Reflections on Brexit: internal agility and the world of work

I am a political animal. From the moment I began to articulate my political values in my early teens I have always been a creature of the progressive Left. But this is not a political blog.

But today it is. Today I find the the personal, the professional and the political cannot be compartmentalised. Perhaps they never can.

As I wake ridiculously early on day two of our new post-Brexit world, I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s events and some of the broader implications for the world of work.

I spent some of yesterday on social media trying to find some articulation of hope and resolution amongst the confusion and despair. I found it in Caroline Lucas’s video – shot and posted in the early morning light. In her Huff post article posted later in the day. And I found it in Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s call in the Guardian for the young – those who will be most affected by this historic vote – to mobilise, politicise and fight.

But I also found it at work.

Three things that came into very sharp focus for me yesterday were:

  1. True business agility is built on internal capability
  2. An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce, and
  3. I am proud to work for the CIPD

True business agility is built on internal capability

CIPD is a knowledge business. We produce and provide content that supports our membership and the wider Human Resource and Learning and Development profession.

I am a huge advocate of building internal capability, particularly digital capability. I have always believed that having such a capability in-house is vital to help us respond to business threats and opportunities.

Businesses should ask themselves: what are our core digital needs, and how do we develop and deploy them most successfully? Well of course at CIPD we have many core digital needs, but one of them is the ability to successfully communicate our message and to reach as wide an audience as possible.

And the ability to do that well and do it quickly.

Over the past year we’ve been building our internal video production capability. Today video is such a potent and important medium that it’s imperative that we can produce, embed and distribute high quality video.

With no budget. And with limited resource.

There’s a post coming up on this soon, so I won’t go into the details of how we’ve set that up here and now. But suffice to say that over the past year we have developed a team of people at CIPD who – on top of their core roles – can do this. And do it quickly.

Yesterday, as CIPD’s Editorial and Communications teams worked out our response to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, we found ourselves on the front foot.

The external agency that we often use to produce ‘corporate’ videos was not available for days. So we called on the internal team.

It took a little less than two hours to film, edit and post a video of our CEO Peter Cheese addressing members’ Brexit concerns and questions and re-stating CIPD’s vision.

Within hours we got our powerful message out there to our members and to our community.

And what is that message? An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce.

An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce

It’s something CIPD has been saying for years. We have an accumulation of research, evidence and experience to back up our claim.

We know that it is vital that the UK has access to a flexible, international workforce to plug the skills gap. It is important for business and for our wider society. And it is particularly important in the emerging technology sector (see Techcrunch’s recent post on Brexit fears amongst London’s digital start ups).

Much of London’s success as an economic powerhouse is due to that agglomeration – that coming together – of talent from across the UK, the EU, and beyond.

The Digital Production team and the CIPD as a whole includes many colleagues who were not born in the UK, but who have made it their home. We rely on their considerable skills, their enthusiasm, their passion, their talent.

I am proud to work for CIPD

On Friday 24 June, in responding to the news, colleagues at CIPD really nailed all of our PACE values: expertise, agility, collaboration and a sense of common purpose.

Purpose: so important to unlocking that discretionary effort. Vital for our own self-motivation and to motivating the teams we lead and/or work with.

CIPD’s purpose is to Champion Better Work and Working Lives. Our mission is to help shape the debate around work in the modern world. And – in an increasingly uncertain but connected age – to make work meaningful, to the benefit of the individual, Business and society as a whole.

When our CEO Peter Cheese responded to the EU Referendum results yesterday – in text, in video and in person – he re-iterated that purpose.

Championing Better Work and Working Lives means championing a flexible, international workforce.

[A] key element of our flexible labour market is that it enables employers to access or bring in skilled and unskilled workers from outside the UK to help support business growth and address labour shortages in our public services. It is important that this is not forgotten in any reform of the immigration system. …it is vital the Government continues to focus working with all constituencies on the very real and strategic challenges that continue to threaten the UK’s prosperity in future years, namely the productivity, skills and employment agendas.

