Sit down to read this with the mind of a research engineer in the public or the private sector. On the screen in front of you there are links to the foremost research resources that you are likely to use in everyday life. Behind them are other links to a host of services that you may use. Above all, you want to be able to search this corpus of knowledge as an entity, and you want the alerts and intelligence services that you use to reflect updates and developments across the entire waterfront of engineering knowledge. And the data types are pretty different. Some is classic data, and may occur in the evidential material that underlies academic research, or in reports and findings on performance or failure of materials. Other information exists as design specifications, or patents, or standards or as structured academic articles or ebooks. Some exists in index entries and as citations or references. Still more is available online in newspaper files, video archives, blogs, tweets and magazine morgues. Engineering research was never easier, but is still not easy. And few subjects are as fragmented as engineering – or have a more important task than ensuring that knowledge is shared across those fragmentations when necessary, for the sake of progress, and the health and safety of everyone. Here is a classic Big data argument waiting to be made.

Yet as it came to the Web few areas were more diverse than engineering. Despite the early attempts of Engineering Village (later bought by Elsevier), it was not until Warburg Pincus funded GlobalSpec that real vertical search arrived, and with it the focus on a huge user-contributed library of specifications. This service is now owned by IHS, who are able to align with it their equally vast collections of patents and standards. So is this the staring place for all enquiry, given that GlobalSpec also indexes the content of vastly authoritative sources like IEEE. Well, almost – but the academic articles remain in the locked service environments of journal publishers like Elsevier, the leading player in this field. So we still have to sign up for all those journals wherever they are published? Well, yes, until yesterday, that is, when Elsevier announced the acquisition of Knovel (,-provider-of-web-based-productivity-application-for-the-engineering-community). Knovel indexes all of the 100 professional and scholarly journal publishers in this sector, including IET. It is a fast expanding online source which claims to have added 20% more data in the past year. So what we now need on our engineer’s dashboard now?

Well, we certainly need GlobalSpec/IHS, with links to IEEE, and we certainly need Elsevier/Knovel, with links to ScienceDirect, but wouldn’t it be better to have a single access and complete cross-search in a Big Data context? Just a minute, though. Way back in 2006 a really good database visionary called Scott Virkler, then VP Business Development at GlobalSpec, helped to put in place a strategic collaboration with Elsevier, and after that became Elsevier’s VP of search strategy. So are those links still in place? And can you easily cross search all of these files from one place as Scott undoubtedly intended? I ask because it seems to me that consolidation and collaboration is the name of the game, and the game need have no losers. Alexander van Boetzelaer, who runs the corporate markets sector of Elsevier, has a fine record in collaboration. He and his team created GeoFacets, for the oil and gas industry, and IHS was one of their partners in doing that. But in order for collaboration to work partners have to be determined to make it work, creating interfaces with shared ownership, developing ways of exchanging user-derived data, and sharing marketing efforts and knowledge where necessary. There is still a tendency for collaboration to develop a market of two – and then end in a situation which is just one step away from what users really want.

All these takes time, and since it is over a decade since Elsevier invested in Engineering Village we appear to have plenty of that. Knovel was not even founded then, but it now amounts to a very considerable step forward in Elsevier’s further work with corporate markets. It claims 700 corporate customers and will add real muscle to the corporate markets drive at Elsevier, but we need to bear in mind that acquisition is no longer what it once was in the major market players in information. Thankfully we have matured from the 1990s, when it was about corporate ego and machismo when it was not driven by a desire to hoover up all the proprietory content in the sector. Now we know that content is not king, we can buy securely in the search to create more marketing connections while developing premium vale added services designed, whether collaboratively or not, towards the complete satisfaction of the customer service need. And all that Knovel data and all that GlobalSpec data will not do that in separate containers unless they can be combined and intermixed in the user’s workflow. The next chapter here is the next level of service development, and, given the differentiation of their resources and the fragmentation of the market, it seems to me unlikely that either Elsevier or IHS can do this alone in engineering. There was never a better moment, as in many markets, for talking to the apparent, but unreal, competitor.


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  1. Acquisition + Collaboration = Complete? - Ixxus Publishing Media Solutions on October 30, 2014 06:19

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