We attended the recent Digital Book World (January 16-17th 2017 in New York), and found it a thoroughly worthwhile event. Of the four tracks offered, the one that got our attention was on the subject of Editorial Production and Distribution, and each of the speakers dug into one of today’s key components, and that was process workflows. Several excellent speakers over the course of the two days addressed its evolution.

A view of the DBW Conference 2017, New York City

If you examine the growing maturity of publishing business systems, from their earliest times up the current state-of-the-art, you see significant progress in at least three giant steps.  In the beginning, it was perfectly wonderful when we could collect data, tabulate and print it to make some very basic business decisions.  I’m thinking of the earliest financial applications in the 60’s when we could calculate our accounts payable out of a batch system that used punched cards as input.  OK, now I’m dating myself.

The point is that our needs were pretty unsophisticated. It didn’t take us all that long to realize that it wasn’t enough to simply present silo’s of data from different departments such as payables and receivables.  We needed more, and eventually we got to a point where we coordinated and referenced data, across the company, into an integrated database.  We thought we really were onto something.

But from there, it wasn’t long before we realized that the corporation couldn’t work without a process that recognized how data moved through a company.  As Michael Gaudette from Hachette said at the conference, “Staff needed ways to have their workflows less fragmented”.  We began to recognize that data wasn’t owned by one group or another, but that it was a shared resource that every player enriched as it passed along the way like a great river flowing to the ocean.  We can’t use integrated systems all that well if the real-life workflow is not reflected in the way the system functions.  As Michael emphasized in the same presentation, “staff are looking for good workflows to actually reduce communications”.  And Ken Brooks in his presentation, showed us that “good processes are the ways in which a company delivers quality to the customer”.

Lisa McCoy-Kelly addressed the issue of digital workflows.  She said that a company’s culture determines what works regarding tools and goals.  “Sometimes there are areas of friction – some friction is good, but you can’t create too much” she warned. She also made the point that different types of content may need different solutions – so you need a versatile solution.  Some types of content just don’t transfer to digital – scratch n sniff, and tactile media for example.

Some might say that that the combination of flexible workflows within an integrated system is the climax of the evolutionary story, but we believe that there is at least one more step we need to make.  We think it’s fine to have an integrated business system with perfectly structured workflows that can match how your company works, but in today’s world, every company needs to deploy all kinds of different applications and software that come from a multitude of specialists in every niche of our business. It’s not possible to have one totally integrated business system that does every little thing that we need to do.

That’s why the next evolution of data is the platform.  The one thing that can finally bring all these different workflows and applications and BI tools and everything else together is a single platform on which they all co-exist for the greater good of the user, one version of the truth for all, as we like to say.  In the absence of that platform, as Greg Sizman summarized in his presentation, “Everyone today has a single curated version of the truth”.  In the consumer world, the Amazon Echo is a simple example of a platform, bringing multiple technologies and applications together into one useful tool that enriches our lives.  A good example from the business world, is Microsoft, who have been working towards this platform concept for some time.  And finally, in his presentation, Phil Madan talked about the holy trinity of publishing; Content, Metadata and Identifiers, and investigated the concept of single source metadata.  We can indeed think of metadata itself as a platform.  That way at least, we would have to change our ONIX feeds in only one place for all partners.  Now maybe that’s the next step in our data and workflow evolution.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash