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Magazines > Information Today > October 2008
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Information Today

Vol. 25 No. 9 — October 2008

ProQuest: Adding Dialog to the Mix
by Phillip Britt

ProQuest, a part of the Cambridge Information Group (CIG), continues to take giant steps to enhance its business. According to officials at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company, these enhancements are designed to position the firm for worldwide growth in its niche market, a direction the company has taken ever since it merged with CSA in 2007.

This year has been particular­ly busy for ProQuest. For start­­ers, 2008 generated plenty of new growth:

• This winter, ProQuest acquired RefWorks, LLC, web-based research services for academic and research communities.

• This spring, it acquired federated-search pioneer WebFeat.

• This summer, it purchased Dialog from the Scientific business of Thomson Reuters.

• And most recently, this fall it partnered with Google to digitize millions of pages of local newspaper collections for the open web.

“Both [ProQuest and CSA] have had histories of growth through acquisition,” says ProQuest CEO Marty Kahn, acknowledging that the earlier combination “is by no way complete.” He says the companies are continuing to integrate their technologies, which is a critical step so the company can maximize the benefits from its most recent additions.

“ProQuest is doing a good job picking up the right pieces for the right reasons,” says industry analyst John Blossom, president of Shore Communications. “Content aggregation is not what it was 20 years ago. It is no longer sufficient just to license different collections. To bring in revenue in order to thrive and survive, you have to offer value-added services.”

Big M&As

The biggest recent acquisition was the purchase of Dialog from the Scientific business of Thomson Reu­ters this summer for an undisclosed price. Dialog, which provides controlled searching of online databases, adds more nonacademic search, which ProQuest officials expect to help the firm better position itself in corporate and worldwide markets.

“We’re working hard on becoming a global company,” Kahn says. “The market is tough in the U.S.; the market is growing faster outside [of this country]. That’s not a surprise. We thought that over time that information markets would become more global. That means selling ourselves throughout the world.”

Dialog will help ProQuest because it has “a well-recognized global brand,” particularly in sophisticated research, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and government markets, Kahn says.

A Rich Retrieval Heritage

Founded 40 years ago by Roger Summit, Dialog was the world’s first online information retrieval system used globally with commercially important databases. Dialog online-based information services help organizations across the globe seek competitive advantages in such fields as business, science, engineering, finance, and law.

“The companies’ content and market strengths complement each other and just as important is the match with our values—we share a deep understanding of the library community and commitment to serving it with high-quality information tools,” Kahn says.

Dialog retains access to databases owned by Thomson Reuters, including Derwent World Patents Index, BIOSIS, Investext, SciSearch, and Trademark Scan. Dialog also has access to more than 15 terabytes of content from many of the world’s most authoritative publishers.

The acquisition of Dialog also includes the company’s DataStar unit, which has access to more than 350 databases of worldwide business and technical information. The data offers rich information about companies in Europe and in the biomedical, pharmaceutical, and healthcare industries, according to Kahn.

Dialog will operate as a separate business unit with its headquarters in Cary, N.C., though Dialog and ProQuest will share human resources, accounting, and financial departments. As a separate business unit, Dialog will have control over its product development, management, and other functional areas as well as its own resources (facilities and equipment). The company is also in the process of rebuilding its sales force. The sales unit remained with Thom­son Reuters following the sale.

Rebuilding the sales force and upgrading the company’s technology to include Web 2.0 and other features are key elements for Dialog, says Suzanne BeDell, Dialog general manager. BeDell moved to Dialog from her position of senior vice president of ProQuest’s higher education publishing area since 2006. Though Dialog will operate as a separate business unit, she will report to Kahn.

“Adding the corporate and worldwide information available through Dialog is part of the vision we’ve had since we merged with CSA in February of 2007,” BeDell says. “We needed a strong presence in the corporate market. Dialog gives us that.”

Rolling Out New Products

Yet BeDell acknowledges that there are challenges that must be overcome even before Dialog attempts to launch new products.

