Thursday, March 24, 2016

Marketing wants to Market, Sales wants to Sell: Give them the Tools.

An historic lack of investment in the tools that allow your best customers to use your content may be frustrating those inside and outside your business.  It’s time to consider a strategic approach to identity and access management.

Over the past few years, many large software companies (including IBM, EMC, SAP and others) have invested in or acquired software which facilitates the relationship between a consumer and the owner of a digital item.  Typically, this ‘item’ is a content type such as an article, television show, movie or website.  But as more and more of our interactions occur on the web, the universe of ‘items’ available to us expands every day.  The category of software which facilitates these relationships is referred to as Identity and Access Management (IAM) and more and more, it is becoming an area of increased investment by both the providers of this type of software and the companies which provide the access rights.  Gartner defines Identity and Access Management (IAM) as “The security discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right time for the right reasons”.

Most publishers with web content and web-delivered products will be familiar with the two main components of IAM: authentication and authorization.   Both have been critical in the distribution of electronic products into the library, academic and direct-to-consumer markets for our market for many years.   The software which manages these activities is frequently embedded in other applications – such as a content management or subscription system – or is derived from those systems.  Now, increasingly, we are seeing purpose-built IAM systems which sit between a database/repository of content and the user.  Companies like EMC, as well as new-to-the-market companies such as, are aggressively expanding this market as the ‘subscription’ and ‘membership’ model economy grows.  Publishers and content-centric companies – whether they know it or not – have represented many of the original business cases upon which these companies have based their investments.  The irony is that many publishers have under invested in their own IAM tools: As a result, they are likely to be leaving money on the table and suffering a comparative disadvantage versus others who are investing in the new tools and software.

Naturally, all content owners want to expand the usage of their content, be able to experiment with different business models and facilitate as many access modes as possible.  The consumer wants access to be universal across their devices (without disruption) and they increasingly expect some degree of personalization which provides them with additional relevant and timely content. 

Publishers are unable to deliver on these requirements due to their lack of investment in IAM solutions.  For example, they will provide access to journal articles for stated periods of time but don’t have the technical flexibility to work with collections of articles created by users and then price these collections dynamically.  Marketers and sales staff are left frustrated by lost sales - often to competitors - who are able to provide more creative and personalized options for their users. 

As publishers review their options and plan their technical architecture they will need to answer several new(ish) questions about the IAM software they are considering.  Licensing this software from the same content management (CMS) provider is likely to prove less and less optimal as companies like those noted above build out the functionality and capabilities of bespoke IAM solutions.  

Within the context of a strategic plan and a review of the company’s sales and market goals, you may consider the following important questions to answer and issues to discuss with vendors:
  • How flexibly can we define customer types?  Can this definition happen dynamically as a user exhibits certain behaviors?   How easy is the admin interface that allows marketing and sales personnel to define customer types?
  • Business models in the “old world” were very static; however, there may now be an almost unlimited number of business models to support a wide variety of customer types and access rules.  How well can this software manage a wide variety of models?  How are new models created and/or augmented and existing ones changed?  Importantly, is there an ‘archive’ capability so you can place any number of business models on hold and return to them in the future.  Is reporting easy – especially if you expect to adopt a multitude of models?
  • As our own personal experience shows, we access content and online resources via a variety of devices ranging from our television to our watch.  The experience is naturally very different from device to device and these differences need to be mitigated so as to not diminish and/or devalue the user experience.  The IAM should be able to intervene as needed to maintain the best and most consistent, uninterrupted experience for the user.
  • Lastly, IAM may be able help content owners expand the overall usage of their content.  To the extent that IAM enables some identification of the user this information can be used as a basis for delivering specific, personalized new content of which the user may be unaware.  Together with a strong analytics capability (a topic for next time), marketing can categorize users into like groups to deliver curated (and programmatic) content packages.  These type of activities are strategically important because they can support new revenue streams, renewal rates and price increases.  Tying an increase in utility to an annual price increase can be very effective in raising topline revenues.
  • A second aspect of identity management is to confirm that your chosen technology can monetize the ‘non-registered’ or ‘over the transom’ traffic which comes to your site on a daily basis.  If you have a site which generates a lot of daily non-subscriber traffic you’ve probably asked a lot about how you can turn that traffic into real revenue.  Asking specific questions about how this can be achieved via an IAM is important because, here, you may find a true ROI.
Increasingly, IAM will be viewed as a business-critical solution supported by the marketing and sales team, rather than a ‘black-box’ software package managed by the corporate IT department.   Decision makers on the front line selling content, subscriptions and memberships should begin demanding more from the IAM.  The solutions are out there.

Michael Cairns has served as CEO and President of several technology and content-centric business supporting global media publishers, retailers and service provider.  He can be reached at and is interested in discussing new business opportunities for executive management and/or board and advisory positions.

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