Jinfo BlogKnow thy frenemy

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By Tim Buckley Owen

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A trend for corporations to do away with their libraries and information professionals is just one of the many threats facing the Big Three – Dialog, Factiva and LexisNexis – according to a report from information consultant Outsell (outline at http://digbig.com/4yxqh). Although this trend seems to be slowing as corporations understand that centralised and co-ordinated vendor portfolio management and content deployment are cost-effective in down times, it does currently mean that it’s harder for vendors to locate the person to sell to. Preferring the newer term ‘The Aggregators’ (reflecting the fact that these three are now relegated behind general web search as a knowledge worker’s starting point), Outsell does nevertheless see some opportunities for the older players. Development of workflow solutions, a focus on vertical markets rather than broad aggregation and, crucially, greater customer intimacy are suggestions it comes up with. In VIP magazine’s latest regular Focus on the Big Three last November (summary at http://www.vivavip.com/go/w68284), a survey of over 160 users elicited praise for the value these products offered and the effectiveness of their search capabilities. However there was more dissatisfaction with the aggregators’ communication with users and with provision of training that actually met user needs – so there’s work to be done, and some convergence of interest between the three vendors and their (usually highly experienced) customers. For example, Outsell provides some evidence to suggest that knowledge workers are at last starting to recognise the importance of quality over availability where information is concerned. Speaking exclusively to VIP LiveWire, the author of Outsell’s report, Ned May, suggests that information managers can capitalise on this by pointing out that providing access to quality information is their mandate within their organisation. ‘They can request more metrics from aggregators to demonstrate measures of quality, as well as time savings in searching for the right information,’ he suggests. Outsell also believes that the Big Three should adopt the notion of ‘frenemy’, (friend and enemy), defining where a company will play and where it will let others play on its behalf. So should vendors and customers be ‘frenemies’ too? ‘I think a better approach is to place most of the emphasis on being friends,’ May suggests. ‘In the current business environment, it's best to look for ways to help one another. Interests of both “sides” need to be aligned.’ But perhaps they shouldn’t get too friendly. 'Some vendors are still taking an aggressive approach to raising prices, but the power is shifting to information professionals to negotiate more favourable terms – at least in the short-term,’ May believes. Noting that Dialog recently announced a price freeze, he adds: ‘The lesson here is to question the value of every offering.’

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