Peter Cheese quoted in the CIPD Press Office Briefing, 24 June 2016.

Over the coming months and years, as the UK and the EU works out what Brexit actually means, CIPD will use its evidence and its experience to influence government policy and the wider debate on immigration and flexible labour markets.

Now we’re really talking about the communication of valuable ideas here!

And finally…

A friend of mine recently sent me a quote from Viktor Frankl’s holocaust memoire, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

We choose our response to events in life. We either choose despair and we give up, or we choose hope and we fight on.

Yesterday I found hope amongst the chaos.

The video

You can see the video at




Building a business case for COPE (part four): other organisations taking a reimagination approach

Last month I posted about the proof of concept I’ve been asked to develop to demonstrate the potential for re-using content from our research reports in other products. Having read that post, my boss asked me whether there were any case studies out there from businesses who have used the ‘re-imagination’ approach, and were there any supporting stats that demonstrated improved reach, readership and download numbers.

Re-imagination is another (more elegant in my view) term for what is variably called ‘content leveraging’, ‘content derivatives’ and ‘divisible content’. There’s a terrific infographic that illustrates the idea from Column Five.

It’s an idea that recently emerged from the field of content marketing and demonstrates the current shift in marketing from advertising to publishing. It might not be called ‘create once, publish everywhere’, but it shares many of the same characteristics, particularly the atomisation of content to maximise its re-use potential.

I confess, that having spent a while scouring the internet I struggled to find the case studies and requisite stats that I needed to convince my boss of the validity of the ‘re-imagination’ argument. This might be because it’s a relatively new approach and gives businesses commercial advantage. If CIPD were to engage a content marketing company they would no doubt be able to furnish us with examples of content leverage in action. But the trouble with content marketing companies is that they understand content as marketing collateral, but not content as publishing assets.

Content is our product, not a means to sell a productThe key difference between the content marketing approach to re-imagination and the approach we’re trying to make the case for at CIPD is that for us content is our product (not a means to sell a product). So I needed to look beyond the world of content marketing to other knowledge businesses and publishers that are taking a re-use and re-imagination approach.

The Project Athena team have, for a while now, been reaching out to other organisations similar to CIPD in size, purpose and content use, who are using DITA XML and a CCMS to develop a COPE content management framework. (And I’ll be blogging about this soon.) But these organisations, however useful to the Project Athena team in terms of insight and advice, don’t quite have the glamour or cache of the BBC, the Guardian, et al. So when we tell our Executive Team that ‘the Institute of Engineering and Technology are doing something similar to us’, ‘the Rail Safety Standards Board use DITA XML and a CCMS’, they nod their heads and then ask ‘What about the Guardian?’ ‘Aren’t the BBC using COPE?’

So with these things in mind, the Project Athena team have been looking for other, more recognisable, content rich, knowledge organisations, that are taking a similar ‘re-use and re-imagination’ approach.

The BBC: Re-imagination and the re-packaging evergreen content

The BBC have been following a ‘Create once, publish everywhere’ policy for some time now. As an example of re-use in action, Mike Atherton, former Information Architect at the BBC explains how the BBC populated a new wildlife site by re-using existing content: atomising old footage into granular, platform-neutral units and adding semantic metadata. Old content was successfully re-imagined into a number of newly curated collections.

Traditional news organisations

Traditional news organisations are facing the challenge of declining print and advertising revenues coupled with competition from new entrants (often based on a hybrid model of original news and aggregation services) such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy, the Huffington Post, Flipboard and LinkedIn (Pulse).

CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles
They are having to quickly adapt their business and operating models from a print paradigm to a digital first philosophy. In fact most media organisations had already (like CIPD) moved to a ‘platform first’ philosophy, where ‘traditional media extend their contents to an accompanying website, but their focus is still on the primary platform’ (A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?). But at a time when TV, radio and newspapers are no longer the primary places people go to acquire information, news media must be developed using a ‘platform free’ approach, where ecosystems of content assets are gathered and built around a news article.