“We are a dedicated sales and marketing team and building a product development and platform management team,” she says. “These people will help to guide the technology investment. The Dialog product platform is outdated, and we will refresh the Dialog and DataStar applications by migrating them to a new platform, integrating infrastructure and the back office for efficiencies while continuing to support the existing business of high end mediated, transactional search.”

Though officials from both sides of the sale agreed that Dialog was a better strategic fit with ProQuest than with Thomson Reuters, Kahn expects continued competition from Thomson Reuters as well as from Reed Elsevier and EBSCO Industries, Inc.

Kahn admits that it could be some time before Dialog can produce all of the expected benefits because it will take some time to upgrade Dialog’s underlying technology. There hadn’t been much investment in Dialog when it was part of the Thomson Reuters family, Kahn says. ProQuest plans to “aggressively invest” to build out Dialog’s suite of databases to open up the architecture for more precise searching.

“In the short term, we will look for ways to leverage ProQuest’s proprietary and licensed content,” says BeDell. “The combination of CSA’s proprietary bibliographic files, new capabilities like Illustrata and the recently acquired RefWorks, full text licensed by ProQuest and the Dialog search capabilities make for a powerful combination.”

The two companies already had an association, even before negotiations started with Thomson Reuters earlier this year. Dialog already carried 10 databases from ProQuest and 28 from CSA. Technology integration will be critical to adding more databases from ProQuest and CSA.

Dialog’s New Offering

Though much of the future direction of the company is still being worked out, Dialog is already beta testing one new product, NewsRoom Plus, to be launched in December. NewsRoom Plus is Dialog’s newest business and news information offering, BeDell says. It provides access to more than 12,000 business and news publications alongside 26 million hours of video and more than 10 billion web documents.

The NewsRoom Plus material is contained within federated search, which BeDell says gives users access to premium business and news information while providing a contextual view of user-generated content on the open web.

Kahn adds that ProQuest parent company CIG is committed to investing and building Dialog. “Some say it will take many years to realize all of the benefits,” he says. “We’re not kidding ourselves, it will take time.”

When complete, the technology upgrade will enable customers to search and collect content behind the company’s firewalls and on the open web to provide comprehensive source material, according to Kahn.

Whereas BeDell and Kahn acknowledge that moving forward with integrated technologies will take some time, they see integration of personnel as a much easier matter. Sometimes a clash of cultures ensues between the two different companies in corporate mergers; no such challenges are expected here.

“We felt that the culture and the approach to the market for the two companies has been similar,” says Libby Trudell, vice president of marketing for Dialog. “Our community understands ProQuest’s business. Dialog brings a loyal, global customer base. This is a good strategic fit.”

Further down the road, Dialog, ProQuest, and their customers can expect to benefit from an electronic billing and payment system, Kahn says. More companies in various industries are going to electronic invoicing and payments, which removes paperwork, reduces errors of rekeying information from one system (accounts payable) to another (inventory), and minimizes disputes because billers and payers have access to the same invoicing and payment information.

Other Acquisitions

Though Dialog was ProQuest’s biggest acquisition in the last year, it wasn’t the only one.

In mid-January, ProQuest acquired Ref­Works, LLC, a provider of web-based research management, writing, and collaboration services for the academic and research communities. Parent company CIG had an ownership position in RefWorks since May 2001. When CIG acquired the remainder of RefWorks, ProQuest was able to integrate RefWorks into its COS business (which serves the same market) to create single-source networking and management tools for scholars around the world.

RefWorks tools complemented COS Scholar Universe, Kahn says. With RefWorks and COS joining forces, researchers will be able to turn to one source for tools to help them identify colleagues with similar research interests around the world, establish alliances, and manage joint research projects, according to Kahn.

In August, following the purchase of Dialog, ProQuest announced new features for its RefWorks business unit. Users can now use author linking with profiles for COS Scholar Universe and non-English multilanguage custom formatting.

