Monday, June 29, 2009

SLA Conference 2009: Tuning In to Enterprise Content Productivity

The Special Libraries Association convened its annual conference in Washington, DC recently, an event which had reassuring energy and solid attendance. SLA President Janice LaChance observed that attendance was up at this year's event compared to last year's conference in Seattle, Washington, an indication that lean times may not get people to remote locations but convenient locations are worth at least a day or two of investment for this key enterprise content community. I put together a summary video for your enjoyment below and more comments below the video that expand on some of the items featured in the video.

While many of the changes in the enterprise content industry on display at the SLA conference were evolutionary in nature, the thing that struck me most about this year's event is how much enterprise content brands are being absorbed by the focus on workflow-oriented products and services. Yes, subscription database services such as Dialog, now a ProQuest property, are still popular in their own right with enterprise information professionals, but as a brand the Dialog name no longer represents the goals of many of its subscribers. Instead, enterprise content services providers are focused intently on discerning which market segments they can serve most effectively and profitably with highly tailored services.

In the instance of Wolters Kluwer, for example, this means providing a natural language interface for clinical practicioners in medicine such as nurses that will enable them to find answers to practical questions from Wolters Kluwer medical information resources.For Thomson Reuters, products such as Business Citator blend financial, legal and public information sources into a tool that can accelerate the productivity of professionals conducting due diligence efforts on business acquisitions and partnerships. For Dow Jones' Factiva unit, it's focusing on highly tailored software solutions for sales, market analytics and competitive intelligence.

These companies have been focusing on these more tailored market opportunities for quite some time, but it's clear from this year's SLA event that the lion's share of their revenues from traditional database services are diminishing in importance rapidly as these more tailored approaches to content solutions gain more favor on the end-user desktops of enterprises. As always, this leaves the role of enterprise information professionals in some flux, as reflected in a conference program that highlighted the application of infopro skills to competitive intelligence as well as more traditional information management topics.

The influx of more tailored solutions from enterprise content vendors also means that more general content access tools are gaining a broader foothold in the development of enterprise portals. Access Innovations, for example, was showing off their new alliance with Perfect Search, which enables them to combine their indexing and categorization technologies with a platform that can create tailored search solutions for both enterprises and content vendors that provide enhanced content navigation features as well as high-performance searching. So even as many enterprise content vendors are trying to integrate enterprise content into their own products, many enterprises are looking at the problem from the other side and looking at new ways to integrate external content into their own workflow services. Sometimes these types of vendors come out on top, sometimes the information vendors, and sometimes OEM partnerships allow both to win, but whoever wins in the end the competition for solving enterprise workflow issues continues to intensify.

The SLA is to be commended for shepherding an organization of highly talented professionals facing challenging times into supporting what continues to be a first-class event. While the ranks of traditional corporate infopros have thinned in recent years, the need for people with their skills is still strong, even as those skills get repurposed often for more specific functions in the enterprise. As infopros become more adept at interpreting the needs for specific applications that address people's information demands and technologies become more easily configured to respond to those insights I expect that we're at the beginning of a new era for information professionals that will see them becoming new types of "gurus" for on-demand information services. When the world is your library, it will certainly take someone special to do that.
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