A platform-free operation requires an all-inclusive approach in content production. When planning a reporting project, we need to consider all forms of content: video, audio, article, photo, interactive features (data/map), etc. Get all these contents equally well produced, then push them through appropriate platforms.
A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?

What is clear from the case studies below is that CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles: the structuring, tagging and atomisation of content; search optimisation; the creation and leverage of rich media alongside textual content; communal and social engagement; the management of these content assets and activities in the appropriate content management systems; and the re-packaging, re-imagining and re-purposing of both evergreen content and new content for multiple channels to reach and engage the widest possible audience.

The Guardian/The Observer

In 2011 the Guardian announced the adoption of a digital-first strategy to reverse long-term revenue decline. (In fact the Guardian was the first to coin the term ‘digital first’.)

In writing about the announcement, journalism professor and Guardian contributor Jeff Jarvis outlines a new approach to news broadcast that sounds a lot like re-imagination.

[Think of]…news as a collection of pieces of Lego that can be stacked into many shapes… [making] better use of the “cutting-room floor of journalism” strewn with facts, interviews, anecdotes, and insights that don’t make it into an article, all “missed opportunities to engage readers”.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Guardian increasingly broadcasts in video, podcast and infographics. They have pioneered a community-centric approach to news, with lively comments forums below most articles, Live Webchats, and their Comment is Free section, where they ‘host hundreds of discussions every week on a wide range of topics, from across the world’.

And the digital first strategy is paying off. They are now the third largest English language newspaper in the world, and their 2013 results showed that just two years after the initial announcement, digital revenues had increased by 29% (exceeding the decline in print) and digital traffic growth rates of 15.5%.


PostMedia Network is the largest publisher of English-language daily newspapers in Canada. In 2011 it too announced a ‘digital first strategy’ and the formation of a Digital Advisory Board. Jeff Jarvis, who sits on the Digital Advisory Board outlines their emergent digital first journalism approach, a kind of reverse re-imagination:

Postmedia made articles the by-products of its recent national election coverage. The company had its reporters on campaign buses feed Twitter and Tumblr and post photos and videos all day, increasing the coverage and its currency. A “twin” back at Postmedia’s news service … turned these reports into blog posts and then, at the end of the day, into articles.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Financial Times

In 2013 the Financial Times also announced their digital first strategy. In a move aimed at securing the FT’s future ‘in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants’. In his email to staff, Editor Lionel Barber wrote:

…we must recognise that the internet offers new avenues and platforms for the richer delivery and sharing of information. We are moving from a news business to a networked business.

…we need to become content editors rather than page editors. We must rethink how we publish our content, when and in what form, whether conventional news, blogs, video or social media.

The New York Times

In May 2014 an internal report from the New York Times was leaked to Buzzfeed. The NYT’s Innovation Report makes for fascinating reading. It offers a hugely detailed and unique view into a traditional news organisation struggling with the shift to digital. Having carefully analysed the digital habits of successful competitors, the report presents a detailed and thoughtful blueprint for how to become a truly digital first news organisation.

The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest.
…At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers. We have always cared about the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t done enough to crack that code in the digital era.

New York Times, Innovation Report, May 2014

News organisations can no longer depend on the audience navigating to a news item via the website home page: the NYT found a third of readers never visit the home page, and those who visit spend less and less time on it. Instead journalists must find their audience through a diversity of channels – social media platforms and news aggregators. The competition, as NYT states, is winning not necessarily because of better content but because of ‘sophisticated social, search and community-building tools and strategies’.

The NYT identified ‘Audience Development’ as their primary strategy in the move to a ‘digital first’ organisation.

[There are] several areas that we believe can position us for continued growth: discovery (how we package and distribute our journalism), promotion (how we call attention to our journalism) and connection (how we create a two-way relationship with readers that deepens their loyalty).

1. Discovery

We need to think more about resurfacing evergreen content, organizing and packaging our work in more useful ways and pushing relevant content to readers. And to power these efforts, we should invest more in the unglamorous but essential work of tagging and structuring data.

2. Promotion

‘[we must] take the process of optimization for search and social more seriously.’

