Content at the Crossroads: The Information 4.0 Consortium

Content at the Crossroads: The Information 4.0 Consortium

Why I'm Excited About Information Energy 2018, by [A] Founder Cruce Saunders

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Late this month, I head to Amsterdam to participate in Information Energy 2018 taking place March 1-2. Information Energy and it's founding organization, the Information 4.0 Consortium, have caught my imagination. I'm looking forward to the conversation. The thinkers, academics, and industry professionals involved combine deep thinking into the underpinnings of "the shift" in the information and content landscapes with a warm, optimistic humanism.  

It's a big shift, but the shift itself is not exactly news.

As we all experience daily, business, government, and society are undergoing epochal changes. The way we handle knowledge, information, content, and data in all of its forms evolves daily. Billions of dollars and millions of jobs hinge on the shift.

This shift has been underway for more than two decades. However, the last several years have seen even more priority placed on content transformation. The burst in innovation stems from raw necessity. The old order is breaking. And it hurts. Old-world publishing systems and teams cannot keep up with personalization, content automation, omnichannel customer experiences, chatbots and other conversational interactions with content, and artificial intelligence in various forms. Two decades on, and the world's relationship with knowledge has utterly changed. The next two decades will render today's web unrecognizable.

So...the content must change. Ye olde unstructured blobs stored in CMS tables don't work. Most everyone at the front line of content understands this already. But senior organizational leaders are still catching up, and there's little agreement about what new forms content will take, how to handle the management of it all, and how it will be exchanged between content owners and then with consumers.

The shift has been described.

The change in content mirrors the massive shifts in the industrial, manufacturing, and technology sectors. The nature of consumerism and capitalism itself is shifting and information plays no small role. Joe Gollner has pointed out many of these substantial market shifts in some of his talks over a number of years, and given voice to the need for clear engineering practices around content. (The movement towards the practice of content engineering for intelligence is indeed where I spend my work days at [A], so naturally I found myself even more attracted to the Consortium after recognizing Joe's work inherent.)

The Information 4.0 Consortium has arrived at a description of the characteristics of the future state of content, in summary care of Rahel Baile:

  • Profiled – automatically delivered to specific users and audiences
  • Offered – allows systems to pull, as needed
  • Dynamic – continuously updated
  • Independent – usable in multiple contexts
  • Ubiquitous – online, searchable, and findable
  • Molecular – free-standing information outside of “documents”
  • Spontaneous – triggered by contexts

More can be explored in the Information 4.0 Consortium blog. 

The shift is currently chaos.

The shift has been happening in the chaotic ways these things happen. Bursts of innovation from all parts of the market, and all positions in the enterprise, are responding naturally to the need to streamline, consolidate, diversify publishing processes just to keep up with the pace of change. And, so innovation has been uneven across the market, with nothing to normalize approaches to content intelligence.  

Every company, vendor, government, university — all have different schemas, different approaches to exchanging content between systems (and for many, that's still copy and paste). Interoperability, if any, is usually at the level of application and presentation code, not content itself. This makes it impossible to author in one system and publish in another with any consistency. Semantic web working groups and researchers have been toiling away for well over a decade on Linked Data, RDF and RDF Schemas, Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS), and the Web Ontology Language (OWL). Yet these technologies remain, for the most part, left out of the vast majority of marketing and technical communications. It's an odd disconnect.

It's not a standards or research problem.

We do not necessarily need another standards body, or at least not soon. Solid, functioning content standards bodies exist, most notably the W3C, OASIS, and subgroups such as W3C Community Group among others. These are very productive. Academic publishing about the semantic web is awe-inspiring. Some of the smartest people in the world are thinking about content relationships, already.

And, various conferences representing the various dimensions of content transformation, the content sciences, and the content strategy profession all exist and offer excellent forums for exchanges.

Useful content forums and conferences abound ... but something is missing.

I very much appreciate the forums for content innovation happening in marketing communications, such as the upcoming Intelligent Content Conference, hosted by the Content Marketing Institute in March in Las Vegas. And also, the advances being discussed within the technical communications forums, such as Lavacon, Information Development WorldSociety for Technical Communciation (STC), and others. Further progress is being made within the many conversations about content's evolving patterns within the UX and web development worlds, as personified by Confab and SXSW, among others.

