HTML5 – what’s all the fuss about?

Jamie Manning

Biogen Idec

Following our digital theme this September, pharmaphorum interviews Jamie Manning of Biogen Idec on HTML5 and the advantages it holds over HTML4.

HTML5 is the latest version of the primary computer code that drives most websites and web applications around the world. It is claimed to hold many advantages over previous versions. But what advantages are these and what potential does it have for multi-channel communications?

Jamie Manning of Biogen Idec explains all and shares how he thinks HTML5 can be implemented into global digital communications.

Interview summary

RA: Jamie, thank you for taking part in this interview. Could you start by explaining about your background and your current role at Biogen Idec?

JM: Sure. I lead a globally-distributed team of web and mobile professionals who are focused on building and / or procuring a new generation of web- and mobile-based tools for a number of different constituents: patients living with an illness for which we provide a therapy, the healthcare professionals (HCPs) who treat those patients, and the internal sales, marketing, and patient services professionals who are dedicated to helping both groups.

RA: Could you tell us a bit about HTML5

JM: Put simply, HTML5 is the newest version of the primary computer code that drives most websites and web applications around the world. It is a very big advancement over previous versions in that it provides a way to create truly interactive experiences for the web and mobile applications without the need for third-party plugins.

RA: What are the advantages of HTML5 over HTML4 for digital projects?

JM: Prior to HTML5, it was not possible to create highly interactive web and mobile content without using either a plugin (e.g., Adobe Flash for web), or using proprietary, device-specific code (i.e., ‘Xcode’ for Apple mobile devices). HTML5 addresses this problem in several ways. But at a high level, it provides a way for digital content to be written once and published anywhere. For example, when my team develops an application using HTML5, the application can be used in any web browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) or on any modern mobile device (e.g., iPad, iPhone, Droid).

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“HTML5 is a verifiable game changer for multi-channel marketing.”

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RA: What potential does HTML5 have for multi-channel communications?

JM: HTML5 is a verifiable game changer for multi-channel marketing. The ability to use one standard technology to publish content when and wherever it is desired or needed — quickly and easily — was just not possible before HTML5. For example, when marketers work up digital campaigns for a new product, service, etc., they typically have to think about building separate websites, web-based applications, mobile applications, etc. Until HTML5 came along, each of those campaign elements required a different set of technologies, as explained earlier. This approach is inefficient, expensive, and has a very low potential for re-use.

However, with HTML5, a team like mine, either alone or working with partners such as an ad agency, can develop all campaign elements using HTML5. In this way, the pain and cost of making last minute changes (which in marketing is as sure as death and taxes), as well as the potential for re-using code globally, is substantially decreased, while the on-going efficiency of development is substantially increased. There are clear and compelling reasons for the ability of HTML5 to have a genuine impact on a company’s bottom line.

RA: How can HTML5 be implemented into global digital communications?

JM: The first step in the process is education. Though there has been a considerable amount of buzz about HTML5, the details of its potential reside primarily in the technology realm. It’s important for marketers to spend time gaining at least a general understanding of HTML5 from the standpoint of its business potential, which is the technology’s most important benefit. I would suggest to marketers that they hire a consultant who is well versed in the technology — and who has a business / marketing background — to spend a day discussing HTML5 from a business standpoint. Beyond that, marketers need to engage with their agencies or internal teams and ensure that they are well versed in HTML5 and that they are incorporating the technology into the work they do. It will take time (probably 3 – 5 years) before HTML5 becomes mainstream within corporate environments. But those who adopt the technology — and use it strategically — will reap on-going and accretive business benefits.

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“There are clear and compelling reasons for the ability of HTML5 to have a genuine impact on a company’s bottom line.”

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RA: What success stories have there been with HTML5?

JM: Like most new technologies, early adoption of HTML5 is being seen primarily in pure consumer areas such as entertainment, gaming, and the like. However, forward-looking groups like mine are aggressively — though not hastily — exploiting its possibilities for use in the enterprise. Though I cannot go into specifics, my team is in the late stages of building an enterprise-scale, globally focused internal mobile application built entirely in HTML5. I’m happy to report that, when complete, the application will have the same speed, offline capability, and security as a ‘native’ application. But because it was built using HTML5, it can be used on any web or mobile device with no degradation in quality. This means that, should our company decide to switch from the iPad to Droid as our standard mobile device, we will not have to change one line of code. The application will just work. This is the power of HTML5. Building an enterprise mobile app can cost up to $500,000. Not having to rewrite an application for a new device, therefore, represents an enormous savings for our company.

We are also exploiting HTML5 to create a truly re-usable global body of content. For example, Biogen Idec has the potential to release four or more products in the next 4–5 years. That is an enormous undertaking for a biotech or pharma company. It is critical, therefore that we be ruthlessly efficient in how we create, publish, and re-use content. Knowing this, my team is creating a system whereby — using HTML5 — a product website and related web and mobile applications can be written once and easily re-used throughout the world, on any device. When the first site is complete, we simply package up the code and make it available to any and all affiliates worldwide. They can then provide that code to their local agencies for localization, and publishing to any number of formats (web, mobile, etc.).

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“The mantra for digital marketers has always been to get the right information to the right person at the right time.”

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RA: How do you see digital communications evolving, what do you think it will look like in ten years time?

JM: That’s always a tough question, given that the entire technology landscape can change in a matter of months. However, I know this: the world is going to get busier and more competitive, to the point of being overwhelming for most all of us. More than ever, people from every walk of life will rely on the web — via mobile devices — to help keep them focused, organized, and informed. The mantra for digital marketers has always been to get the right information to the right person at the right time. HTML5 clears a major hurdle to making that dream a reality, reducing the time, energy, and cost of creating, publishing, distributing, and updating content. It has the power to finally get technology out of the way, so that marketers can keep their focus on making their customers’ lives better. Whether helping a patient improve his / her life with an illness, getting an HCP to the information s/he needs with maximum efficiency, or simply helping someone remember that the milk in his / her refrigerator is about to expire. HTML5 is the right technology, for the right people, at the right time. It will form the backbone of how digital communications gets done for the next decade.

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About the interviewee:

Jamie Manning has spent the last 15 years providing digital marketing strategies and solutions to the pharma, financial, education, and technology industries. He has presented and written on the topics of online lead generation, customer engagement, mobile communications, and corporate knowledge management. Jamie currently works at Biogen Idec, overseeing the global expansion of the company’s digital communications efforts. Previous experience includes senior-level off- and online marketing positions for Fidelity Investments, Sycamore Networks, Babson College, and several technology startups.

How can HTML5 be implemented into global digital communications?