What do information service providers talk about when they get together?
Well, besides how good the food is at the Ritz-Carlton ...
Amid Euphoria for the Future, a Somber Moment
For his NFAIS Miles Conrad Award Lecture, this year's
recipient, Georg Friedrich Schultheiss from FIZ Karlsruhe, encouraged information
producers to recall that the world is larger than our digital island makes
it seem. He urged them to recognize their social responsibility, as well
as their financial obligations to shareholders.
"Even today," he said, "more than 50 percent of
the global population has never made a phone call.
"The advantages of fast and broadband global communications
for education, knowledge formation, and economic development are obvious,
although not everyone in every corner of the globe or even everywhere in
our personal environment can make use of it. People need skills, users
need equipment ... and they must be 'a little rich' or be enabled to overcome
"Does it make sense to speak of 'globalization'
under those boundary conditions? What can our money-driven culture do for
those without the respective 'change' in hand to get well-educated, to
have the necessary information and the know-how to improve their conditions
"It is clear that without contours, clear structures,
and interfaces to other types of societies the risks for an information
society cannot be kept as low as we might want, and more important, global
growth will develop incompletely and at least partly unsatisfying. In any
case, the future of the information complex needs steady, careful observation
and improvement.... Please take care of the baby!"
I had the opportunity to find out what producers are talking about when
I joined a couple hundred industry executives for the keynote-studded 2002
NFAIS Annual Conference, held February 2427. This yearly pilgrimage
to Philadelphia is attended by companies like Elsevier Science, ISI, Engineering
Information, BIOSIS, and lots of other for-profit, nonprofit, and government
agencies that supply digital content for research communities.
These are the players who produce the stuff that Tim Judd, from FAST
Search & Transfer's Internet Division, described as "deep and proprietary
content." If you tried to get to it using a Web search engine, he said:
"You couldn't find it if you wanted to. Our spiders can't get to it."
When these "secondary publishers," "electronic information services
providers," "aggregators," "enterprise-solution companies," or whatever
they are calling themselves this week get together, they do like to talk.
And this year they had plenty to say, especially about the conference theme,
"Integrating @ Internet Speed."
State of the Market
For those in this group who were once print publishers, revenues have
long since gone digital. And keynoters were tossing out numbers that would
wow many other branches of the publishing industry:
The market, depending on how it's defined and whom you talk to, is either
shrinking slightly, inching along, or growing prettywell (all things considered):
"Sales at Thomson Corp. are now 50-percent electronic-based, 30-percent
non-U.S., and $1 billion was derived from Internet services in 2001, growing
at 15 percent per year."—Ronald H. Schlosser, CEO of Thomson Scientific
"CAS's revenues are mainly electronic: 45 percent from traditional online,
45 percent from services aimed at end-users, 9 percent print sales, and
1 percent other."—Robert Massie, CAS's director
Though consensus may not have been reached on how things are, there was
plenty of agreement on how things will be: Content is coming out of its
container and will soon appear on an information portal near you.
"We are seeing a few sectors up, but overall the industry is down a couple
of percentage points for 2002 over 2001," reported David Curle of Outsell,
Inc., who was talking broadly about business and academic sectors.
"We see growth in the market of 4 to 7 percent," said Mark Capaldini of
MCG Capital, who was talking about companies that specialize in professional
information sold on a subscription basis via online or other means.
Customers in the Driver's Seat
Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of understanding customers
and building services to meet their needs.
How has Thomson managed to take $1 billion out of the Internet money
pit? The key, said Schlosser, is "Thomson-omics." Its formula for success:
Depth of Content + Technology and Applications + Customer Relations = Integrated
Value-Added Information Solutions. In human terms that means doing what
customers want in the way they want it.
Schlosser went on to describe how in the wake ofSeptember 11, Thomson
companies scrambled to respond to the need for on-site information at Ground
Zero by delivering needed data over hand-held devices.
How has CAS come to earn 45 percent of its income from those elusive
end-user chemists? "When was the last time you had a systematic conversation
with your best customers?" exhorted Massie. CAS put content on the desktop
of researchers in a way that it can be used as they conduct their research.
That's exactly what Mark Walter of Seybold Publications told the other
providers to do next. "Aggregators have something to bring together, but
they need to take itdeeper into the user environment to solve problems.
The number-one issue is how to broaden content use in the context of a
business process. There is a trend toward Web services (content management
systems). Internal and external information is being integrated in this
The need to integrate content and bring it into the context of a useful
application was precisely the theme of this conference—exactly as billed.
As one executive, analyst, and venture capitalist after another took the
stage, their recurring mantra was the same: Give today's customers what
they want. For example:
Guess what, folks? The online industry is converging with "knowledge management"
(KM), that once-arcane world privy to the Fortune 500 companies and replete
Nstein president Randall Marcinko said, "We provide solutions to fit into
the work flow of our clients."
Bette Brunelle, executive vice president of Ovid Technologies, said: "Our
customers are building portals. They don't care about the difference between
internal and external information."
Curle said: "There is a movement toward a model of virtual integration.
The content companies are not there. A job and opportunity exists for a
company to take on the role of content integrator. The quest is not for
a super aggregator, but an integrator—someone who can get all the pieces
together.... There's a decreasing value perceived for content alone—content
by itself has less value (certain information may be 'good enough'). And
there is an increasing value for convenience, accuracy, and integration."
Capaldini, who is funding the next generation of information services,
told those who would like some of his venture capital to "provide services
embedded into an end-user work flow that allows a task to be completed.Answer
the need to be provider of the information in the system where the information
is put to use."
Jim Krzywicki, of divine Information Services (formerly RoweCom), said:
"The new territory that we see today is more than content, it's the interaction
... collaboration ... knowledge services ... it's not just getting the
content, but managing it, and then Web services (the transparent agent)
by which we extend the enterprise.... There's a pressure to integrate with
systems inside the company."
Appropriately enough, Pat Sabosik, vice president of global marketing
at Factiva, concluded the conference by rattling off all kindsof numbers
about KM markets, including that 80 percent of the world's largest companies
have a KM effort underway and that 75 percent of the Global 3500 will have
enterprise portals by 2006 or will have a KM intranet soon. What she didn't
say is that KM has recently become of rapidly increasing interest to government
agencies as well and is starting to roll out to smaller enterprises too.
Where information buyers go, can producers be far behind?
This NFAIS meeting was the first conference I've attended in quite a
while where I got the impression that everyone was operating on the same
wavelength. So I would say that you can conclude there's integration in
Dick Kaser is vice president of content at Information Today, Inc.
and a former executive director ofNFAIS. His e-mail address is email@example.com.