The digital solutions industry is having its own Industrial Revolution. More automation, newer processes, and better efficiencies rule the day. Production volume is up, investment in R&D climbing fast, and scale taken for granted.

On the flip side, resources—such as skilled labor—are getting scarcer, and the market more picky by the minute. But unlike the Ford cars that rolled out all in black, the digital solutions industry serves up products and solutions in all variants, from the rigorously automated (such as typesetting and scanning) to the highly skilled (manuscript reviewing and STM editing).

While “keyboarding” and “triple-keying” crop up less often in marketing collaterals, these services are still offered by the smaller outfits, and often outsourced by the bigger ones. Much commoditized and with razor-thin margins, these are less glamorous than, say, mobile learning or white-labeled e-bookstore development.

The way services are bundled and presented is getting sophisticated. Smaller operations may offer transcription, indexing, and abstraction services, but at larger entities that target established publishing clients, these are collectively positioned and marketed as knowledge-based solutions. It is “typesetting and layout” for one, “composition and project management” for the other. Small operations talk about per-page fees; the big guys talk about licensing and pay-per-use.

Somewhere along the service evolution, some of the vendors and BPO (business process outsourcing) companies turned KPO (knowledge-based outsourcing), and quite a few went IPO. The Darwinian rule applies: the big and strong tend to survive better, or at least last longer.

If previous talks were about converting legacy files and repurposing old titles, the conversation is now all about solutions. And while content is increasingly mobile and fluid, solutions are going enterprise-wide and modular. The vendor-client relationship is similarly changing, not exactly fluid but definitely less conventional, with collaborative partnership just a whisper away.

XML, which used to pepper any digital-related conversations, seems to have lost the popularity contest. But it remains right in the fore- and background in the form of XML-first and round-tripping XML workflows. Its role in digitization is unshakable, but other standards—HTML5, ePub3, and NIMAS, for instance—are monopolizing the chats, tweets, and blogs because of the demands for mobile content, interactive features, and accessibility.

And though processes and workflow are going systematic and automatic, the latest rage is all “social,” albeit in the virtual domain. Engaging consumers through “virtual” community and social marketing is about enabling discoverability, which allows for identification, monetization, and metrics.

That brings us to measurable data, which empowers strategies through actionable intelligence, which bring us to the world of big data, analytics, metadata, semantics, tagging, oh my! Since shifting through the humongous volume of information to obtain measurable data is beyond our human capabilities, we bring in artificial intelligence and machine learning—never mind those predictions about AI destroying humankind.

Many are also offering cloud-based editorial workflow, management platforms, and delivery systems to enable quicker access to content despite lingering doubts about the security of virtual storage.

Throughout these changes, content remains king. But the consumer is calling the shots, demanding great user experience made available on highly intuitive—and accessible—user interfaces. The access has to be instant, wherever and whenever on whichever device or platform used. And of course, content should be customized, personalized, and, at times, open access. Engaging the consumer now tops any market-facing strategy.

“Time to market” has taken on a new urgency. Fast to market, fast to money—and this applies equally to solutions providers and publishers. And revenue, of course, is the true driver of any technology adoption or business strategy. Money makes the world go round, and it pushes all parties to remain innovative, nimble, and exciting. The contest now is to see who will survive the revolution and emerge stronger (and cooler).

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