to resolve problems and make information work more effective.
Ten years ago, vendors developed content products for local installations or, increasingly, web-based delivery. Today, vendors develop for a range of platforms, including mobile (with multiple operating platforms), web (multiple browsers and platforms), and a variety of secure environments to meet the needs of customers.
Two years ago, organisations maintained tight control over where and how employees could access internal and licensed content to do their work. But increasingly, they became aware of breaches in this secure arrangement: Cloud-based file sharing services like DropBox were quietly used when employees really needed access to something from a remote location… and information managers knew that some content was finding its way onto smart phones and tablets, despite the fact that these were not approved devices.
Today, both vendors and buyers have to face the multiplicity of platforms on which users want to be able to access content. Vendors have to contend with the ever-expanding demands for development to keep up with these changes, and corporate buyers are slowly starting to address the emerging risks of BYOD (bring-your-own-device) if left unattended.
As one respondent in a FreePint Research project mentioned when interviewed for FreePint's Enterprise Market for Mobile Content research project, “The fact is, is that it’s happening. And if you don’t address it, then you have unaddressed risk.”
Since both buyers and sellers face challenges offered by a multi-platform environment, of course they are working together to find sustainable solutions, right? Wrong. Very little industry-wide discussion is currently taking place to set standards, encourage productive dialogue or establish best practices. Every organisation is, frustratingly, on its own.
It is very difficult to plan for 12 or 24 or 36 months down the road in this kind of environment. To help buyers and sellers address this problem, I had the pleasure of facilitating a roundtable discussion hosted by the Content Division of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) at the SLA annual conference in Chicago. One of the topics for the session was to describe potential solutions for the challenges of a multi-platform environment.
Through the dialogue, the participants identified three key challenges which would have to be addressed for the problem of platform diversity to be considered “solved”:
One of the first elements that came up in discussion groups was the need for some level of standardisation to be introduced at the industry level. An accepted standard for development and delivery to apply to mobile, cloud and locally delivered solutions would eliminate a lot of the uncertainty and barriers for both buyers and sellers.
During smaller brainstorming discussions before the whole roundtable group debriefed together, several of the groups came up with the concept of a filter or “normalising” layer that could sit between the content and the user. This layer would align all content with the preferred delivery mechanism of the user (or the organisation, if at the corporate level).
Customisation and control
The participants agreed that the trend toward user-centric expectations would continue: “anyone, anywhere, on anything” is the emerging expectation for content access.
Users will increasingly want to set their own controls for how they interact with content. At the same time, organisations need to be able to control what their employees can and cannot see, and vendors need to have appropriate controls for premium content, to manage their accounts.
In the past, buyer organisations have instituted controls by restricting access to specific devices, IP addresses, login environments, etc. This approach remains the most commonly used in the industry, particularly for companies in regulated industries, but users are chafing against restrictions and, increasingly, demanding more flexibility in how they access content.
Roundtable participants struggled with how to address these competing needs. Some wanted to open up all variables to user control, while others wanted to maintain some corporate-level control over where and how users could access content.
Many buy-side participants expressed frustration that every vendor has its own approach to product development and its own way of tagging and delivering content, making it very difficult to integrate that content with anything else.
Vendors in the room, for their part, wanted to look to solutions that put some responsibility on other entities – the buyer organisation or a third-party technology provider, for example – to establish conduits for the content into the buyer environment, commenting (correctly) that if they were to anticipate buyer requirements for doing so, they’d likely get it wrong.
Sustainable business model
And how to charge for content that’s theoretically available “anywhere, anytime, from anything”? This topic was raised, wrestled with, and yet no clear answers were forthcoming.
Participating buyers generally seemed to prefer a “buy once, access anywhere” pricing model. Sellers were happy to agree in theory, but worried that the appropriate price tag to cover development and profit would not be palatable.
Again, buyers lamented the lack of an industry standard to guide them; they wish that vendors adhered to a standard set of approaches to pricing – for a single-platform model, let alone a multi-platform one.
No firm answers
The problems – and opportunities – posed by a multi-platform environment will not be resolved in a single dialogue, or even a single series of conversations. When buyers and sellers talk with each other about their perspectives on this shared challenge, however, every conversation makes progress in building partnership to come to solutions that both can live with.
What will it take to establish standards, enable both customisation and control and also create manageable and profitable business models? Many more conversations, within the context of a fast-moving environment.
The SIIA’s Content Division has a series of Buyer-Seller opportunities planned, including a September webinar on creating a shared understanding of what buyers and sellers are looking for in product excellence. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to be notified of opportunities to particiate in Buyer-Seller Programming.