MADMEN & MIDDLEMENBy BroadVision on July 28, 2010
Why Agencies May Accelerate the Mainstream Development of the Virtual Business World
Over the past few months, I’ve written extensively about the inevitable trend toward virtualization. And by that I do not mean the virtualization of hardware – the domain of companies like VMware, my alma mater – but rather the virtualization of work environments, the virtualization of tools for working in those environments, and the virtualization of the larger world of business so that companies can easily navigate those environments — and import those tools — for a seamless work experience. The future of business, as I see it, will usher in a new era of architecture. But this time the buildings and structures will not be made of stone, steel, and plastics. And they will not be designed by people with degrees in architecture, civil engineering, or landscape design. Those buildings and structures will be virtual, and they will be designed by businesspeople, like you and me.
But like every other design revolution, not all people and businesses will be favored at the start. There is, in fact, one general category of business that may be strongly favored because of where it sits in the virtual business world. As the new “middlemen” (more on that relentlessly disparaged term in a moment) in the vast and interconnected ecosystems that are emerging, agencies – advertising agencies, PR agencies, interactive agencies, business consultancies — have a unique opportunity that we can all learn from and emulate.
I. Virtual work environments Already this is happening. The phenomenon is called Enterprise 2.0: businesses around the world are building virtual workspaces optimized for more effective communication and collaboration, inside and outside the enterprise. Why are agencies at an advantage here? Three reasons (at least) …. First, because they are in the business of acting as proxies for other companies (the definition of “agency”), they may have a greater need for these workspaces. More clients, more workspaces, to put it simply. Second, the nature of the agency requires a finer sense of architecture than the average business. The agency – the PR agency, for example – may have the need to architect both private and public workspaces for each and every client. (In the PR world, imagine a public room — for every client — for press briefings, alongside a private room — for every client — to prepare and vet the content for those briefings). Third, the agency itself is a near ideal environment for innovation in collaboration. They were among the first adopters of technology in the early days of Enterprise 2.0. They will be among the most active adopters as Enterprise 2.0 crosses into the mainstream.
II. Virtual tools
Here’s where it starts to get interesting. These virtual workspaces that businesses are now building are packed with any number of cloud-based, virtual communication and collaboration tools. Soon we will see enterprise computing applications integrated into those environments. In the meantime, the very fact that we are beginning with communication and collaboration tools – blogs, microblogs, wikis, video, bookmarks, to name just a few – favor communication agencies. Not only are these tools so well suited for people in the communication trade; people in the trade in fact are in a great position to develop new tools that foster communication and adoption. At the extreme end, expect a few agencies to actually invest in the development of new technologies (for example., The Dachis Group and nGenera). But in the magic middle of the market, expect agencies to collaborate and co-create with tech companies as they begin to grasp that this is a world in which tech and the trade can easily meet. That’s where we are investing, with our distributed consulting community, Clearvale SecondFloor.
III. The Larger, Virtual World of Business
Speaking of the middle, there’s a bigger point I’d like to make about agencies: where they sit in the larger world of businesses makes them uniquely qualified to jumpstart the inevitable Enterprise 2.0 revolution. It’s not just that they serve as proxies to so many businesses all over the world, a point I make in section I. It’s also the talent that they bring to this new world as it’s being constructed. They are not just middlemen – a role that I expect will win new respect as the business world begins again to appreciate the people who facilitate relationship building – but MadMen as well: creatives who give shape, purpose and meaning to the campaigns that drive business in the larger, virtual world of business. As I note in an earlier blog post, not all such talent resides inside agencies or any company for that matter. But agencies enjoy a surplus of that talent, and I expect that they will rush forward as others in the market ponder the possibilities.