The author-linking feature, Author Resolver, links author’s names from the RefWorks database, which includes more than 1.7 million authors, university faculty members, and other scholars.

The new RefWorks features debuted a week after ProQuest announced that it had added newspapers and online historical documents to the company’s offerings. ProQuest now offers customers The Scotsman, Scotland’s newspaper of record since 1917, and newspapers from Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Also included was an online version of Documents of British Policies Overseas that provides online searching for tens of thousands of U.K. government documents relating to Britain’s international relations, including foreign policy instructions, letters, memos, business reports, and other documents.

Earlier this year, ProQuest also acquired WebFeat, a pioneer of federated search to tap into all an organization’s databases simultaneously. ProQuest merged WebFeat with Serials Solutions, ProQuest’s Seattle-based business unit and developer of e-resource access and management tools for libraries.

“We’re not looking to make three acquisitions every year,” Kahn says. “But we were able to do these without adversely affecting our balance sheet.”

Another big move ProQuest made without affecting the bottom line of the balance sheet was a partnership with Google to digitize the content of small and large newspapers and bring the content to the open web. This new partnership doesn’t impact ProQuest’s other digital newspaper collections such as its ProQuest Historical Newspapers, which will continue to be developed for researchers who need more serious research tools. A standard variety of advertising and ecommerce models will support the content delivered via Google’s platform in the open web. The partnership has already started and is expected to continue for years to come.

Kahn adds that the company is making these acquisitions with the goal of “investing and building the company over time,” but there are no plans to become a publicly traded company.

Analyst View

At least one industry analyst sees ProQuest’s moves as beneficial for the company.

There is little or no value in the simple collection of information because of all the free information available on the internet, says Blossom. So the value-added services are what the customers will pay to have.

While the acquisition of Dialog and the evolution of RefWorks broadened the business for ProQuest, the company still needs to work on its value proposition for customers, Blossom says. “This may take a while. RefWorks will help toward that, but it’s more of a starting point than an end point.”

So Blossom recommends that ProQuest focus on value-added services, particular­ly in the higher education marketplace. Though Thomson Reuters and Reed El­sevier are stronger in the scientific, technical, and medical marketplace right now, that part of the publishing business is fluid, with opportunities emerging on a regular basis. ProQuest will look for potential opportunities there as well, says Blossom.

ProQuest could also benefit by integra­ting its offerings more effectively with the information that customers and prospects can find on the open web, he says.

Though other acquisitions may occur in the future, ProQuest is more focused on growing internally than going through acquisitions, according to Kahn. The company’s most recent moves are designed to make its offerings more appealing to a worldwide market.

Turn to page 38 for a first-hand account of the DataStar days; turn to page 27 for more about Suzanne BeDell.

Timeline: How ProQuest Grew
by Marydee Ojala

1936 Albert Williams founds Bell & Howell

Eugene B. Power founds University Microfilm (UMI)

Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) is launched

Xerox Corp. purchases UMI

Roger Summit creates DIALOG (for use within Lockheed Missiles and Space)

Robert Snyder and Philip Hixon found Cambridge Information Group (CIG); holdings were CSA, Disclosure, and National Standards Association

Public launch of DIALOG

ONLINE begins publication
First online conference (International Online Meeting, London)

Dialog becomes subsidiary of Lockheed Missiles and Space

Information Today begins publishing

Bell & Howell acquires UMI; makes it a wholly owned subsidiary

UMI acquires Data Courier, owner of ABI/INFORM and other business databases

Knight-Ridder acquires Dialog

UMI establishes a preservation division

Knight-Ridder Dialog acquires DataStar

Responsive Database Services founded by Dick Harris

Profound launched by Dan Wagner’s M.A.I.D. PLC

UMI acquires DataTimes Corp.
CSA acquires Materials Information

M.A.I.D., creator of Profound database, acquires Dialog and DataStar; renames itself The Dialog Corp.
UMI and Dow Jones form long-term strategic marketing agreement

