Todd Humphrey, executive vice president, business development, Kobo, recently visited New Zealand for the local launch of the e-book retailer. During the interview with CIO, he brought with him two devices - Kobo’s touchscreen e-reader and an iPad that became important backdrops to the discussion. Here are some excerpts from the interview. CIO: Tell us about Kobo. Todd Humphrey: The first thing is, we are a technology company that is enabling the consumption of content. We do two things - we build hardware and we build applications for people to consume that content. Kobo is founded inside of Canada’s largest book and music seller Indigo. We spun out of Indigo about 20 months ago and we have gone from 30 to 300 [staff]. Our user base is approaching 4.5 million users in a hundred countries. It is being run by someone who is very technical and business savvy [Kobo CEO Michael Serbini was CIO of Indigo]. This combination has allowed us to innovate faster than anywhere else in the world. We are the first company to launch a cloud reading service. We have one of the world’s largest digital libraries of two-and-a-half million books. We have applications on our own devices and other platforms like Android and BlackBerry. We are a cloud based service - we allow users to access any piece of their content from any of their devices and they are always updated. CIO: How do you aim to stand out from other e-book providers? From the Amazons of the world? There are a couple of things. The device itself is one of the first touch screen devices with an e-ink screen; the second is the form factor. It is an open platform. We use EPUB as our standard and with that have access to 1.7 million free books and allow people to access content from various sources. We believe customers want to have access to that content and want to buy content from various sources and we have developed a platform where you can go and do that. What is the enterprise use for it? It is more of a consumer device. Having said that, we are starting to see more of the enterprise start to pick it up as more functionality is added. We have seen it with the iPad. There are a number of companies – large ones – using this as an incentive or giveaway to employees to access content – manuals and analyst reports. If employees already have tablets, why do they need an e-reader? They are just different devices in terms of usability… Kobo is a through and through reading device so there is no email, no internet, no Angry Birds. But some people like online games like Angry Birds. If you like distractions, this [holding the iPad] will give you a million apps to distract you. Our customers told us one of the things they love about this device [Kobo] is the simplicity of it. You can access your content immediately and give you the ability to do so in a way that is just a little bit easier, simpler than an iPad. Why should CIOs or other executives check this out? We are moving to what was half of the publishing industry going from black and white books to digital, so there is a huge evolution, a huge transition to how people are consuming content. If you are in the content business to any degree, this is coming at you. From a managerial standpoint, if your employees engage with content, this is probably how they are going to engage with half of it. How do you construct or push it [information] out to your employee base in a form that is readable?
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