The new research workflow: back to the future

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Revisiting history can help researchers be ready for future challenges, writes Ian Palmer

While traveling back in time in order to change future events remains mostly in the domain of fiction writers and movie makers, revisiting history can help scientific researchers prepare for future information access challenges.

Likewise, age-old knowledge management philosophies still hold water in today’s fast-paced corporate research environments.

More than a century ago, for example, author Anton Chekhov famously said: 'Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.' This prescient comment still has meaning for 21st century inventors of knowledge access technology. We ask ourselves every day what good is providing access to information unless you can put that information to good short-term use to solve a specific research question?

If you’ve spent any time in a corporate research environment lately you know that putting knowledge into practice continues to be at the top of the list of challenges for researchers and librarians. Unlike well-funded academic environments where research tools, systems, and content access are readily available, corporate researchers often resort to inefficient, manual, and sometimes not entirely legal methods to get access to the scientific content. It is simply too expensive to duplicate the academic research environment in the corporate world.

Fortunately, there is a remarkable scientific research revolution underway that will help address the document access problem in the near future. While it is based on the 'Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom' (or DIKW) pyramid theory that has been part of the language of information science for decades, the new paradigm for scholarly article access is rooted squarely in advanced technologies.

The result is a new knowledge landscape where the data and information tiers of the knowledge pyramid are expanding at a rapid rate and putting immense pressure on the layers above to synthesise the data and turn it into useful knowledge.

Simultaneously, technologies that facilitate highly-personalised research environments in cost-effective ways are being developed and will soon become mainstream. Just as Internet search technology increases the awareness of the massive amount of available scientific data, new knowledge management technology is finally making time- and cost-effective access to precise data a reality.

Beyond the popular knowledge management theories that continue to drive technology development, there are five important questions that researchers, librarians, and publishers must be asking of research solution providers:

  • How does the technology fit into and enhance current workflows?
  • What gains are possible via automation? For example, automating lowest cost acquisition filtering today and automated data extraction from full-text content tomorrow;
  • How quickly can I learn and implement the technology to benefit specific research projects?
  • What is the ROI (return on investment)? and
  • What is the cost of non-adoption?

The top research solutions companies must be able to answer these questions succinctly and be able to demonstrate that new technologies can have a profoundly positive impact on a researcher’s ability to get their jobs done and focus on their moving the needle forward with regard to their organisation’s business goals.

Speaking from the technology developer’s point of view, the knowledge of the future is not so dangerous after all. In fact, it's key to success for the well-informed scientific researcher.

Ian Palmer is chief sales and marketing officer at Reprints Desk