At the risk of oversimplifying things, John Zogby makes money by asking people questions.

Even in a business as basic as that, you'll be surprised to learn just how much Zogby is like any other CEO. He's being spurred to rethink his business model by the very same forces sweeping through so many other industries: the emergence of the global economy, and the digital revolution.

Zogby was born and raised in Utica, NY, about 100 miles west of Albany. He rose to become a preeminent pollster. After a speech in Albany this week, he took the time to update me on his business (he is the senior analyst; his son is president and CEO).

The name—Zogby Analytics—speaks to the need to create more value with your product these days. And for Zogby, that means relying a little less on the polling that built his original brand (and revenue base). It feels like the business has taken on a market-research flavor.

"The premium now is, what does the data mean?" Zogby tells me. "People have to step back and find use and meaning in it.

"This recession was the exact opposite of 9/11. That one devastated the business," Zogby adds. "This one put a premium on our work."

Zogby's company is headquartered in Utica, but he calls it "as close to a virtual company as you can imagine." He has eight full-time employees. They usually work from home.

Almost half of revenue is international now, Zogby says. He made trips to Tunisia in 2011 and 2012, retained by political candidates. He is doing much the same thing in elections in Nigeria, scheduled for 2015.

People in Utica are directly involved in that work, he says—though many fewer than before.

Get this: Zogby averaged around 375 part-time people in its Utica call center, from 2002 to 2007.

Today, there are about 50 part-timers who run the call center.

"A lot of work can be done with online surveys and things like that," Zogby tells me.