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Magazines > Searcher > October 2008
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Vol. 16 No. 9 — October 2008
FEATURE
Giving Value
A Look at Three Leading Vendors

by Corilee Christou, C2 Consulting

Used by many, misused by more, the internet has become a pervasive and even invasive part of life and in a shorter period of time than the adoption of the telephone or even the automobile. Much like the early libraries whose walls were built to house all the available knowledge, whether cuneiform tablets or manuscripts and eventually books, the internet too is often viewed as a place where the answers to all the world’s imaginable questions may be found.

Gargantuan the internet is; intelligent it is not. It’s great for some types of applications, such as shopping, social interaction and sharing, and general research. Tried and true research meant to drive business or policy decisions still needs to be done with reliable sources, sources that may or may not be on the internet, or at least not for free.

So where is this train of random thought going? Right where you thought it might: back to the library. Well not to the library per se, but to the librarian. The Urban Dictionary [http://www.urbandictionary.com] defines a librarian as an “Information master, one to be worshiped; librarians wield unfathomable power, bring order to chaos, wisdom and culture to the masses, preserve every aspect of human knowledge and rule the information universe.”

Worship may be a little strong a word, but certainly, in this day and age, when Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame have morphed into 15 gigabytes on your own blog or webpage, someone needs to sort through this mess and ensure that the information used to make key decisions is correct, accurate information, received from a reliable and often-paid source.

With payment comes all its associated ills: contract negotiations, analyses of different product offerings, and complex vendor relationships. Managing this mix of tasks has now become core to just about every librarian’s job.

Librarians spend a lot of time working and negotiating with vendors. and although I have an M.L.S., I cannot recall this particular subject area being covered when I was in library school. That may have changed, but I doubt extensive instruction is available on library school curricula even today. Most of us likely learned our skills in this area on the job, hoping and praying we hadn’t missed out on a better deal or more product functionality.

Vendors Are Waiting

In his article “Getting Value From Vendor Relationships” which starts on page 28, Armand Brevig describes the main mantra for AstraZeneca’s content acquisition strategy and its core value driver as the requirement that all paid content must help the company become more cost-effective, faster, and better. AstraZeneca uses three main approaches to successfully achieve its goals in content acquisition and vendor management: haggling and negotiation; vendor relationship management (VRM); and demand management.

Of the three, VRM is perhaps the easiest of all for the librarian to address successfully. All large vendors have direct resources and avenues in place today to support the librarian. Nowadays, vendors have a much clearer understanding of librarians and the changes to librarians’ roles than ever before. As Tom Jared, vice president, large law at Thomson Reuters, put it: “First of all, what kind of drives us is what we call outside/in view of the market. Although there are about 1,200 lawyers in the building, that, in itself, can be kind of dangerous, as the tendency then is to only look inside/out. Thomson, therefore, made a real conscious effort a few years ago to refocus instead on the outside/in look, which is defined as having as clear an understanding of the marketplace and what is going on as is possible.”

Several avenues are available in which the librarian can request, question, and suggest services or content. Dow Jones Factiva [http://www.factiva.com], LexisNexis [http://www.lexisnexis.com], and Thomson Reuters [http://www.thomsonreuters.com] all maintain librarian support teams consisting of degreed librarians, many of them former clients, who work directly with librarian customers on everything from content requests to internal training issues to marketing programs for the librarian within a corporate account or law firm.

Customer advisory boards/panels are also a key venue for all three vendors. Here, client participants meet periodically to discuss issues, learn of and review proposed new products and interfaces, and provide input and feedback to the vendor. All three also use independent survey firms periodically to further elicit feedback from customers. Client visits, or as Thomson Reuters call them, “Inside Looks,” are conducted periodically by all three vendors, where librarians may share ideas, meet and greet key executives, and explore and review new options and products.

But What Does It All Mean?

Perhaps the single most troublesome area for the librarian — as identified by all three vendors — involves interpreting and understanding contract or license terms even well after a negotiation has been completed and the contract signed. Allan McLaughlin, SVP, of the U.S. Research Solutions, LexisNexis business unit, referred to this need for a better understanding of contractual arrangements. “It’s amazing, the questions that often come up after the fact, and after the negotiation is completed. There is still a need for a clear understanding of what is included in the contract. What data do I really have access to under my subscription versus out of my subscription? Or what things are included with the service or not included with the service, or as an add-on?”