A key factor behind NYT’s falling digital presence is a lack of promotion. For example, for each story the Huffington Post publishes, it generates a photo, a search headline, a tweet and a Facebook post. NYT admits it needs to ‘change our tools and workflows to optimize our content for search and social’.

3. Connection

‘…is critical in a world where content so often reaches its broadest audience on the backs of other readers’.

The Innovation Report also has some interesting points to make about the re-packaging (or ‘re-imagination’) of published content, the importance of metadata and the atomisation and longevity of content.

Re-purposing of old content

The NYT have been experimenting with ‘repackaging [their] content so that it’s more useful, relevant and shareable for readers’. For example they created a Flipboard magazine of the most prominent obituaries of 2014, which ‘became the best-read collection in the history of [Flipboard]’. But without their own curation platform, traffic was diverted not to the NYT site, but to a third party channel.

Collections would allow us to curate or automatically group our content in many different ways: by section, topic, byline, etc. They can be used to put a new frame around old content and connect the dots between pieces written over time in ways beyond the usual news format.

The importance of metadata

Without structured, tagged data, the NYT is ‘hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.’

All your assets are useless to you unless you have metadata

John O’Donovan, Chief Technical Officer, Financial Times, quoted in NYT’s Innovation Report

The importance of atomising content

In assessing the competition, the report cites Circanews, where each article is

broken into ‘atoms of news,’ such as facts, quotes, and statistics. That allows editors to quickly surface relevant content and context during breaking news.

The longevity of content

On the longevity of content the Innovation Report cites the viral promotion of a 161-year-old NYT article:

On Oscar night, The Times tweeted a 161-year-old story about Solomon Northup, whose memoir was the basis for “12 Years a Slave.”

But it was Gawker who seized the initiative and generated a story based on excerpts from the NYT piece, ‘It ended up being one of their best-read items of the year. But little of that traffic came to us.’

But ultimately the NYT has a crucial advantage over digital upstarts such as Buzzfeed and Huff Post: context. With a ‘treasure trove of evergreen content’ it can build roadmaps of discovery that give readers a greater understanding of the background to any given news item.

Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival

Create Once, Publish Everywhere, re-imagination, platform-free, digital-first, single source, nimble content… Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival. All these approaches are, in their most fundamental sense, about building the necessary content agility to support business agility in the Internet age.

Building a business case for COPE (part three): content agility

Hello. We’re still working on the business case for an investment to build a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content management solution at CIPD. And for those of you who’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we’re couching the arguments around agility – one of CIPD’s core organisational values, and a principle that has become increasingly important for businesses looking to remain viable and relevant in the global, digital economy. In this post we’ll be looking at why we need to build agility into our content, what content agility means (in broad terms, this isn’t a DITA tutorial ;-)), and how content agility delivers value for CIPD.

From content sluggishness…

We’re left with cul de sacs of insights, when what we want are roadmaps of discoveryWithout searchable content managed in a central repository, we have no overarching view of our content portfolio at CIPD: what we own, or what can be re-used. Without a complete picture of what has come before, the Research Team are hampered in their efforts to create a rich body of content that builds on previous work, creating what my colleague Perry Timms (who has a flair for a rich metaphor) describes as ‘cul de sacs of insights, when what we want are roadmaps of discovery’. Updates to content are sluggish, ad hoc and inconsistent. Findings from the latest research reports do not cascade into our training output: it is extremely difficult to flow what we know into what we teach. content agility

The proposed implementation of Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) at CIPD involves the following four components:

  1. Content marked up using DITA XML standard
  2. Content enriched with metadata and taxonomical terms
  3. Content ‘modelled’ into logical, modular units
  4. Content managed in a CCMS and distributed via API

(See the previous post on COPE for more on this.) The proposed COPE framework, in tandem with robust editorial governance, will deliver content agility. We will be able to quickly and easily update and evolve CIPD’s content portfolio in a managed and systematic way, to adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities, and to meet customers’ growing expectations of first-class digital experiences.

So what makes content agile?


