Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ex-Pat Adaptability Theory

Let me declare right up front that I am an office ex-pat. For most of my career at Quality Solutions - somewhere in the vicinity of 17-18 years - I have worked hundreds of miles away from the Mother Ship - Newburyport. It's easy for me to remember how long because I joined the company December 1990, the same year I graduated St. Mikes. For the first 4-5 months back in winter of 1991 I was living in North Andover, MA and working in the main office in North Reading. Following that, for several years we had a satellite office in Bay Shore, NY with a great team, but for the past decade or so I have been officially an Office Ex-Pat working out of my home, known affectionately as the Blue Point Technology Center. No two days are alike, which is fine by me. Add into the mix the reality that 2-3 days per week I am on the road somewhere - at clients, visiting the Mother Ship, whatever. The fact that I am out of the environment all of the time has lead me to adapt.

So if you are comfortable in your current scenario, then read my post on Transformations.

The lessons I have learned as an ex-pat can be applied to publishing in general and technology projects in particular. In a shifting environment, we have to work extra hard to be efficient and productive. What comes easy in a stable environment, has to be earned in an unstable environment. Walls are often erected in our way and we have to find ways to scale them. In an office ex-pat's world, it is usually technology walls built out of VPN's and Firewalls blocking access to emails and company files and making us work that much harder to be productive. Wherever we plug in or wi-fi connect, we have new obstacles to first learn about and then surmount. It is common for my compatriot Paul Milana and I to find ourselves in a new environment and start firing questions:
"Can you get VPN?"
"No its Blocked",
"Can you get Internet",
"No they need to allow our IP's in the firewall",
"How about Terminal Server access",

In publishing, I would argue the walls are built of convention, tradition and perhaps even a dash of denial. The more nimble of the larger publishing houses have been able to throw gobs of money and resources to build large digital archives, cool website book-view widgets and lots of other neat stuff.

Some of the smaller innovative houses have transformed themselves brilliantly - O'Reilly certainly comes to mind. CJ Rayhill, who will be delivering our Key Note speech at the April 8/9 User conference will have plenty to say on this. Formerly CIO of O'Reilly Media she has now joined on at Safari Books Online. I am excited to meet her and talk with her, as she is known as a persistent, nuts-and-bolts leader, knowing that it is usually in the details where grand schemes go to fail. As a an integrator of our software and services for many years, I can appreciate this perspective.

Whatever the size of the publishing house, I think book publishers can adopt the bird-dog persisence of expats, hitting walls, finding ways over, under, or around to be efficient and productive. This adaptibility and persistence has paid off through numerous projects at publishers I have worked with, and I know that it can be the foundation from which publishing is transformed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

By The Way...

I turned forty today! I feel pretty similar.

I have received many heartfelt, although usually disparaging, birthday wishes ("Did your new cane arrive yet?").

However, the great evangelist for the month-long, my-birthday-should-be-a-national holiday movement has failed to even send a birthday card.
Jana Faust from University of Nebraska Press has always preached this, but maybe she just was referring to her own birthday...

Nothing Jana?

Quality Solutions Community

You might say that there was a latent demand for a Quality Solutions User Conference. We now have well over 100 registered attendees, and more signing on everyday. Fran Toolan and I have had many conversations about what this community means and is capable of, and we see more and more potential everyday. Always with an altruistic bent, Fran has recognized that our community is much more than our clients. When you look at the list of attendees, you instantly see that members of the Quality Solutions community include publishers, distributors, booksellers, wholesalers, industry organizations, and fellow service providers.

In fact, calling this a user conference has become a bit of a misnomer. The responses to our conference questionnaire clearly indicated that members of our community were seeking a forum to explore real, pragmatic, boots-on-the-ground solutions to the pressures we all face in book publishing - to remain relevant, to spread our message, to remain profitable and viable as organizations. So this conference has become a blend from strong nuts and bolts sessions for Title Management users, to broader, more strategic discussions.

The folks at Quality Solutions are honored to be leading this community and recognize the good will that so many of you have demonstrated in signing up to attend and volunteer at this event. We are working hard to ensure that this good will is recognized and rewarded.

And by the way, a large percentage of you indicated that the Quality Solutions 20th Birthday Happy Hour was 'Very Important' or 'My Primary Reason for Attending'. We surely hope to reward THAT sentiment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What a difference 24 hours makes

This is one of those nice sunrises I was talking about. It is amazing how quickly the sun comes up over the horizon when it sets it's mind to it.

