Content clusters are the way of the future

The digital world will be different from today's, says Thornton A May

The vortex of the next economy is the content cluster. That’s what various futurists, economists, jurists, hedge fund barons, investment bankers and venture capitalists are saying about the information, media and entertainment vertical markets.

The content cluster is an important place. Just about everyone in the IT industry recognises that we are moving towards a post-internet, high-bandwidth, totally globalised, massively digitised, planetary commercial system. IT executives in the content cluster are already there. You can think of them as the first amphibians to come ashore on the digital beach or, moving further along the evolutionary scale, the first hominids to experiment with walking erect on the digital savannah.

Some executives talk about transformation. Content-cluster executives live it. Every day, something significant in the business changes. Only in the content cluster will you see such bare-knuckled capitalism, such ego, such technology disruption, such variety in business models, such rapid change, such confusion, such courage, such fear and such high-quality leadership — all on a daily basis.

The big changes that have hit the information, media and entertainment industries in the past few years will be frequently cited by next-generation business historians as they enumerate the opportunities and dangers of working in an environment heavily impacted by technology innovation. But the history of the content cluster is tomorrow’s business. Today, IT executives in these industries are on the leading edge of redefining what a corporation looks like in terms of its assets, people, processes and competencies.

Digitisation is key inside the content cluster. For businesses in industries outside the cluster, the three stages of digitisation — applying increasing amounts of computer technology to analogue, manual processes; linking some subset of those digitised processes together; and figuring out how that digitisation changes work itself — are experienced gradually. As the businesses progress along the road to digitisation, some jobs go away and new jobs are created. Inside the content cluster, though, this gradual progression is accelerated nearly to the speed of light; digitisation affects every piece of the business all at once.

As one content-cluster CIO explains, “With digitisation, you never really know what is going to happen until you get there [and] I have experienced this digital revolution in two other industries”.

He also says: “Digitisation is happening more intensely and at a very rapid pace across every one of our businesses.”

Technology executives working in the content cluster have to be ahead of the curve, naturally. They know that it’s still much too early to have all the answers. Instead, they are asking the right questions, and the right questions are the tough questions.

One senior executive I know has a placard prominently displayed in her office that reads, “Control is an illusion”. But those executives nonetheless are able to lead, even though they are on a road for which there are no maps — and not a lot of rest stops.

Tom Yager is taking a break from writing his Ahead of the Curve column

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