With COPE, content is ‘atomised’, broken into logical chunks, self-contained topics covering a particular concept or idea, stored and managed as modular units in a powerful database (a CCMS). These atoms of content can be re-assembled in countless combinations. Think of it in terms of Lego bricks, interlocking units with an almost infinite number of variations.



Each chunk is made intelligent with metadata – <tag>s that express the meaning and function of all of the elements within a unit of content. Metadata is the context and information that tells software programs how to handle content, that makes it meaningful wherever and however it is consumed. The more structure, the more meaning you add to content, the more agile it becomes.

Ironically, it’s more structure that makes content nimble and sets it free

Rachel Lovinger, Razorfish, The Nimble Report

The talented Judi Vernau and team at Metataxis have developed a new global metadata framework for CIPD that includes an expansive corporate taxonomy. The taxonomy is, in its simplest sense, the words we use to describe ourselves and the areas in which we operate, our ‘domain space’ if you will, and will be fundamental to our ability to search our content.


Rather than re-using content by copying and pasting, DITA XML supports re-use by ‘transclusion’, coordinating content updates in a revolutionary new way. A chunk of content is authored in/for one product (created once) and is used by reference (a hyperlink) wherever it is re-used in other products. This means that if the transcluded (ie the original) chunk of content is updated, it is also automatically updated in all other instances where that chunk appears. So the same information lives in many places, but is managed as a single asset. This supports both production efficiency, and content agility.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 17.27.37

Image from DITA Best Practices, Laura Bellamy, Michelle Carey & Jennifer Schlotfeldt


XML makes content agile. XML is not concerned with presentation. Content is encoded with structural and semantic meaning, but free of system-specific formatting. Other technologies take the instructions encoded in the XML (the metadata) to deliver the content in a specific way according to the audience accessing the content, the device its being accessed on.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 17.20.38

Being presentation agnostic means that XML can be quickly transformed into other formats, into HTML for online channels and e-books and into PDF (and from PDF into print). Fast transformations considerably reduce time to market. Easy transformations mean that we can meet customers’ diverse and sophisticated digital expectations.

Search and locate

Content encoded in XML can be programmatically and instantaneously queried and located. With CIPD’s content managed in DITA XML in a CCMS, we can search across the entire portfolio thematically – for example on the taxonomical term ‘organisational design’ or on a particular search string, for example ‘Ulrich’.

Some practical applications of content agility at CIPD

1. Exploit commercial opportunities

To fully realise the equity of our content portfolio we must be able to quickly and easily exploit our existing assets. CIPD develops a lot of training courses for large and small organisations. Our Client Development team currently spend a lot of time searching for content. We commission trainers to design training courses that very likely already exist but cannot be found or cannot readily be updated or re-purposed. The proposed COPE framework will increase the findability and availability of appropriate content, it will enable colleagues in the Client Development team to prepare tenders more efficiently, reduce course design costs, and improve course preparation and delivery times. And if we incorporate and build these courses around existing (up to date) content, we’ll be able to leverage our authority, expertise and our point of view – the core of what makes working with CIPD an attractive proposition for B2B clients.

2. Care for and cultivate our knowledge assets

Content is a business asset worthy of being managed efficiently and effectively.

Scott Abel,

Stale information undermines CIPD’s authority and relevance and our customers’ confidence in the brandStale information undermines CIPD’s authority and relevance and our customers’ confidence in the brand. With a single, holistic view of our content in a central management system we can more easily manage the post publication content lifecycle. We can search the database for particular date ranges and topics and review, refresh and (where appropriate) retire content accordingly. With CIPD’s content managed as discreet, logical units in a CCMS, it is relatively straightforward to extend the ROI of individual knowledge assets. We need only swap in a newer ‘chunk’, for example a new case study, to keep a report, for example, consistent, fresh, and relevant. Similarly the modular management of content supports the automated inclusion of region-specific case studies to tailor existing CIPD content to specific markets and territories. COPE helps protect the CIPD brand.

Inconsistency or contradiction damages your brand’s credibility and confuses users about what you stand for.

