The Surround Stuff
Moore has often been a well-known presence in the emergence of
new technologies, from telecommunications through networking
and information management. Most recently, Moore has been pleased
to witness first-hand the decade's most significant business
and organizational revolution: the drive to leverage knowledge
assets (documents, records, information and object repositories)
in the support of knowledge workers, researchers and academics.
Today's content providers go in search for the true source of
By Andy Moore, Editorial Director, Specialty Publishing Group
Jesse Kornbluth is the content director for AOL, and thus influences
one of the most-read online resources in the world. I heard him
address a conference, which he started this way: "I propose
we find the guy who first coined the term 'content,' and kick
the living %$# out of him."
It's a funny line. Everyone cracks up. And then he proceeds
to talk about the difficulties in talking about "content" as
though it were a single identifiable substance. It's not, and
if there's any better proof necessary, take a look at the assorted
lot we have in this "content" white paper.
As if to mock me in my futile search for a central theme to
the content marketplace, the three executives I spoke with provide
three distinct and unique views of this stubbornly difficult-to-pigeonhole
One message is fairly constant, though: The challenge faced
by content providers today has little to do with the content
itself. Oh sure, they each have a great "quality" story to tell.
Their ability to create proprietary, exclusive, important stuff
is one of their hallmarks. And the editorial componentthe
skill with which they verify, aggregate and concentrate relevant
informationremains a competitive necessity.
But the real value, they all agree, is not only the product
itself, but what my old boss used to call "The Surround Stuff." How
can the content add meaning to a business process? How completely
and seamlessly can it be combined with other information? To
what degree is the content delivered intuitively, as though the
provider could read your mind and seem to know exactly what you
wanted? It's another way of saying customer service, I suppose.
But it's more than that. It's something deeper, more meaningful...
If I had to identify the single most impactful trend among
the content market leaders today, I would say, thankfully, that "the
Surround Stuff" really matters to them.
At the Customer's Threshold
Wendy Beecham is senior VP for LexisNexis, Enterprise & Library
division. Because the E & L division is responsible for the
corporate, Federal and academic markets, Wendy is focused on
a diverse set of market segments that don't immediately seem
especially compatible. And because she's only been at the job
since February, Wendy is also focused on learning right now...especially
when the subject is the cross-leverage potential of her various
"The statistical and government information we provide can be
very valuable as back-up to create proposals, or to do a business
analysis, for example, on cost-of-goods sold," she explains. "We
also have very valuable information to help with risk assessment
across countries, for instance. There are some real hidden gems
in there. We've just never packaged it that way before."
Other examples of cross-pollination emerge from the overlap
between the academic and business segments. LexisNexis produces
a business-news service ("LexisNexis Universe") that, with the
exception of a Yahoo!-type serviceis the only service that
provides access to news for the academic community. Now they
plan to re-purpose some of the business services they currently
package for the corporate market and make them more applicable
for use by the key business schools.
(And by the way, this is premium content that goes way beyond
run-of-the-mill Web content. "This kind of data isn't available
publicly. If you're going to make strategic business decisions
that have revenue impact, you need to go beyond Web sources," stresses
Seeing the value in existing content, and thoughtfully considering
how to help customers use it to greater effect, is part of the
Surround Stuff ethos. Wendy uses this example: "We have domain
experts who can get into such levels of detail with our customers'
taxonomies that we help make sure they don't miss any future
trends or opportunities. And we continue to keep them updated,
So the role of the information provider, already evolved beyond
that of a mere general-reference source or database service,
is showing more promising signs of maturity and complexity. Take
high-value, original information, add a precise and application-specific
search methodology and present it with an irrefutable validation
of accuracy and trustworthiness, and a provider such as LexisNexis
starts to look a lot like a business partner versus just another
Stressing "Provider" Over "Content"
The gradual evolution of the typical commercial content provider
from monolithic information resource to value-added information
partner can also be seen in another, more data-intensive provider,
Thomson Scientific. Mike Tansey is the CEO of TS, which now includes
the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), ISI ResearchSoft,
Derwent Information, Derwent-Wila and Current Drugs. Tansey views
the shift in emphasis from the "content" part toward the "provider" part
as central to his business, and his worldview. "Over time, we've
come to look at our database as a starting point for people who
are managing a whole series of related information assets," says
Mike, and adds that this is "a path we're still exploring."