Each of these forums addresses the role of content within publishing systems, how that content needs to evolve for more and more discrete and machine-based publishing and consumption approaches.

Yet, there's a missing transnational discussion that focuses the nature and interaction of content and how it should look in the future across the enterprise, government, NGO, non-profit, education, and other sectors. The Information 4.0 Consortium has the opportunity to play a role here.

The Information 4.0 Consortium exists at a crossroads, facing a number of potential future models.

There exists a set of consortia surrounding many other aspects of the foundational shifts we've been encountering. For example, the German government has sponsored a powerful initiative entitled Plattform Industrie 4.0 with the goal to "...identify all relevant trends and developments in the manufacturing sector and to combine them to produce a common overall understanding of Industrie 4.0."

In the U.S., there's the Industrial Internet Consortium with a charter to, in part, "...identify the requirements for open interoperability standards and define common architectures to connect smart devices, machines, people, and processes."

A group of thinkers (Roger T. Burlton, Ronald G. Ross, and John A. Zachman) has put together a "Business Agility Manifesto" (thanks to Marie Girard for pointing to this) that provides a set of patterns by which organizations can embrace change.

So, there are various groups formed to essentially move society forward in a given direction, thereby embracing a more ideal future. What intrigues me about Information Energy, and the Information 4.0 Consortium, is the focus on the changing nature of content itself, and its relationship to the industrial and commercial worlds at the broadest level. How content as the "stuff of knowledge" moves, and impacts humans and machines. The evolving relationship between content and various forms of machine learning. This confluence of topics forms a fertile ground for meaningful shared innovation.

Such conversations could hew towards the purely abstract and philosophical, and appeal to a more niche group. But could a charter broaden the appeal?

The themes treated by the Information 4.0 Consortium provide a fairly unique cross-section of the marketspace around information, that might be placed into categories:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Semantic and Graph 
  • Conversational Interfaces
  • Distributed Systems
  • Customer Experience
  • Internet of Things
  • Emerging Technology

And, further, being intentional about such a rubric offers us an opportunity to create a more focused macro conversation around content change that intersects major sectors:

  • Industry
  • Academia
  • Government
  • Social

Potentially, the organization can look more deeply, in an organized fashion, at how content and information is:

  • Modeled
  • Authored
  • Managed
  • Published
  • Connected
  • Stored

So, I am interested because a transnational group should exist to move the conversation around the big shift in information and content forward. The seeds have been sewn for the Information 4.0 Consortium to play a bigger role in setting the agenda for multiple stakeholders deeply invested in content and information assets. Or, it can simply host a more niche conversation among practitioners. Both are valuable. Looking forward to exploring more, and seeing which path emerges.

If you can make it to Amsterdam on March 1st and 2nd, I'll see you there at Information Energy to continue the exploration.

More About Information Energy

02/28/2018 - 03/01/2018

About Information Energy Conference

The future of information is a common business interest for information and technology developers. Content will not only be shared across the organization; it will be available for everyone, anywhere, for any machine, and at any time. This evolution has huge implications for professionals in the information domain and for those creating the technologies that will use information.

Information Energy 2018 partners with Information 4.0 Consortium bring together professionals in the fields of content and information management and developers of intelligent technologies. This is your opportunity to have a voice in how information will power future technologies. Interactive topics are focused on creating natural conversations between humans and machines.

About Cruce Saunders

Cruce will speak at Information Energy March 1. Learn more about his talk "Evolving the New Content Order: The Rapidly Changing Multi-Channel, Multi-Modal Content Landscape."

Founder and principal at [A] and author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World, Cruce brings more than 20 years of experience focused on content delivery technology. His team has delivered more than 300 successful digital and content engineering engagements. Cruce regularly speaks on omnichannel content, content engineering, content asset valuation, intelligent content, machine learning, chatbots, AI, cognitive systems, customer experience platforms, organizational design and change management, and master content models. [A] operates in the US, Mexico, and Latin America and serves large corporations, governments, associations, NGOs and other complex institutions. @mrcruce