Colleen Jones, Clout, The Art and Science of Influential Web Content

With all content assets stored in a central, searchable library, we can compare content that covers the same subject area to check that it does not contradict, and consequently confuse. And where necessary we can – through transclusion – correct inaccuracies in an efficient, systematic and coordinated way.

3. Make ad hoc updates

When the language of our domain space shifts, we can quickly flex and adapt our messageWhen the language of our domain space shifts, we can quickly flex and adapt our message. For example, in an emerging field such as human capital metrics, language can change very quickly, the term ‘big data’ might no longer be seen to be very helpful, not scientific or specific enough; or the term ‘HR metrics’ might suddenly be displaced by ‘predictive analytics’. We will be able to search across content held in the CCMS to find where the older, outdated word is used, and update and refresh content with the newly dominant terminology.

4. Make predictable updates

There is some content that needs updating on a predictable basis, for example the four National Minimum Wage rates that change each October and statutory rates including maternity and paternity pay which change in April every year. These rates are referred to across the content portfolio. With content held in XML format in a CCMS, we can run a query to quickly locate such content wherever it appears. Content that is known to require regular or predictable updates can be managed as a ‘variable’ (eg @conref attribute), that because of transclusion can be updated efficiently and in a coordinated fashion across our content portfolio.

5. Respond to breaking news

When news breaks on a subject where CIPD has (or should have) a position, for example zero hours contracts, we can be agile in our response. Where the sum of CIPD’s knowledge is held in a central database we can interrogate our content, find and swiftly disseminate out the relevant messages, or re-assemble and re-position existing content according to changing priorities and shifting opinions.

6. Remain relevant and consistent in fast moving subject areas

This content agility will be particularly beneficial in the most dynamic space in which we operate: employment law. Not only can we update content as new law comes into effect, but we can also reflect and respond to legal rulings as they progress through the justice system, flowing updates through to the appropriate training materials, guidance notes, case reports, FAQs, etc. We can search and locate the relevant content that needs amending, and update in a connected and systematic way as the legal process develops.

7. Cascade research through the content value chain

The implementation of COPE at CIPD will give us a framework to routinely evaluate and update content across the portfolio based on latest research findings and CIPD positioning. We can cascade the latest research findings into existing assets, managing small updates through transclusion, and larger changes by adding in newer chunks of content from the research report. And when our research output challenges ‘received wisdom’ we can identify what needs updating and quickly make the necessary changes.

Speedy transformation and dissemination

For all of the examples above, efficient transformation and APIs connecting the content management system to our distribution channels enables the speedy dissemination of fresh, and relevant and consistent information.

And with the second phase of investment in a dynamic publishing server updates to existing content can be automatically pushed to customers who have already bought or are interacting with the content.

COPE is the architect of agility

The dictionary definition of agility is ‘able to move quickly and easily’. COPE is the architect of agility. With a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content management framework CIPD will have the ability to respond quickly to new commercial opportunities, to keep content fresh and relevant, to efficiently manage ad hoc as well as predictable content updates, to stay on brand with a fresh, relevant and consistent message.

Building a business case for COPE (part one): organisational agility

In my last post (Create Once, Publish Everywhere: what does it all mean?) we looked at the key principles of COPE and how we are planning to implement them (at least in broad terms) at CIPD.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be following up on that post by rehearsing some of the arguments for COPE at CIPD: what benefits exactly will it bring? Although specific to one particular business – the CIPD – our case for COPE will undoubtedly strike a chord with other content rich organisations looking to persuade their leadership teams to invest in a modern content management capability.

Why it’s difficult to build a business case for content

Building a business case for content isn’t straightforwardWe’re currently putting together a business case for Project Athena: a significant investment for CIPD in terms of money, time, resource and organisational change. But building a business case for content isn’t straightforward. The difficulty we face is that content is notoriously hard to cost. There are some measurable production savings, for example DTP (page layout) and print. But – in common with most organisations – time spent creating, managing, reviewing, searching for, updating, (and so on) content is not tracked at CIPD. Therefore establishing precise cost savings and return on investment is tricky.