Anne Caputo, executive director, Learning & Information Professional Programs, Dow Jones Factiva, adds, “Distribution as enabled by the contract is one area librarians need a better understanding of, particularly as it relates to where the data may be distributed — inside the corporation only and to whom, same building, same department, across state lines, globally?”

Personnel changes may be part of why the contractual confusion exists, but if nothing else, it may help to request a bulleted term sheet from the vendor that outlines each area of the contract and defines the user population and data licensed in plain English — not in legal terminology.

Organizing to Serve

Additionally, each of the three leading vendors has recently been reorganized, or is in the process of being reorganized now, to better engage with clients. Although the ink is barely dry on the name change, Thomson Reuters is responding to customer requests by simplifying how it engages with clients. This is particularly important as Thomson and Reuters sort through the multitude of account relationships in place for both behemoths. Tom Jared emphasizes this need to simplify the account relationship. “Thomson has many great people coming into a firm, but Reuters also has lots of people coming into a firm. Our clients prefer that there be one person who understands the objectives of the overall firm who, as the main contact, manages a team of account facing expert resources for specific applications; sales/contract, content/services or technical/platform.”

LexisNexis, metaphorically anyway, has removed the hyphen from its name (Lexis-Nexis). Formerly, it was organized primarily along market lines for corporate and legal, but now it is aligned according to geography: U.S., Europe, Asia Pacific, Canada, and Africa. The primary product will remain the same with some exceptions made for localization. Resources formerly dedicated to a legal or corporate account may now be deployed cross market by the account manager who “owns” the account.

Last but not least, Dow Jones Factiva is still chugging along even after the divorce from Reuters and the recent Murdoch mania. It recently acquiring Generate, a company which uses next-generation social graphing and relationship mapping to unlock the “who you know” within an enterprise and externally. It crawls 75 million websites, 25,000 media sources, and 3 million blogs daily to create databases on companies, executives, news, trigger events, and social networks. Examples of some of the 100 trigger events include product purchases, mergers, acquisitions, new investments, management changes, joint ventures, licensing and contract deals, bankruptcies, and SEC filings. The Generate acquisition will enable Dow Jones Factiva to scrape the web in a timelier manner using these trigger elements to find and alert clients accordingly.

What’s Coming?

Tools, tools, tools — this is one area in which all three vendors are scrambling to provide clients with more than content, trying to make it easier for clients to “have it their way” and manipulate content more effectively. Vendors are providing add-ons for web surfing, taxonomy support, better plug-ins to internal systems, any intranets. The Holy Grail of this new approach is to become one with the client work process. So expect to see more of these types of services introduced in the future.

So, what about the internet? As many young “digital natives” arrive at corporations or law firms well versed in the internet, how will LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva, and Thomson Reuters help librarians to “manage” this particular user population? All three plan to make the internet their new BFF (Best Friend Forever or Best Foot Forward) and release new interfaces in the short term that will not only provide access to their main paid content but also provide search results for vetted “best of the web” content links. The main challenge with this type of product that combines free with fee is the business model.

Tech support, too, is also available and is a key element for making licensed systems more compatible with internal data systems. McLaughlin indicated that LexisNexis also plans to make its interface much easier to configure internally, coining the phrase, “mass configuration,” which then enables “mass customization using an off-the-shelf type of product.”

Finally, all three vendors are actively providing support programs for their librarian customers, programs that reflect their awareness of how the librarian’s role has changed. As Anne Caputo states: “It really is a complete reversal. The librarian no longer wants to be a gatekeeper, but instead is telling us that we want to help you, the vendor, get better integrated into our organization.” Tom Jared takes this further and explains how Thomson Reuters focuses too on helping the firm with its business, retaining new associates, and minimizing turnover — all areas in which the librarian is taking an active part internally. “We have to listen to our clients. Let’s face it. Thomson would lose an awful lot of money if we didn’t. So the main objective is to ensure that our customers know they can call as well as whom to call for answers.” Thomson Reuters has created a staff position entitled VP of customer experience, currently staffed by a gentleman named Bob Azman. All this team concentrates on is customer input and feedback.

Have You Hugged a Vendor Today?

Do you know your account representatives? Do you have their phone numbers on your rapid dial list? All three companies described here have several avenues in place to support customers. So don’t hesitate to ask, to call, and most importantly to request help from your sales representative and account team for anything, ranging from sales/contract, technical/platform, or content/data arenas.

Corilee Christou, M.L.S. has extensive experience in all aspects of the publishing and information industry. She owns and operates C2 Consulting. Her e-mail address is corilees55@aol.com.

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