On paper, McGraw-Hill Inc. is the information company that seems to have everything.
It is by far the nation's biggest book publisher. The company has more than 60 magazines and specialized newsletters ranging from Business Week to Byte to Inside U.S.D.A. to Aviation Week and Space Technology. Most are leaders in their respective markets.
Nor is the company confined to print. It owns an array of information services, including Standard and Poor's, the financial ratings company; Data Resources Inc., a leading econometric analysis firm; and the recently acquired Monchik-Weber, a computer services company catering to the financial industry.
Toss in a few television stations and a brace of personal computer software companies, and the result is a reasonably profitable $1.3 billion-a-year multimedia conglomerate.
Which is precisely McGraw-Hill's problem.
While its feet are planted firmly in the world of the printing press, its head has poked up into the electronic information age. This new world of personal computers, satellite information distribution and sophisticated inter-office communications networks creates enormous opportunities for companies such as McGraw-Hill.
McGraw-Hill's problem is how to pull all of its data bases together and mix, repackage and make them as available on computer screens as they now are in print. There are doubts about its ability to do so.
"McGraw-Hill is clearly one of the premier information companies," says Joseph Fuchs, a publishing industry analyst with Kidder, Peabody. "The only thing is, they're not moving at the speed I'd like to create a synergy between all their different properties."
"They never have been able to integrate the stuff they've acquired," says one top executive at a McGraw-Hill competitor.
"Maybe in the past, we have been a little cautious," concedes Donald L. Fruehling, president of the McGraw-Hill Book Co.
That may be changing. Even as the new data technologies blur the lines dividing print and video information, they are prompting a redesign of McGraw-Hill's own organizational charts and culture.
"The culture is moving to accept the statement that there is a corporate vision," says William Raduchel, the company's senior vice president of technology. "And there is a growing appreciation to let McGraw-Hill be McGraw-Hill rather than 200-plus business units."
The architect of that vision is Joseph L. Dionne, McGraw-Hill's chief executive officer -- a former educator who joined the company in 1967 and became its key strategic planner.
Dionne has set in motion a major reorganization for next year. The company is totally revamping its technological resources. McGraw-Hill's business units, once totally autonomous, now are required to cooperate in identifying new market opportunities. Top managers are assigned "technology advisers" to help them understand the options the new technologies provide.
"There are explicit mechanisms in place to integrate McGraw-Hill's assets," says Michael E. Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who has been a McGraw-Hill consultant for the past 2 1/2 years. "There's everything from formal task forces to modifications of the incentive system to companywide educational processes," he said.
All these moves are vital ingredients in Dionne's goal of doubling the company's revenue to more than $2.6 billion by the end of the decade, with half that sum coming from electronic forms of information distribution.
The impending changes have stirred some resentment in several of the company's groups, which prefer to keep their autonomy. Dionne is implementing those changes slowly and methodically.
"It's consensus management here," he says. "It's an intellectual community -- you don't do things by fiat."
That notwithstanding, McGraw-Hill is moving toward a central corporate discipline intended to let the whole of McGraw-Hill be greater than the sum of its parts. The underlying thrust is that McGraw-Hill wants to "add value" to its data bases by being able to tailor them to a customer's needs and deliver that data on paper, video or whatever medium the customer desires.
For example, says Dionne, "chief executive officers are beginning to recognize the influence of personal computers and that workers could do more with them if they could access the company's data processing department.
"This has made the data processing managers more marketing-oriented, and they've gone from being enemies of PCs to gatekeepers to information providers for them."
Consequently, says Dionne, "The network PC in major corporate entities will be an important tool for the knowledge worker. We're going to begin marketing to the corporate information center in Fortune 1000 companies."
That's a radical departure for McGraw-Hill, which has neither the corporate accounts sales force nor the technological infrastructure to offer such an on-line data-base service. But the company is rapidly moving to create that capability.
Dionne points to the company's efforts to build an "information turbine" to capture, store and sort all the billions of bits of data that McGraw-Hill's newsletters, books, magazines and information groups generate each day. All of their computers will feed into the turbine. The company is even exploring the idea of selling advertising on its electronic network.
It's this turbine that will drive the company's electronic distribution efforts, spinning out the desired information and data bases that its "corporate information center" customers request.
"It will offer a consolidated feed of all of our information relevant to you," says Raduchel, "and it would be updated on your computers the moment it was updated on our computers. In print, the integration mechanism is the bookshelf; in electronics, the integrating mechanism will be the personal computer."
Cheerfully mixing his metaphors, Dionne also talks of the interface between the turbine and the customer's computer centers as the "information clutch" that will make the turbine "transparent to all users" -- meaning that it can link to IBM or Digital Equipment Corp. or Fujitsu mainframe computers.
The company doesn't know how much its completed turbine will cost or when it would be completely ready to offer "mainframe to mainframe" data distribution to customers, but estimates run into hundreds of millions of dollars and several years.
The turbine clearly offers McGraw-Hill a new way to blend, bundle and target its data. Recognizing this, the company has set up five "industry-aligned market focus groups" in financial service, communications, construction, health and transportation to see if special data bases and proprietary information services can be devised for them. Later on, these industry groupings may form the outline of McGraw-Hill's new corporate structure.
Some time in the next two years, a McGraw-Hill industry group account executive could be offering a General Motors or an IBM a menu of integrated information services designed specifically for their data needs. The companies would get just the pieces of Data Resources Inc. information, Business Week, Aviation Week, Future Computing and dozens of other information assets they want or need piped into their corporate information network.
This approach does create considerable risk for McGraw-Hill. The company could become just a commodity data supplier to its clients, like the Dow Jones business news wire.
McGraw-Hill's motto is "information that leads to action," and to make good on that claim, it must do more than pipe information to clients; it needs new techniques to process and arrange the data in ways that help clients make vital decisions.
"That's where the real value is," contends Dionne. He believes in the concept of "decision support" software that enhances the data's value by enabling decision makers to build models and scenarios with it. That is a reason why the company has launched software efforts, acquired several personal computer software businesses and is willing to buy more.
Indeed, McGraw-Hill historically has relied on acquisitions to build its revenue and access to new markets. That kind of growth, however, is what created the unwieldy conglomerate structure that Dionne is seeking to reform.
Moreover, other companies -- ranging from Dun & Bradstreet to Gannett Co. to the Washington Post Co. -- also want to acquire information companies. The result is, according to McGraw-Hill Publications Group President John Wrede, "absurdly high prices" for top-notch software and data-base companies that might be ripe for acquisition.
Consequently, McGraw-Hill will try harder to develop its own new information products and services. There are serious questions, however, about whether that will work in a company that has grown primarily through acquisition.
That does not, of course, rule out the possibility of major acquisitions. However, future acquisitions are likely to be made either to broaden or enhance the corporate data base.
"The McGraw-Hill challenge is to capitalize on the positive rather than avoid the negative," says Harvard's Porter. "They've got to learn how to exploit their breadth. The Joe Dionne era is the era to exploit opportunity."
"This is a company of hard questions," says Dionne. "We've already memorized all the $64,000 questions."
However, people are now more concerned with McGraw-Hill's answers than its questions: Is Dionne's vision of the future accurate? And can he manage the company's transition from information sales to information marketing? But no one would disagree with his assertion that McGraw-Hill now has "a rare window of opportunity to become the premier information company in the world."