Web 2.0: Content is Still King

Bill Godfrey helps transform old media companies into new media companies. In January, after almost eight years as CIO at Dow Jones, he assumed the same role at Elsevier, the science, technology and medical publishing arm of U.K.-based Reed Elsevier. There, he’s building digital delivery platforms that include a healthy dose of Web 2.0 technologies. Godfrey spoke recently with Senior Writer Brian P. Watson about the transition from process to content.

CIO INSIGHT: What similarities are you seeing between your old environment at Dow Jones and your new one at Elsevier?

GODFREY: I’m seeing the same dynamics, where it’s an absolute imperative that we move from a print-centric technology orientation, a print-centric culture and print-centric business models to technologies, cultures and business models centered on the digital delivery of content. As we do that, we’re developing new opportunities. We’re really living up to that old saw that we deliver anywhere, anytime, and any way the customer wants it.

What kind of Web 2.0 potential do you see for other industries, beyond publishing?

Elsevier and its customers mutually agree to deeply integrate their ecosystems. There’s mutual benefit, they mutually tie each other together. Now that mindset is permeating all industries as people look for more ways to extend what value they can offer to their customers, to the point where they’re not afraid of customers rolling their own, using their own fundamental technologies. One of the best examples is where the whole world began to do mashups with Google maps.

Some companies seem to fear Web 2.0 because they don’t think they’re ready for it. How do you sell the idea to upper management?

Web 2.0 is not that new anymore. It’s not like you wake up every morning and say “Shazam!” It’s permeating every business, so it’s becoming less about the technology per se and more about its application. I would never go into an executive management meeting and sell “Web 2.0.” It’s like selling [upper management] on a server—you wouldn’t do that. You sell business value. You say, we want to deliver this set of enhancements to our offering because here’s the value we can offer customers, or here’s the operational leverage this technology offers us, or here’s the defensive technique we want to use to remain contemporary.

What factors determine how businesses begin to use these technologies?

It’s not inbred [in a particular company or industry]; the marketplace itself can dictate the terms. If you’re a CIO, look at who your competition is. I think you’re seeing a lot of companies changing their perspective. People know they have to change, but they don’t take steps to change. It reminds me of the story that right after World War II, trains were still the principal means for transporting commercial goods across the country. Then all the men came back from the war and started driving trucks. All the guys who owned trains absolutely saw that interstate trucking was taking over their market. But they loved their choo-choos, and they didn’t change—and interstate trucking became the dominant means. So we’re also talking about compression—you know you need to change, and [the timeframe] to take steps to change is getting shorter—you have to react faster. Maybe you have to have some natural paranoia.

But that change in delivery must come with a learning curve. How can companies steer through it?

You have to lead now with content, not process. It’s not good enough to be just a competent business manager; you have to add to your skill set a fairly sophisticated and deep understanding of how to manage technology-based business, even if your business is not based on technology. Because if you don’t know how something like a Web 2.0 technology will add value to your business, you’ll miss it. Every company has to raise its overall technical acumen. The management teams of all companies—business management and technology management—must become more facile, more adept, more knowledgeable about Web-based delivery techniques.

How did you get interested in Web 2.0? Were you a blogger?

No, nothing like that. Part of it is I’ve always recognized people who were innovative. Even though I may not have understood the particular technology at the time, I typically could recognize when others did. If you want to be a technology leader today, you have to get energy from the application of technology. You have to dig it. You have to think it’s fun so you naturally go there.

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