Dialog acquires Responsive Database Services
CSA acquires Sociological Abstracts

Bell & Howell Information and Learning formed
Bell & Howell Information and Learning acquires Chadwyck-Healey

Thomson buys The Dialog Corp. (Dialog, DataStar, Profound)
Gale acquires Responsive Database Services from Dialog
Bell & Howell Information and Learning completes round of private funding for BigChalk
CSA acquires seven databases from ABC-CLIO

Bell & Howell changes name to ProQuest Co.
Thomson acquires NewsEdge
CIG acquires R.R. Bowker from Reed Elsevier
ProQuest acquires Heritage Quest
ProQuest acquires SoftLine Information2002: ProQuest acquires Micromedia

ProQuest acquires CultureGrams

CSA acquires Community of Science
ProQuest divests some assets to National Archive Publishing Co.

CSA acquires Papers Invited database
CIG’s CSA introduces Illustrata

Thomson divests Profound to
Thomson divests NewsEdge to Acquire Media
CIG acquires ProQuest; ProQuest combines with CSA to become new company named ProQuest

ProQuest acquires RefWorks
ProQuest acquires WebFeat
ProQuest acquires Dialog/DataStar

My Time With DataStar
by Thomas Bauer

In August 1987, I had just given up my medical studies at the University of Berne after I failed an exam. I noticed a job advertisement in the local newspaper.

I liked the terms of the ad: consultant, international environment, the science and teaching aspects, and the use of languages. I knew the company, and I was also aware of the DataStar database service from the Radio-Suisse employee who lived in the same house as I did.

DataStar then was just a small department (about 50 employees) managed by Heinz Ochsner and Rolando Henrich. I applied, got the job, and on Oct. 1, 1987, I entered the offices at the Laupenstrasse 18a in Bern, Switzerland. I had not a clue about computers or information technology, and I could only type on a keyboard with two fingers (in fact, I still do). While Data­Star and other services were developed and maintained by the 50-person team, DataStar’s and Trad­Stat’s sales (outside Bern) were done by a company based in London called DS Marketing, Ltd., owned and managed by Peter Martin.

In Bern, two salespeople were responsible for Data­Star and TradStat employed by Radio-Suisse; all others were employees of DS Marketing, Ltd. We were responsible for the markets in Switzerland, Italy, and Hungary. I mainly focused on the scientific sector. DataStar was always the raison d’être, but my department of Radio-Suisse also developed and sold other products including DataMail, Europe’s first email service, and Videotex, software for banks; and we were a distributor of Hayes modems and network technology and support.

My second workday was spent at a Radio-Suisse booth at an exhibition in Basel, Switzerland. Although it was an interesting experience, I still couldn’t answer any questions. In the following weeks, I spent time learning DataStar Classic and more about the content of the various databases. I joined my colleague on customer visits, and I received my first business card.

My colleague and I shared an IBM XT PC with a monochrome display, 630KB RAM, and a floppy disk drive. I trained myself on DOS and applications such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Smartcom, the communication software of Hayes, and naturally, on DataStar’s command-and-query language.

After 3 months, the parent company Radio-Suisse was reorganized, and Data­Star was sold for the first time. As no other part of the Radio-Suisse had any interest in the name Radio-Suisse, the DataStar entity took over the name. The logo was redesigned, and I received a new business card.

Around this time, I gave my first DataStar Introductory training. Many followed over the coming years, including those on DataStar Advanced and Data­Star Biomedical and Drug Information. I also had my first customer visits and presentations. For this, we used equipment called Silent 700. It was an ingenious Texas Instruments product that looked like a typewriter with two black ears, with an acoustic coupler for the phone handset and a thermal printer.

