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ONLINE Dialogs with Roy Martin, New CEO of Dialog

Marydee Ojala

ONLINE, July 2001
Copyright © 2001 Information Today, Inc.


"The skills of the information professional... have great value in an Internet world."
When Roy Martin was named the sixth president/CEO of Dialog in mid-November 2000, he was astonished at the press interest in his appointment. "It told me a lot about how valued the company was in the information industry," he now says. He comes to Dialog after three years with Thomson Legal & Regulatory, responsible for global strategic initiatives. Before that he was executive vice president of West Online Strategic Marketing. He joined Thomson in 1993, where he brought Lawyers Cooperative Publishing from the print to the electronic world. He then led integration efforts within Thomson that resulted in Thomson Legal Publishing. Martin had a life before Thomson. He's been the president of two software companies and several network systems companies have had the benefit of his management and marketing expertise. His background marks a change from his predecessors, who came to the job with different perspectives.

In the six weeks between the announcement and his actually being on the job, Martin thought it was inappropriate to speak with the press. Once officially onboard, he gave priority to meeting with staff, information providers, and customers. It wasn't until he attended the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Information Professionals held mid-April 2001 in New Orleans (Dialog was a Gold Sponsor) that he gave his first press interview. Although we at ONLINE hoped to meet with Martin earlier on in his tenure, we appreciated his candor when he told us he wanted to thoroughly understand the company before talking to the press. This is certainly preferable to pretending to have all the answers before knowing the questions.


Shooting from the hip does not seem to be a characteristic of Roy Martin. Stressing accomplishments and achieving set goals does. Several Dialog employees with whom I've spoken in the past few months went out of their way to tell me that they were beginning to feel good about the company again. They saw real changes; some of them internal ones that may not be obvious to customers but have favorable consequences for customers. They applauded Martin's recognition of the importance of the staff-customer relationships and his commitment to strengthen and nurture these relationships. Asked about staff, Martin said, "We have a great employee base. They've been struggling recently, but we're hiring more sales staff. In fact, we've hired back about 25 people who had been with Dialog previously. We're reorganizing the sales force to better meet customer needs."

You would have had to be well outside the information industry not to notice that all of Dialog, not just the staff, had had some recent struggles. What will Martin do to change, revitalize, and bring Dialog to its former eminence? "This is a wonderful franchise," he enthuses. "There have been problems in the past–missteps. For the last six to eight months, Dialog's been practically invisible while we studied the company. We've analyzed everything in every possible way." Employees of Dialog confirm this. Task forces, consultants, and studies have been the norm. Yet instead of bemoaning these as a waste of time, a Dilbert exercise, Dialog staff has come away energized, believing that–this time–real change will result.


Symbolic perhaps is the new theme for the company. Martin smiles. "Yes, there's a new tag line. It's 'Information to Change the World.' We think that it emphasizes the importance of the information contained within Dialog. This is information that customers use to make major business decisions, to develop truly innovative products, to use in real research. This is rocket science. Dialog is not My Yahoo!"

Branding is another area where Martin sees room for improvement. "Dialog as a brand has slipped," he says. "It has great brand equity, but we need to extend it, elevate it. We need to keep Dialog visible. To do this, we'll be starting new campaigns, have a new look."

He hands me a press kit with 17 news releases, and I try to remember when I last saw a Dialog press release. The releases concerned all Dialog product lines–Dialog, DataStar and Profound–and announced a slew of promotions and new hires; private files on DataStar (PrivateStar); enhancements to Profound (which now uses the faster AltaVista search engine, allows for table of content pricing, includes IDC technology business reports, and contains extended international financial directory data); Rapra Abstracts on CD-ROM; Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 4th edition, on DVD; Investext reports as PDFs with images on DialogSelect and Profound; and Dialog1. Not all of these releases announce truly new products. The IDC reports were originally announced last December and Dialog1 was reviewed in the October/November 2000 issue of EContent.

Along with the new tag line is a new use of the red ball, which Martin calls a red sphere, probably a better word, that was ubiquitous in the advertisements for The Dialog Corporation prior to its purchase by The Thomson Corporation. Although Martin and I agree that we liked the red sphere under the microscope, thinking it did exemplify the importance of the scientific literature available through Dialog, we disagree on some of the other uses of the symbol in previous advertising. I probably liked more of them than he does, but even I think it was somewhat overdone. The new logo is supposed to highlight Dialog's ability to provide "a continual flow of accurate, fresh, and exhaustive content."


Something that worried customers under the previous ownership was the debt load. The purchase by Thomson took care of that. But what about funding the future? "We are putting a substantial amount of money into Dialog. We are investing in product development, in our infrastructure, in customer service. Already our headcount is up 10% in customer service. We want to put money into sales and marketing rather than more advertisements. We need a public presence. We're growing content. We need to add information. Dialog hasn't been doing that. We've identified six to eight strategic areas, such as business, market research, and news, where we can grow. An enhanced product line will help Dialog to expand its customer base."

"A major weakness is pricing," explains Martin, stating the obvious. Martin then anticipated my question about DialUnits. "The implementation was very poor. DialUnits are not understandable, not predictable, and customers have no options. But it was an admirable approach and could have worked if it had been done right." Does that mean customers will see the end of DialUnits? Sometimes this man is downright secretive. "You can expect an announcement second quarter." Saying what? "You can expect an announcement second quarter." Funny, I remember Pat Sommers saying something like that when he was still COO and The Dialog Corporation was a listed company on the London Stock Exchange.

