The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as "the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident." The word's origins lie in The Three Princes of Serendip, an ancient Persian fairy tale involving three heroes who had a knack for "making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."
Professional information seekers with specific business needs often make unexpected discoveries in their search for information, and while they may be interesting, those discoveries rarely help them make the mission-critical decisions that sent them on their quests in the first place. In fact, most of the results delivered by standard search tools and free public information sources are far too generalized or completely irrelevant to the original query.
That's not to say that generalized content (or serendipity) has no value whatsoever. "The business and consumer media play an important role in making us aware of what we didn't know we were interested in," says Chuck Richard, VP and lead analyst for Outsell, a content-centric research and advisory firm. "Often called the ‘serendipity factor,'" Richard continues, "it's why some of us still flip through an entire newspaper just to see what we will find. This is unfocused and broad, but it provides great value." At the same time, he says, "Verticalization for professional purposes offers great business opportunity, too."
Indeed, it was this fragmentation of content into specialized vertical (and sometimes horizontal) markets that led to information management's renaissance over the past two decades. "The business-to-business space really invented this idea of niche markets," Richard says. "They invented it to serve marketers and advertisers—and to reach multiple interests."
Unfortunately, the proliferation and specialization of content sources has exacerbated the information-management problem for the very professionals who most rely on such information to do their jobs.
Richard says "a different kind of verticalization" will result in a marked improvement in workers' effectiveness in the years to come. It's a task, he says, that will "require taking this information and thoroughly threading it into what people do."
It can't happen on its own, however. To leverage content, suppliers must develop a taxonomy and tag every piece of content accordingly, according to Seth Miller, president/CEO of Miller Systems, a technology consulting firm. Delivering the "right applications to the right audiences," he insists, requires "a process and a discipline. You have to have the right tools and the right methodology to do it."
Look at any vertical or horizontal market and you'll find several—sometimes dozens of—companies positioned to deliver the market-specific information that will help individuals work faster and smarter. In the interest of understanding how content can be tailored to fit specific business needs, EContent interviewed companies that deliver fee-based information services to six different vertical and horizontal markets. Each of the companies was asked the same set of questions. Due to space limitations, however, we have published only excerpts from those discussions. Readers should not make inferences about a company's offerings based solely on the inclusion or omission of certain questions in each profile. So, serendipity be damned. When the search for information is business-critical and deadline-driven, discoveries made accidentally simply won't do.
West | http://west.thomson.com | Content Product: Westlaw | Vertical Market Served: Legal |
Pricing Strucuture: Subscription| Interviewed:Mike Wilens, President/CEO
Describe the type of content you provide that serves this market: West publishes value-added legal information—cases, statutes, regulations, and analytical resources—in print and online. On Westlaw, we also provide access to comprehensive collections of business information, news, and public records data.
Why this market? What special needs does it have that your content meets? Legal professionals are an important segment of knowledge workers. Having access to the legal documents—legislative, regulatory, and judicial opinions—as well as analysis of the law, helps them provide the best counsel to their clients. The information used by legal professionals must be current, accurate, and authoritative. Legal professionals also must be able to navigate the universe of data that impacts the law and how the law is interpreted.
Any thoughts on optimal technological implementations? It depends on the customers' needs and how the solution is tailored to meet those needs—including cost, technology sophistication, and the desired timeframe to full installation. Some firms integrate Westlaw into sophisticated knowledge management systems. Others simply want access to information and services over the Web. Still other firms look to West to provide fully integrated case management systems, billing systems, online research tools, and knowledge management technologies that work across multiple offices.
Describe the importance of usage analytics to your offering: West provides tools that enable law firms to track and analyze Westlaw usage. This is important to many law firms that choose to bill clients for performed research. Our tools help them manage how research technologies are used and apply them quickly to the appropriate client.
Describe the importance of taxonomy to your offering: West's content is indexed to the West Key Number System. With more than 100,000 topics and subtopics, the Key Number System is a highly evolved taxonomy and is generally recognized as the index of American jurisprudence. The Key Number System links all of the legal information resources relating to a specific topic across jurisdictions, across information types, and across time. The system is maintained by West's attorney editors, who continue to classify new information to the system and revise or add to the system to reflect the current state of the law.
How does access to this content help your target market? Fast, convenient access to West's information collections and research technologies saves legal professionals time, ensures their research is complete, and gives them a high level of confidence that they are making good decisions and providing their clients with sound legal counsel.
Describe an unusual or unexpected case in which your content helped a client: West has offered access to Westlaw over wireless devices such as BlackBerry and Palm Pilots for more than three years. Attorneys can do basic research, and they can verify citations using our KeyCite citation-checking service. One attorney was in the courtroom when the opposing counsel presented a legal brief supporting a new motion in the case. The first attorney accessed Westlaw via his wireless device and ran KeyCite against a citation to a case in the opposing counsel's brief. As it turned out, the case had been overturned, rendering the new argument ineffective.
Pricing, always an issue, has become a hot button lately with organizations increasingly pressed to justify content expenditures. Describe your choice to price as you do: West adds significant value by indexing, organizing, analyzing, and linking content, and customers are willing to pay a premium for superior information. There may be a trend, however, toward flat-rate subscriptions and away from usage-based pricing, with usage increasing faster than price.