Data challenges for publishers – teams, tools and changes in the law

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Dealing with data is nothing new to scholarly publishers – but it was clear from a recent ALPSP event that it’s an ever-changing battlefield, reports Warren Clark

How to Build a Data Driven Publishing Organisation, held on 20 April at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and hosted by ALPSP, proved there is much for many still to learn in how to approach the masses of data points generated by companies throughout the publishing cycle.

As John Morton, board chair of Zapaygo, said in his keynote: ‘Most publishers are using less than five per cent of the data they own.’

The event featured many examples of areas in which data could be collected, analysed and presented in a form that would improve profitability for publishers, and provide users with a more personalised experience.

Ove Kähler, director, program management and global distribution at Brill, together with his colleague Lauren Danahy, team leader, applications and data, explored the challenges they faced in developing an in-house data team. Their most significant innovation was to arrange their primary data groups according to where they occurred in the workflow: content validation; product creation; content and data enrichment; content and data distribution; product promotion; and product sales.

The pair explained how they created a team – from existing staff within the company – giving each specific responsibility for one of those data groups, and how that led to improved quality and output of data at each step.

Indeed, the notion that publishers shouldn’t assume that dealing with data means employing new staff was echoed throughout the day, with both David Smith, head of product solutions at IET, and Elisabeth Ling, SVP of analytics at Elsevier, suggesting in the panel discussion that people ‘look at your own team first’, since it was likely that the skills required would already be present.

Choosing tools

As well as who and why, many speakers talked about how they capture, store, analyse and visualise the data they collect. The most extensive of these was IET’s David Smith, who overhauled the IT department’s software tools to evolve a more accurate suite of visualisations that product teams could use independently and without the need to continuous IT support. Smith explained that those looking for a ‘single solution’ from a software package that solved all data challenges for publishers would be disappointed, before reeling off half a dozen or more software tools that his team had integrated to develop a solution that suited their needs.

In a session that brought a perspective from outside the publishing industry, Matt Hutchison, director of business intelligence and analytics at Collinson Group, a company that runs global loyalty programmes on behalf of major brands, supported this notion by showing how they had outsourced some of their function to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Matt Pitchford, solutions architect at AWS, demonstrated that the cloud computing set-up they developed for Collinson Group involved more than 20 different pieces of software.

What data can bring

Another theme was quality of data – as Graeme Doswell, head of global circulation at Sage Publishing put it: ‘You need your data capture processes to be as granular as you want your output to be.’ He showed examples of how Sage was using its data to show librarians their levels of usage, making it easier for the sales teams when it came to renewals. David Leeming, publishing consultant at 67 Bricks, gave a further example, specifically in the area of content enrichment.

For Ian Craig, director strategic market analysis at Wiley, data was used to help business decisions on new journal launches. He explained a major project that involved them collecting internal and external data points such as subject matter, number of submissions, journal usage, funding patterns, and many more. The outcomes have helped improve existing journals, and suggest where future resources should be deployed for emerging markets.

Similarly, Blair Granville, insights analyst at Portland Press, demonstrated how his team tracked submissions, subscriptions, open access, citations, usage, commissions and click-through rates in order to to feed intelligence back to the editorial teams about where their focus should be.

Data and the law

The most enlightening paper of the day came from Sarah Day, data marketing professional and associate consultant at DQM-GRC, who spoke about data regulation and governance. She warned against complacency and ignorance when it comes to data, particularly with regard to the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Already law, but due to become enforceable in May 2018 (allowing time for institutions to ensure compliance), this is an EU-wide revision of privacy laws designed to give individuals more control over their personal data.

‘In spite of Brexit, the UK – and indeed any country outside the EU that offers goods and services to people in the EU – will have to comply,’ said Day. The impact of the new regulations are far and wide as far as publishers are concerned, and among the most important things they can do is ‘be transparent about what you are doing with an individual’s data’.

Although Day successfully rose to the challenge of explaining GDPR in one minute, it served to demonstrate that managing data in a safe, secure, and legal manner is a complex issue that every publisher will have to address head on.

With more than 50 attendees at the event, drawn from publishers large and small, it’s clear that understanding data – and all the issues that come with it – is an issue that will only become more important in the years to come, as the amount of data generated grows exponentially.