Viewpoint: Why disruption is good for business

Student reading an iPad Initiatives like personalised education are more plausible than ever - but only if information is open and adaptable, Genevieve Shore says

The tough economic and business climate, while dispiriting to some, has highlighted the resilience and creativity of many UK businesses. It has enabled many media companies to make tough decisions, changes and investments to position them better for the future.

It has been a period of boom for technology and creative-industry start-ups.

Technology of Business

It is no coincidence that the UK's innovative creative industries constitute one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK. They now contribute 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employ more than two million people.

The internet economy contributed £121bn to the overall UK economy in 2010, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. This is projected to rise to £225bn - 12.4% of GDP - by 2016. It's potentially an area of real competitive advantage for the UK.

It means companies can move more quickly, be more radical in our approach to digital, and more courageous.

Why? The perfect storm of economic and structural disruption has gone on unabated as the media industry continues its inexorable shift from print to digital delivery. It has forced many of us to make hard-headed choices and challenge our traditional business models.

Consumerisation of learning

In news publishing this has meant the creation of online paid-content strategies or the free distribution tactics of magazines such as Time Out, Shortlist and Index Trader.

In consumer publishing, "self-publishing" has come of age and the value of UK digital fiction sales in the first half of 2012 was up 188% on the same period in 2011, just showing how rapidly readers and publishers are embracing e-books.

In education, we are finally seeing what a personalised education looks like and how effective it can be.

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In education, we should no longer just provide a textbook; but a service”

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These new technologies and, more importantly, a far better understanding of the data behind them have allowed organisations to get closer to their customers, and understand them better. Strategy should now be all about adding services to content, usually enabled by software that makes the content more useful, more personal and more valuable.

As we witness the consumerisation of learning, students and teachers increasingly expect simplicity, beauty and flexibility on any device. This shift is enabling education technology companies to fulfil the call in education for on-demand, highly targeted and relevant online learning and open resources.

The smart use of data is now crucial in personalising courses and services and proving that they work, and with lower costs of entry that could be anywhere in the world, including China, Brazil and India. These faster growing global economies are also where the appeal of British creative brands is particularly strong.

Rolls-Royce illustrates this shift to a service. When you buy a Rolls-Royce engine, you don't buy a product, you buy the promise of a working engine for a number of years. Rolls-Royce monitors the engine remotely, gets parts to airports around the world and constantly innovates.

In education, we should no longer just provide a textbook, but a service and a similar promise to help raise achievement through course content, software and assessment.

To do this, we need to invest in systems - software and resources that create and deliver engaging interactive courses, monitor use, effectiveness and engagement in new ways and share that information with teachers and educators.

Finding smart people

This turbulence and pace of change has also led many organisations to revisit the nature of how they innovate.

From Downing Street to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Google, organisations and governments the world over are opening up to better engage with their audiences and customers and tap into external resources to fuel innovation.

They recognise that to keep pace in an increasingly competitive, dynamic and digital marketplace is also to challenge the traditional model of developing new ideas.

No one company can have a monopoly on the talent available across our amazing world, and we can be more effective at innovating if we leverage great minds inside and outside our company. In fact, this is just common sense. It's about finding smart people, partners and customers wherever they may be who can positively impact on your business and its customers.

Genevieve Shore Content should be shared, improved upon and repurposed, Genevieve Shore says

Executing this strategy successfully relies on becoming a more open organisation. The benefits include continual and fast innovation, increased sales, reach, customer satisfaction and engagement. We can all be more competitive, disruptive and unpredictable.

Open technology should be embraced to aid the exchange of content, data and code. Application programming interfaces - know as APIs - increase our reach and sales by bringing in third parties to help distribute products, often through new channels and to new audiences.

For example, if a third-party developer can add spice to a recipe in one of our Dorling Kindersley cookbooks, we welcome it (as, we think, will the taste buds of our customers).

A central repository of code, like GitHub, can be repurposed across an organisation or network. Code and services can be offered back to the open source community and with tools to manage and analyse student data for any start-up to use.

These are turbulent times for any industry, but especially those companies trying to stand still and defend. This is not a freak storm that will soon give way to calmer waters.

This kind of disruption is the new reality. It might not always provoke us to change course, but it will help us all to get where we want to be far more quickly than we originally hoped.

Genevieve Shore is the chief information officer and director of digital strategy for Pearson, one of the world's leading learning companies. She is responsible for the company's worldwide efforts in educational technology. She can be followed on Twitter here.

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