I promise, my next post will be about something exciting in publishing...or maybe not.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Truth in Blogging

Any self-respecting blogger will know that frankness and honesty are keys to a good blog post.

So I must post an addendum to my last poetry-laced, sappy entry.

I last wrote about the inspiring scene unfolding before me, describing the sense of peace and serenity one software guy is prone to while perched in the loft.

That peace and serenity were just SHARPLY broken by the off-the-chart,high frequency screaching of three young girls - 11, 8 and 4 who just learned that their school is closed for the day - a rather unexpected turn of events.

Any father of young girls can appreciate what I have just been through in the past couple of minutes. The phone has rung no fewer than a dozen times, with a repeat of the screaching at each pick-up. I long to go back to the relative peace and quiet of the Hannah Montana concert in December...

Apparently, their elementary school was 'hit by lightning' during the storm and the electricity and heat are out.

I told you that it was some squall. Maybe I AM thankful we weren't on the boat...

Winter Thunder Storm Clearing

If I may digress for a moment...

I am working in my loft, Up The Mast if you will, and was struck by the beauty of the scene out my window. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am bit of a sentimentalist, so you will have to bear with me.

Waking up before sunrise and climbing into the loft to work and watch the sunrise is one of life's pleasures for me. It is usually not too long before one of my girls comes up to join - reading on the bean bag, or climbing into my lap as I type and clear my inbox.

This morning, though, the scene was "wicked cool", in the parlance of the St. Michael's College students hailing from Massachusetts (as most of them did in 1990). Last night, we had a raging squall pass overhead, complete with winter thunder and horizontal rain bullets. Our house, situated facing east out the front on the Great South Bay, shudders with the wind of any self-respecting squall. It is almost the same feeling of our boat Tide Pool trying to break free from its anchor during a blow - almost. The creak of the windows as the unobstructed east wind shoves against the house during a particulary strong gust reminds me of the anchor chain straining against the bow pulpit roller which is directly overhead of our berth. The house shakes it off like the boat driving against the anchor chain as hard as possible to one side before relenting and turning back to start over again to the other side of scope. In short, I love it - in fact I live for it.

Following the squall this morning as I was writing my last post, the front blew through and the sun came out - but not like a passing summer squall where there is definitive line between the angry cloud line and blue bird sky. In winter, the scene is confused with bay temparatures out of whack with rapidly changing air temparatures. No, this scene of a passing winter squall is less ordinary and plenty interesting. The bay is turned up with whitecaps pushed by a strong south-east, post squall wind. A strange fog is lifting off the surface. Above, is the clear, pale blue sky and bright, low-in-the-sky winter sun illuminating the mist and making the damp trees sparkle.

Lexie is reading behind me on the bean bag as this scene unfolds.

How can I not be inspired?

The curve has finally caught up

I am more and more convinced that fundamental change is well underway in the publishing industry. For years, we as a company have been well AHEAD of the curve in publishing - painfully ahead. Talking conceptually about our Title Managemenent software - and attempting to sell it - back in the nineties always seemed an uphill battle. Most publishers did not see a critical need for the front-office, presswide databases that we were evangalizing. The sales cycle was long and slow. The large publishers were getting the picture and our earliest clients - Simon & Schuster and Macmillan joined us on the pioneer path.

Even our eloquence service, started in 1998 - was probably 5 years ahead of its time. Early adopters of the service - S&S, Macmillan, and our first adopter Guilford, paved the way to sending Amazon tagged files, then Onix files. In fact, Guilford holds the honor of having the first onix file transmitted in the industry to appear on a website - B&N. But that was years ago - shortly after the turn of the century.

Those two curves have FINALLY caught up. There is no doubt that there is a sense of urgency. I have written about a couple of clear benefits to have this strategically important infrastructure in place, like unleashing the creativity in an organization. Another provocative question to ask a publisher is where they go to get information about one of their own titles...Amazon??? Publishers are recognizing that without complete control of their own title information and workflow, there is no way they will be able to keep up with the accelerating change shaping the industry - from digital distribution of content to print-on-demand to exploiting special sales channels, well, you get the picture. Even in the past week, I have had several conversations with publishers searching for solutions, and the urgency is palpable.

One thing you can be assured of...we at Quality Solutions are not comfortable being comfortably in-sync with the curve and are plotting our next moves to get out ahead again - probably painfully so. Any early adopters out there ready to go for a ride?