What about commentary on the discussion lists? Interestingly, Roy Martin is aware of most of the discussion among librarians that occurs on the lists. He knows that a plea for suggestions to improve DialogClassic brought forth mainly comments on pricing and rumors about the future of DialUnits. He's also pleased that responses to a question as to whether academic libraries should drop Dialog primarily recommended keeping it–not that the verdict was unanimous. Still, it's reassuring that he's abreast of customer comments in public forums.


Which brings us to one of the current business buzzwords, "core competencies." According to Martin, Dialog is working to strengthen its core competencies. That means an increased focus on the information professional market. No more chasing technology that doesn't help the searcher/librarian, no more wooing the end-user at the expense of the information professional. "We have a loyal customer base," says Martin. "We need to concentrate on them. To this end, we're re-launching the Quantum professional development program as Quantum2 to provide the training and tools needed by today's information professional." For those who don't remember, Quantum was first intro- duced in 1993 in the U.S. and 1994 in Europe. It featured seminars, a somewhat rudimentary DialMail discussion list, and a newsletter that gave practical advice on marketing library services, internal promotion, and information management. The program essentially became defunct once Knight Ridder sold Dialog. Quantum2 is pronounced "Quantum Two" not "Quantum Squared."

To further emphasize Dialog's focus on the information professional, Martin has established a team to focus on the information professional market development. "Libby Trudell, now senior vice president, will head this group. Also on the team are Bonnie Snow, who is so well-known to pharmaceutical and biomedical librarians, and Ron Kaminecki, an intellectual property information expert. Also part of the team is Betty Jo Hibberd who will run the new Quantum program and support educational programs at library schools." The latter seems to strike a chord with Martin. "We need to bring back the library school programs," stresses Martin. "This is something I had experience with at West. When Thomson bought West, I was involved in going to the law schools to convince them to offer West to the law students. It's a good model and one that we can use in library schools for Dialog."

On the other hand, there's an issue of what, exactly, is the distinction between information professional and end-user. When looking at introducing Dialog into corporations via Dialog's Intranet Toolkit, there is no doubt that tailoring products to end-users is imperative. But it's the library that is likely to be responsible for training end-users and promoting information delivery inside their companies. "Librarians are not speed bumps on the road to the information highway. They are the core influencers of purchasing decisions. Their recommendations are key within organizations. The skills of the information professional, including organization, inventory, and taxonomies, have great value in an Internet world."

What about the various platforms that Dialog supports? Is this sustainable? "Classic and Classic on the Web are still the biggest in terms of usage," comments Martin, "although the biggest growth is in pure Web products. Within companies, on their intranets, we can create customized front ends, pre-set searches, and screens that vary from one user base to another. This is very popular."

When it comes to the issue of combining Dialog, DataStar, and Profound, there are multiple complex decisions to be made. "Yes, it's costly and there are redundancies. We could look at it as one large project or we could prioritize parts of it." Which will it be? "There's more to follow. We have to think about the various brands, how users will see our actions." As Martin knows, attempts to merge these three platforms have not been greeted with wholehearted enthusiasm by customers of the platforms slated to be scaled back or consolidated. Even consolidated billing has never materialized. Dialog content, such as North American newspapers, intellectual property databases, and corporate directories, can be searched on Profound using QuickSearch.


It's not just customers and staff; the third leg of the stool is the information providers. "Our information providers have a lot invested in Dialog; we've been partners for a long time. This is not just a supplier relationship. It's a real partnership. Together we need to spend more time thinking about going into new markets, not arguing about royalties." There's no doubt that if Dialog is to grow its content, it has some bridge-building to do with information providers. Every Dialog customer probably has a wish list of information providers they would like to see added to the system.

Reaching customers in new and novel ways is a recurring theme in conversations with Martin. "Dialog has been internally focused for too long. We need to be more aggressive with our customer focus." He expresses some amazement at the loyalty of the customer base, considering that internal focus. "There are continuing rumors that Dialog is for sale again. It isn't, but the fact that these rumors start is because customers care about the future of Dialog." From the amount of money Thomson is investing in Dialog, I think it's fairly clear that Dialog has a future. Not that Thomson is a completely benevolent white knight. "Thomson is expecting Dialog to make a profit," Martin reminds me. "But in the eight years I've been with Thomson, I find that the philosophy is positive. The company wants to build pro- ducts and services that customers want to buy. Profits fall to the bottom line so that they can be reinvested. Oh, and there's the occasional acquisition. Thomson doesn't focus only on cost controls."

In previous jobs, Martin tells me, his focus was on "repositioning businesses and markets and rethinking pricing and marketing." That sounds on target for Dialog to me. "At Dialog, the opportunities match up with a solid, wonderful business. This is a unique company with unique capabilities. We need to assure that customers receive fair value for infor- mation received and that our content is well-managed. Yes, there are alternatives and more information may be available on the Web, but the umbrella of information on Dialog in toto surpasses in value what's on the Web."

Marydee Ojala (marydee@xmission.com) is editor of ONLINE and editor-at-large of EContent.

Comments? Email letters to the Editor at marydee@infotoday.com.

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