In describing the value-add proposition that TS and companies
like it provide, Mike lists three critical discriminators, andinterestinglythe
actual content is only tangentially related to any of them:
"One is the navigational database, and how much guidance you
provide in the initial determination of what's relevant;
"The second is how deeply connected that result set is to OTHER
content that you can find to bring to the table; and finally,
"How seamlessly you can integrate all the above with internal
business data." For Mike, the richness of the relationship between
content provider and customer is much more than just the quality
of the content itselfit's how well and how easily it can
be put to use in the business process.
I think it's the reality of our time. In the past, when research
or patent information was delivered in print form"pull
up the forklift"there was little alternative for the content
provider except to accept that one-size-has-to-fit-all, and the
best business model was to simply keep on doing what you're doing.
But Mike and the rest understand the concept of Surround Stuff.
Mike puts it this way: "We used to sell a database, and this
is what it's going to do for you. Now, we're talking more with
customers about what the entire process looks like: What can
we do to improve your intellectual property/digital asset management
activities? Can we provide something that fits better into your
workflow? Can we do something that is a better value proposition
These are Surround Stuff questions.
Hiding the Wires
Both Wendy and Mike would agree that their respective companies'
ability to compete and thrive will depend on customer-awareness,
but this emphasis on the Surround Stuff includes the technical
interfaces and underpinnings, too. Mike talks about the "validation
and the precision of search" that Thomson Scientific strives
to provide. At LexisNexis, Wendy stresses ease-of-use: "the extent
to which the complexity is masked from the ultimate consumer," they
write, determines how well their products help the ultimate consumer,
the knowledge worker.
From a whole 'nother plane of "ease-of-use" comes our third
example, Sawyer Media Systems. Best known (if known much at all)
as the company co-founded by TV news anchor Forrest Sawyer, Sawyer
Media has made "masking the complexity" practically an art form.
"Yes, that's right," says Peter Tierney, president and CEO. "We
do try to hide the wires." And wires aplenty there are. Sawyer
Media works with customers to develop broadcast-quality streaming
video and audio for all sorts of "communications" applicationsmarketing,
sales training, investor relations, for instance.
The central message of Sawyer Media comes from an observation
that Forrest used to get this company off the ground, and that
is: Why is it that you can watch a 22-minute news broadcast
and remember practically everything, but you can sit through
a two-hour business meeting and remember practically nothing? It
seems intuitive that business communications can learn a lesson
from 50 years of news production expertise, and create a new
way of delivering important content.
But it's not as simple as putting a talking head in front of
a camera. "Companies have been making videos for years," points
out Peter. "And they spend months creating them, untold dollars
distributing them, and nobody watches them."
It became clear that the answer was two-fold: One, there's
more to communications than talking headsproduction expertise
plays a part. And, secondly, Sawyer Media felt there was no software
platform in place to publish streaming video in the same way
that software existed to build Web sites, for example. Wrapping
the two missing piecesproduction expertise and deployment
platformaround the basic business problem of communicating
effectively became their mission.
"To start with, rich media is not very well produced," says
Peter. "We can help there, but secondly, streaming media today
has a lot of exposed wiring." By that he means, in part, that
the RealPlayer or QuickTime media players interrupt the experience
of the viewer, distracting and isolating the content from the
rest of the data on the user's screen. "In the same way that
web sites have become the platform for publishing information,
this is a platform for publishing rich media."
Picking a Partner
To the degree that publishing useful information on behalf
of your customers and partners is central and mission-critical
to your business, companies like TS and LexisNexis and Sawyer
Media all have a permanent seat at the table. For some, these
companies will be the only game in town, and thus will always
be thought of as more of a "have-to-have" than a "want-to-have."
But to the further degree that they can enhance the experience
you have with customers, playing a part in providing the all-important
Surround Stuff, these companies are among the indispensable partners
in your futures.
As I suggested at the beginning, the articles in these pages
will do nothing to clarify the definition of "content" for you.
But they do elevate the conversation past the raw materials of
communication, and into the realm of service and partnership.
And that's a pretty good place to start the process of thinking
about your strategies for buying and deploying "content."
Whatever that is.