It worked with a speed of 300 bps that allowed incoming documents to be read easily during its transfer. We never had a problem with the Silent 700 as long as the client had a telephone. And at the end of the presentation, we simply stripped off the printed thermo paper and handed it to the customer for further studies. If he or she did not sign the contract immediately, we were sure to get it signed in the next few days. There was almost no competition and selling was an easy task. We saw growth rates only dreamed of nowadays. However, the product was quite complex and intensive training was needed. We offered training at our offices, at the customer site, or any beautiful place in Switzerland. For several years, I trained a group of Hungarian customers who loved spending a week in Switzerland. We had DataStar training in the morning and excursions in the afternoon. This also gave me the opportunity to visit places in Switzer­land. They always brought gifts from their country, so I started to build up an extensive library of books about Hungary and an impressive collection of Hungarian hard liquor.

In the early 1990s, we received our first laptops, and the Silent 700 grew dusty in the cellar. The laptops offered only a small monochrome screen. I remember a presentation I did in Basel at a medical laboratory. In the middle of a search, a client entered the room and said out of the blue: “Sorry, this screen is much too small. I can almost not read the text. We do not want to buy your product. Thank you.” With the support of the other attendees, we convinced her that this small laptop was only used for the presentation, and she later signed the contract.

About that time, we had our first user meeting in Switzerland and rented a large boat for a trip on Lake Thun. However, we did not realize that we had to black out the room during the presentations. For most of the trip, the curtains were closed and nobody could see the mountains and villages we passed. All following user meetings took place in nonmoving locations.

In parallel to DataStar, computer technology evolved and Microsoft launched Windows. Everybody was fascinated with the graphical interface, and it was a must to make DataStar ready for Windows. In 1993, we launched ProBase so Windows-based clients could access DataStar. It was also the time we were sold again. The new owner was Knight-Ridder, Inc., which already owned Dialog. Together with Dialog, we formed Knight-Ridder Information—and I received a new business card.

Soon after, a new phenomenon appeared on the horizon called the internet. We first underestimated its importance. (We were not alone; a man named Bill Gates did the same.) Nevertheless, in 1995, we had a first prototype of DataStar Web (and Bill had Internet Explorer). However, we noticed that the majority of our customers still preferred the old, classic terminal access, and we started to enter into a new market: the end-user market.

Late in 1997, another buyer appeared: Dan Wagner. He was the founder of M.A.I.D. (Marketing Analysis & Information Database), and his product was Profound. His idea was to move DataStar onto Dialog—and I received a new business card.

In mid-1998, I left sales and became a DataStar product manager just as Y2K became an issue. We managed Y2K, and the only unusual event we encountered was that a handful of DataStar people celebrated the turn of the century in a computer room, checking for red lights.

In 2000, the Thomson Corp., which tried to buy DataStar in 1997, finally got its wish—and I received a new business card.

Also in 2000, I was interviewed by the Information World Review about Data­Star’s latest developments in the article “DataStar Rises From Ashes.”

Thomson was moving from decentralized to centra­lized management. This was reflected in an evolution of the logos on my business cards. Also, DataStar’s name in Bern changed from Dialog Corp. GmbH to Dialog Corp. AG and, finally, to Thomson Corp. Switzerland AG.

After a few years, we were really moving forward. Some bigger contracts we won proved that we took the right way with DataStar. However, in 2006, maintenance and development of DataStar and Dialog was outsourced to IBM, and this ended up in the closure of the offices at Laupenstrasse 18a, where my career at DataStar started on a sunny day in October 1987.

I do not want to stop without emphasizing how exciting and interesting my time with DataStar was. I am lucky and grateful that I could do this challenging and fascinating work for more than 20 years and that I had this great opportunity to meet so many interesting and wonderful people.

While writing these last lines, another sale happened: Dialog and DataStar are moving over to ProQuest. However, I will not get a new business card this time.

Thomas Bauer is moving on to new ventures after his years at DataStar, but he wanted to share some of the highlights he experienced during the industry’s early years.

Phillip Britt, president and CEO of S&P Enterprises, Inc., is a business writer who covers key topics in the information technology field. His email is Send your comments about this article to Send your comments about this article to
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