After the previous week’s heady adventures it felt natural to seek anonymity . And where better to do that than in the bowels of the European Commission as an evaluation rapporteur , quietly sifting the hopeful and hopeless proposers of technology projects in a selection process so scientifically refined that the winners might be described as truly opaque – the people for whom no selectorial prejudice might be entertained .Very dull. And then , taking my Blackberry outside the building for the Commission equivalent ( an info-fix?) of a smoking break , I discovered the joyous news that Thomson Reuters and Complinet had done the deal .


Joyous ? Yes , they need each other at this juncture . Often when major conglomerate players meet maturing ex-start-ups the romance is around trophy assets , scale and exit . And of course these are all elements here . But there is also another element which is much more exciting . Thomson Reuters Markets is in every financial services institution worth thinking about . Thomson Reuters Law division is in every law and tax unit worth thinking about . The one area that unifies these markets more intensely than any other is , as we hesitatingly emerge from recession , compliance with the new rule books of re-regulated financial marketplaces . Thomson Reuters need to have a strategy in place that brings new service values into play across the huge datasets held in its distinctly different Markets and Law operating units . Complinet has been doing that bridgework effectively for 12 years .


When I first went to visit Complinet in Putney in the late 1990s they were a revelation . In the first instance they had nothing on board that sounded like “publishing ” . While some of their people had some sales experience in information companies – including Thomsons- no one talked the structural and process talk of publishing . From the start this was a service-orientated development , and while we did not use the word then , this was all about “workflow”. The object was to put alongside compliance officers and operational managers a service environment for risk management and reduction . So it seemed quite natural that one of the first people I interviewed in the business was a former enforcement inspector from a regulatory agency . Not research-based ? Concerned with adding value to the working environment ? Service -driven thinking ? This company , by the time I had known it for  5 years , was ticking all the boxes for me in terms of what we now understand as value-added “network publishing “.


But growing up in a hostile or unregarding society is always difficult . Other publishers confided to me that they thought Complinet’s business model ,( which then as now had a consultancy element ) was impure (!). In order to succeed the company would have to succeed in the US as well as Europe – a notoriously difficult migration for small British companies . Some content providers were unwilling to license datasets , while others , including some Asia-Pacific exchanges , did not have their regulations in usable formats and needed help . And where did the business model stop : Complinet always took a full service view of its niche , which meant audit of compliance updates and the educational processes by which management and regulator can be sure that changes , once logged , are familiar to operating staff . In other words , Complinet was prepared to look at the whole workflow of compliance in its sector , not just the bits that had law or tax documentation in them . Since their competitors were companies like Wolters Kluwer who were obsessed by the research need and not by the workflow , Complinet were able to establish themselves and grow . Now everyone is obsessed by the workflow .


This is a coming of age in another sense  as well . This is the first sale in the information sector of an integrated services company of any size . Initially the publishers all bought service software companies who sold to end users , and tried ( sometimes not very hard ) to bolt these on to their information assets . It seldom worked . This is not to say that the purchases were wrong : some were brilliant ( and Wolters Kluwer made some notable buys in Europe in this area ) . It was simply that the cultures of software development and research information sales were totally different , and all too often purchasers did not know how to integrate them , or believed that they should stand alone within a group context so that shareholders could clearly assess the contribution of the acquisition . Mercifully those days have passed , but some major players are still left with technology buys whose relevance to other activities is now a mystery !


Thomson Reuters have not been like that , but they , as well as Reed-Elsevier ( WestLaw and Lexis ) have seen the need to migrate to the law and tax office workflow but found it harder to accomplish in practise , especicially during the recent difficult years when subscription revenues for reseach database products were being challenged by traditional professional subscribers . But if you subscribe , as I do , to the UK expert Richard Susskind’s view of the decline of the lawyer , then players like Lexis and Westlaw should be moving across to help end-users ( in this case compliance officers in banks ) to manage their own regulatory practise destiny . And empowering their law firm advisors to unwind and customize these solutions for them . We cannot at once be within a wholly networked economy yet seek to preserve the business relationships of the pre-internet age . Complinet is a child of the networked  age – it can now complete its growth phases in a much larger incubator , and help its new host to change as well in the process.


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  1. Tweets that mention David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future. -- on June 6, 2010 15:29

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex Boden, David Worlock. David Worlock said: Thomson Reuters and Complinet : the significence of a landmark deal […]