To build a more nuanced argument for COPE we must look beyond the balance sheetWe still need to demonstrate the tangible cost savings and potential revenue opportunities, but to build a more nuanced argument for COPE we must look beyond the balance sheet. Substitute ‘COPE’ for ‘content strategy’ in Kristina Halvorsen’s famous quote, and you get the picture.

Content strategy defines how you’re going to use content to meet your business goals and satisfy your users’ needs.

Kristina Halvorsen, Content Strategy for the Web

So what we’ll be looking to do is build a business case that demonstrates how COPE (Project Athena) aligns to (and helps to deliver) CIPD’s strategic imperatives and satisfies our customers’ needs. But beyond that even, how COPE will help CIPD to not only cope with, but thrive in, these challenging economic times. And that’s what we’ll be looking at in this first post on building a business case for COPE.

Agility: building a business case that aligns with our corporate values

Agility is one of CIPD’s core organisational values. As an Institute and as employees, we try to be Purposeful, Agile, Collaborative and Expert in everything we do. So by couching COPE in terms of ‘agility’ I’m hoping to align our content strategy with our corporate values. But it’s not for nothing that agility is one of our core values. To remain viable and relevant in the 21st century, businesses must become agile. It’s not for nothing that agility is one of our core values

First we’ll look at the economic factors at play that are driving this need for organisational agility. We’ll go on to look at what I believe are the three crucial ingredients needed to develop organisational agility with a particular focus on the need for technical agility. And in the next post we’ll look specifically at how COPE builds business agility. Because let’s face it – it really is crazy out there!

Why do organisations need to be agile? Or: ‘Hey it’s crazy out there!’

Volatility is the new reality

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2009 report, the seismic events of 2008 introduced a new phase of globalisation ‘one in which volatility is likely to remain a constant’. The recession may be lifting in some markets, but

… underlying fluctuations in energy, commodity and currency rates, the emergence of new and non-traditional competitors, and rising customer demands will continue to roil traditional business and operating models for some time to come.

Economist Intelligence Unit, Organisational agility: how business can survive and thrive in turbulent times (2009)

The end of competitive advantage

In her book The End of Competitive Advantage, Professor Rita Gunther McGrath argues that the very concept of competitive advantage is no longer relevant. In this VUCA world of ours, business behemoths that once appeared invincible to the vagaries of the market, adapt too slowly to changes in technology, in consumer taste, and disappear. Kodak is the example most often cited, crashing from market leader to yesterday’s news, due to its inability to adapt to the digital revolution.

The rise of freeconomics

If you’re not using free, you will be competing with free

A business model most closely associated with Internet start up companies, it is best exemplified by services such as Skype, Dropbox, Flicr, Evernote, etc. Originally coined by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, freemium is the combination of the words ‘free’ and ‘premium’. The core product is given away for free to a large user base; a small group (often under 10%) of users pay for the premium service.

With the majority of content and services given away for free, freemium inevitably poses a significant threat to ‘traditional’ businesses. And it’s not going away any time soon: Pew Research Center’s Digital Life in 2025 predicts the continued ‘disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting … publishers of all sorts and education).’

Organisational agility: strategies for volatile times

This storm is only going to get stormierIncreasingly top executives understand that it is not simply by battening down the hatches, by tightening control of operating costs, that they will weather the economic storms. This storm is only going to get stormier; some additional strategies are required.

According to that report by the EIU, ‘organisational agility is a core differentiator in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Nearly 90% of executives surveyed … believe that organisational agility is critical for business success.’

In fact agile businesses can grow revenues up to 37% faster and than their non-agile competitors (Peter Weill, MIT).

So what makes an organisation agile?

Businesses must be constantly vigilant to threats and opportunities, and prepared, agile if you will, to respond as they emerge.

It seems to me that the three crucial ingredients of organisational agility are an agile mindset, agile working practices and technical agility.

