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Jennifer Schivas

Jennifer Schivas re-examines semantic enrichment’s strategic importance and suggests the real question for 2021 is not ‘why?’ but ‘how?’

When Research Information asked me to write a piece on ‘why adding meaning and context to data is important’ I have to admit my first thought was: ’It's 2021, everyone already understands the criticality of this, the conversation has moved on – hasn’t it?’ But as publishers face increasing pressure to build new products, services and business models to protect their future, perhaps now is a good time to re-examine the strategic importance of semantic enrichment and to celebrate the value this niche-sounding concept can deliver.

My own journey with semantic enrichment began by dabbling in smaller innovation projects at OUP and T&F but accelerated significantly in 2016 when I joined 67 Bricks. I found myself spending a lot of time talking to publishers about semantic enrichment, explaining the difference between grammatical and statistical analysis, rules-based approaches, entity extraction and ontological classification – we even produced a glossary to help demystify the jargon!  

Back then we were pioneers in using modern content processing techniques like natural language processing, machine learning and AI to add structure, context and metadata to content to make it more useful, for example implementing content enrichment as a strategic capability at Wiley, enabling them to increase production efficiencies, quickly develop new content features for their publishing partners and support new product development.  

Fast-forward to 2021 and most publishers I meet today are very actively striving to be data-driven, to offer researchers personalised experiences, to build new products and services that meet evolving user demands, to integrate with third-party software and to showcase their AI-powered workflows and discovery tools. The ability to treat your content as a data asset, and to enrich that data with meaning and context is crucial to fuelling all of these ambitions. 

Few publishers now need convincing that enrichment matters. It’s importance to the business is central, but for those who do still consider it a “geeky side-project”, the domain of production/technology or something you vaguely remember hearing about but assume won't affect your own priorities, let’s look at some of its strategic benefits:

Retain your position in the marketplace

As existing services and revenue streams become commoditised or disrupted, many publishers are seeking new ways to add value. Using semantic enrichment to leverage the breadth and depth of your content is one way to build a barrier to new entrants to the market, at the same time as enabling new services and enhanced user experiences. 

Semantic enrichment can power tools to augment or automate peer review, editorial, and content production tasks as well as author tools, for example to direct submissions to the most appropriate journal. It can help your staff better understand what content you have, where it is and how it relates to the wider portfolio, perhaps helping you to identify emerging subject areas, or to break down content silos.  

Drive discovery and usage

The opportunities in the realm of search, discovery and usage are huge. But to highlight just some examples, enriched content allows you to propose highly related content to a reader, which may be your own content or from third parties; deliver targeted content notifications; personalise your readers’ experience; power faceted search functionality; auto-create collections or custom lenses to allow different sectors, user types or industries to discover your content in different ways; and allow users or third parties to surface your content via synonyms, trade names or identifiers like CAS numbers, InChI keys or SNOMED CT concepts which are not explicitly mentioned in the text itself.

Today’s readers, researchers and authors have long come to expect the enhanced, personalised user experiences they receive from the likes of Amazon, Spotify, Google, and Apple. Enriching your content can enable you to deliver modern products, services and workflows that meet their evolving expectations.

Build new revenue streams

Semantic enrichment facilitates the reuse of content allowing it to be repackaged and delivered within new products and services for the author, researcher, practitioner or wider industry players. This can deliver both new revenue streams for front-list content and support the monetisation of legacy content. It can also open up significant partnership and licensing opportunities, for example allowing third parties to more easily surface your content within their own products and services.

It's clear that these benefits are hugely important strategic areas that feed directly into what it means to be a modern digital publisher. So perhaps the question we should be asking with semantic enrichment is not ‘why is adding context and meaning to content important?’, but ‘how are you positioning semantic enrichment in your business’? ‘Are you prioritising it as a strategic capability? ‘Do you have a budget set aside to invest in and continuously improve it?’  ‘How are you going to retain control over it to capitalise on the value it unlocks?’ Semantic enrichment has proved itself worthy of a place at the top table. If your answer to those questions is half-hearted and pitched non-strategically, you are missing a huge opportunity. 

Jennifer Schivas is head of strategy at 67 Bricks