Information Today
Volume 17, Number 4 • April 2000
IT Report from the Field •
2000 NFAIS Meeting: The Battle for the Desktop
Conference featured three excellent keynotes 
by Donald T. Hawkins

The 2000 NFAIS meeting, held February 20–23 in Philadelphia, was another in a series of highly relevant and stimulating conferences for the information industry. The highlights of this year’s meeting were the three daily keynote addresses, all of which were excellent. They were interesting because they followed the same general theme—how to do business in today’s Web-dominated environment—but they each approached it from a different perspective. All stressed that the rules have drastically and dramatically changed, and therefore business methods must be altered—the old ways of doing business will no longer lead to success.

Also during the meeting, two Honorary Fellows were inducted into NFAIS: Toni Carbo, dean of the library school at the University of Pittsburgh and former executive director of NFAIS, and Miriam Chall, former executive director of Sociological Abstracts.

Apart from the keynotes, the meeting featured sessions devoted to the future of scholarly publishing, government information initiatives, new methods of information dissemination, secondary publishing, licensing, and new technologies. Two sessions were especially noteworthy: one on mergers and acquisitions, in which participants in recent industry mergers (and also one in which the decision was made not to merge) shared their experiences, and the final one, in which representatives from the “kingpins”—longtime information industry leaders such as the Dialog Corp., SilverPlatter Information, and Ovid Technologies—discussed their views of the evolving marketplace.

Because of space limitations, only a few of the presentations can be summarized here; most of them will be available shortly on the NFAIS Web site (

The Keynotes
The opening keynote was by Martin Kahn, managing director of Cadence Information Associates, a venture capital and investment-advisory firm. He is well known to many information professionals from his former executive roles at Ovid Technologies and one of its predecessors, BRS Information Services. He recounted some of his experiences while employed at a print publisher, W.B. Saunders, and how its unswerving devotion to print caused it to miss the impact of the online information industry (an experience not unique to Saunders). Because of attitudes like this, today’s information industry is not on the cutting edge of the new economy, and it is not an agent for change; that role has been assumed by newcomers like Yahoo!.

Kahn’s involvement with the venture capital business has caused him to look at the world in a different and more structured way. It is important to recognize that wealth no longer flows from optimization but from innovation, and it is important to abandon the known and move into unknown areas because cycles are occurring faster than ever. We in the information industry have devoted ourselves to the production of accurate, correct information, but we cannot do this anymore in isolation from the networked economy—we must embrace change. Kahn presented 12 rules that are governing the new economy:

Bela Hatvany, the co-founder of SilverPlatter Information and an early developer of CD-ROM technology, presented the Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture. I must agree with Ev Brenner’s comments (see sidebar): Hatvany’s talk was very moving and in quite a different vein than the standard conference presentations we are accustomed to hearing. Presenting a view of today’s environment from a very personal and human standpoint, he described how his early upbringing and education have influenced his thinking over the years. We need to recognize that our underlying purpose is communication, then build products to take advantage of that. Today’s networks are developing a new “nervous system” for the economy, and we must figure out how to enable our fundamental purpose. Usage of the Internet has grown dramatically, but our industry’s revenues are flat. Why? We need to get back in touch with end-users; they will tell us what they need and what they will pay for! Look around at models that are working. Learn to communicate and serve each other rather than striving simply to win.

The final keynote was given by Patricia Seybold, founder of the Seybold Group and author of a new book,, for which she studied 40 companies and illustrated the business principles that are working for them through a series of case studies (further details about the book can be found on the Web site at In her keynote address, she discussed some of those principles. No successful business today focuses exclusively on the Web; buying behavior and marketing must be tracked. The challenge is to integrate customer stimulation points and streamline cost scenarios, which is a major transformation in how business is conducted.

So, for example, the secondary publishing industry is being transformed. Primary publishers are taking more responsibility for marketing online content, and customers are increasingly expecting to receive information free of charge. The value in the new economy is customers; we must know who they are and what tasks they do, and interact with them frequently to establish a relationship. The customer’s scarcest resource is time, not money, so convenience is a major selling point.

Other Presentations
Many of the presentations stressed the need to focus on customers and develop relationships with them. If information companies do not stop and listen to their customers, they will not succeed. New business models, including giving content away, are forcing major changes on the publishing industry. End-users are demanding more perceived value for their money.

Karen Hunter of Elsevier Science described the viewpoint of a primary publisher in today’s market. Competition to get on the desktop is becoming more intense than ever, and publishers are becoming indistinguishable because they are finding that they need to link to each other. Many new pricing options are coming, and there is a move to depart from added-value pricing. Can we still add value while not raising prices—or even lowering them? Most publishers are not Internet companies, and they are still trying to understand how the Web fits into their business models.

Simon Inger, managing director of Catchword, Ltd., addressed the three components of access to information: hosting, access control, and indexing and referencing. He listed which companies have the ability to function in each of these areas and which are the dominant ones. Publishers and hosting service providers dominate hosting; nobody dominates access control (because it is done only through necessity); and new gateways (i.e., portals) dominate indexing and referencing. The conclusions to be drawn from this model are the following:

Sandy Waters, Northern Light Technology’s vice president of government and international markets, discussed some of the lessons learned at Northern Light as it developed its products. Today’s challenges include balancing the technology and information needs of organizations, seamless integration of information throughout an enterprise, meeting the needs of all types of users, and reporting and access control. Enlightened businesses of today encourage a Web-centric life because the Web is a good place to find many viewpoints and information that never gets into the headlines or the media. Users enjoy its comprehensiveness, but they require currency. A search engine must meet the needs and style of all levels of users. And users seem to be willing to pay for the information they need.

Bette Brunelle of Ovid Technologies offered some excellent advice for those who want to learn how the world perceives the information industry: attend a conference outside the industry! When she did, she found that popular topics included the revolution in communications, the end of the “PC era,” and broadband and wireless communications. In contrast to the Northern Light viewpoint, she found that many people feel content should be free. They view information not in terms of publications but as a service.

Dennis Auld, CEO of Database Access Group, followed up his highly acclaimed talk at the 1999 NFAIS meeting and returned to give an updated view of the secondary publishing industry. He mentioned the following current trends:

Today, there are more diverse sources of material, particularly for electronic information. This has led to a demand for simplification and one-stop access. Value added is being redefined to mean retrieval of answers and links to Web sites—the emerging mantra is links, links, links!

NFAIS conferences are well worth attending. They can be depended upon to provide a stimulating and challenging in-depth look at our industry, and the 2000 meeting was no exception. The dates and location of the 2001 conference will be announced shortly on the NFAIS Web site.

Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.’s Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online. He is also editor of the ASIDIC Newsletter. His e-mail address is

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