The agile mindset

This agile mindset is defined very nicely in CIPD’s Shaping the Future research (2011) as the ‘ability to stay open to new directions and be continually proactive, helping to assess the limits or indeed risks of existing approaches and ensuring that leaders and followers have an agile and change-ready mindset to enable them and ultimately the organisation to keep moving, changing, adapting’.

Change, adaptation and re-calibration is a constantThe agile mindset acknowledges that change, adaptation and re-calibration is a constant, and that rather than a threat offers opportunities for learning, growth and new ventures both at an organisational as well as a individual level.

The agile workplace

According to CIPD’s Getting Smart about Agile Working report (2014) agile working is

A set of practices that allow businesses to establish an optimal workforce and provide the benefits of a greater match between the resources and the demand for services, increased productivity, and improved talent attraction and retention.

This means flexible working arrangements in terms of when people work, where they work and what they do.

Added to this is the percolation of some of the theories of agile methodology from software development teams through to the more general working environment.

Agile teams rely on self-organisation, iterations, customer centricity, knowledge sharing and collaboration, and mutual trust.

CIPD Getting Smart about Agile Working (2014)

This is something we’re seeing introduced at CIPD: for example we’re working out loud, across silos, with projects broken up into 90-day sprints.

Building technical agility

The third and final component of organisational agility is, inevitably I suppose, around the investment in and optimisation of a business’s information technology.

Businesses must look to invest in technologies that ‘improve decision making and convert information into insight’ (EIU, 2009); systems that support knowledge gathering and analysis (e.g. customer and market insights and business intelligence), as well as knowledge sharing and collaboration tools.

Of equal importance is the technology that supports an organisation’s core business, its ‘true engine of growth’ (EIU, 2009). And in this it plays two roles. Firstly the optimisation of production processes (the ‘whittling away at inefficiency’ and secondly, the ‘re-grouping around what is truly core to the business’ (EIU, 2009).

CIPD is a knowledge business; our content is a key strategic asset. We need to be re-grouping around content, investing in technology that supports the efficient production, management and dissemination of content.

The agility paradox

There is higher agility in firms with more digitized and standardized business process and platform.

Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Ross, Weill & Robertson, Harvard Business School Press, June 2006

Ironically, it is through standardisation that a business builds agilityIronically, it is through standardisation that a business builds agility – Peter Weill’s ‘agility paradox’. Funnily enough this echoes loudly in my head Rachel Lovinger’s quote ‘ironically, it’s more structure that makes content nimble and sets it free.’ (Nimble Report.) We’ll be looking at this more when we explore content agility, another piece of the business case argument coming soon.

The four categories of agility (three out of four ain’t bad)

In the Agility Paradox, Peter Weill (quoting Jeanne Ross, MIT CISR Research Workshop May 2006) talks about the four categories of business agility. COPE satisfies three out of the four, which let’s face it, ain’t half bad!

four categories of business agility

1. Business Efficiency Agility

As we’ll see in future posts, COPE introduces a number of process efficiencies to the content workflow, in terms of the creation, management, translation, transformation, publication and distribution. It is also a scalable solution, at least in IT terms – the people side of the equation, resourcing and skills, will need more careful consideration.

2. Business Model Agility

With its excellent translation and localisation capabilities (which we’ll explore more in a future post looking at how COPE aligns to our strategic imperatives) the implementation of COPE at CIPD will support new business models, particularly the ability to enter new global markets. Additionally ‘intelligent’ content – atomised, free of system- and presentation- formatting, semantically rich and structurally logical – will enable us to deliver content to new platforms, channels and partners as they emerge.

3. New Product Agility

The necessity of process efficiency is the mother of invention As we shall see in the next post (COPE and Business Agility), COPE supports business innovation, with its seemingly infinite capacity to combine and re-combine atoms of content and transform them into new customer propositions. It would seem that the necessity of process efficiency is the mother of invention.

Open standards – the ultimate technical agility

And lastly, but by no means least-ly, that technical agility needs to be built upon open standards and open platforms. (There’ll be a post on this in a few weeks’ time.) It is only when the systems you invest in can connect to and easily communicate with one another that businesses can claim to be truly technically agile.