The path to integration

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Last May, ProQuest bought e-book aggregator EBL. Sian Harris finds out about the company's plans to bring this and other businesses more closely together

There are many different types of tools and resources for libraries and their users: to find information; to manage information; to purchase it; and, of course, the information itself.

One company that knows a lot about these issues is ProQuest, which has products in many of these different areas. In some cases, however, the products and their business units are better known than the parent company itself. Summon, which was from Serial Solutions, for example, is the company’s discovery service. Dialog provides information services to help organisations seek competitive advantages. Document management tasks might rely on RefWorks or the company’s new Flow (see New Products, page 23 to 25). People looking for an e-book aggregator might turn to ebrary or EBL.

Such a situation is common when a company grows through acquisition and ProQuest certainly has. ‘Acquisitions adhere to our strategy,’ Kevin Sayar, senior vice president and general manager of ProQuest Workflow Solutions, told Research Information at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Sayar was himself the subject of such an acquisition, having, along with school friend Christopher Warnock, been one of the founders in 1999 of the e-book aggregator ebrary, of which he was president and general manager until it was acquired by ProQuest in 2011. ‘The synergies were great with ProQuest, the alignment with the product but also the strategic direction,’ he commented.

At ebrary he was involved in developing research technologies such as DASH! (Data Sharing, Fast), InfoTools and flexible acquisition models, including patron driven acquisition and subscriptions. He also brokered partnerships with companies such as YBP, which has integrated ebrary within its digital and print book acquisition workflow.

Now Sayar heads ProQuest’s business unit focused on opportunities to collaborate around e-books, discovery, data aggregation, library management and analysis services.

Part of that role today involves fellow e-book aggregator EBL, which was founded in Australia in 2004 and which ProQuest acquired in May last year. ‘We have always maintained close relations with our competitors, particularly EBL. EBL took a very different approach to us; they were really focused on value for libraries. The acquisition was about the combination of assets of the two,’ Sayar explained.

Of course, an acquisition is only the start of the process and Sayar says that ProQuest is in the middle of an 18-month process of integrating the two e-book aggregators, led by Kari Paulson, who was EBL’s president and is now vice president and general manager of the combined e-book business unit.

‘[EBL’s] models and products have been developed collaboratively over many years, based on invaluable ideas from a talented cast of librarians and publishers. These ideas and values will continue to drive our work under ProQuest, but with even more tools to bring you additional value,’ she wrote on the company’s website.

Sayar explained the integration process so far: ‘Post-acquisition a lot was about integrating the back office,’ he said, adding that considerable effort has gone into finding out what customers want. ‘The first four months were focused on mapping out with customers and asking them, “from your perspective, what do you like about the products and what do you like about ProQuest?”,’ he explained. ‘We are not going to rush things. We want to be sure about the value of what we were planning. By the end of 2014 we aim to have a single, integrated platform.’

Further integration

Integration plans at ProQuest go beyond bringing together the two e-book aggregators. They also aim to tackle the perception of ProQuest as several disparate businesses.
‘We had many pockets of excellence but not really much integration. We expect to see a much more aligned effort in taking products to market,’ said Sayar. ‘We need to stop trying to think in siloes.’ He noted that this includes integrating – even with competitors, and certainly with internal products. ‘Top of that should be how [discovery service] Summon keeps record of ebrary,’ he added.

‘We are starting to see a trend and recognition of all involved in the discovery space of the need to integrate to the mutual needs of customers. If we don’t lead that effort then we are thinking too near term,’ continued. ‘It’s complex. You have to work out where your core values are. If you don’t, it will jeopardise the value of discovery to the market.’

In the meantime though, the individual brands are still important, he believes. ‘ProQuest is lucky to have those different business. Until we deliver on the promise [of integration] we can’t strip out existing solutions. The strategy we have is for three to five years and it will take that amount of time to integrate library tools and customer tools.’

A development towards this goal came in November with the news that ProQuest is beta-testing a system for streamlining librarian workflows by automating holdings updates for its two e-books businesses in the knowledgebase supporting the Summon service, as well as ProQuest’s 360 discovery and management services.  Sayar explained: ‘This initiative relieves the burden for librarians to maintain holdings and also enables more efficient marketing of collections by shortening the time between title availability and its discoverability. And, just as this issue of Research Information going to press, the company made another announcement: that Serial Solutions has been rebranded as ProQuest. Another step towards the company’s integration goal.