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Simplicity is the way forward

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Swets is taking a new approach to addressing customer needs, writes Sian Harris

The role of subscription agents is constantly being redefined as the nature of the information that they negotiate access to changes, and as the users’ priorities change. For Dutch subscription agent Swets, the key to meeting future needs is simplicity. This is the philosophy behind the company’s recent decision to bring together all its products under the SwetsWise umbrella.

One of the big driving forces behind this move is the company’s CEO Arie Jongejan, who joined the company in early 2005 after many years at Elsevier. ‘When I joined Swets I was struck by the fact that when you ask people what agents do, they come up with a long list of tasks but there was no single product to do all these tasks,’ he explained. ‘SwetsWise brings all our traditional activities and new ones together in one environment.’

To bring these tasks together, the company examined its offering and distinguished three levels of customer service – acquisition, access and management of information. The company then rethought its products to fit these three levels within the SwetsWise platform with all these functions being able to talk to each other because they are all on the same platform.

The base service (level 1) is called SwetsWise Subscriptions. This mostly focuses on the acquisition of content area but also includes claim handling. Customers can then add other products on top of this to assist access to the content purchased (level 2). This includes functions such as SwetsWise Title Bank.

On top of all that, customers can also add functionality to manage the content and this is the third level on the platform. ‘Customers might say that they do not need this content layer because they have publisher platforms such as Elsevier’s Science Direct,’ said Jongejan. However, he believes that the SwetsWise platform can give librarians access to a much broader range of content because it covers all the information subscribed to.

In this area the company starts to overlap with some of the functions of the library management systems that libraries use. ‘Managing the holdings is now an integral part of what we do,’ said Jongejan. However, although the company is working on electronic resource management tools, he is not particularly eyeing up the library management tools market. Nonetheless, he does see ways that his company can help in this task. ‘One of the big challenges for library management systems is populating them. We have conversations with Ex Libris and Endeavor in how we can help populate their resources so they don’t come to the market with just a shell,’ he explained. ‘Usually library management companies come from a different perspective from ours. We say that content is key; they say that the software is key.’

These relationships with library management companies fit with Swets’ philosophy of wanting to help libraries, according to Jongejan. ‘We want to be seen in the market as SwetsSimplifies,’ he commented.

This goal of simplicity is part of the reason for Swets’ recently-announced partnership with MuseGlobal to provide federated searching. ‘This brings searching under the SwetsWise umbrella,’ said Jongejan. ‘We believe that this is more attractive than having a separate search tool.’

Helping to evaluate content

So what is next on the horizon for this subscription agent? For Jongejan, the future plans are about new ways to help make things easier for customers. ‘Initially customers gave us their shopping lists and we bought what they wanted but now an additional role is emerging,’ he said. This role is in helping customers to create their shopping lists in the first place and to evaluate them. ‘We think that we can help them to make educated evaluations of their content,’ he explained.

To this end, the company is developing a selection support module that includes usage data resulting from its partnership with Scholarly Stats as well as other data. Another strand to this is peer comparison. These tools allow customers to look at what, for example, are the top publications that a typical chemistry library might subscribe to. ‘We don’t give customer specifics but can provide aggregated information,’ commented Jongejan.

And he sees this as an important role for Swets. ‘We maintain neutrality but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer transparency,’ he explained. ‘What hinders the industry at the moment is that a lot of customers feel that they’ve been held hostage by the publishers. Customers are uncomfortable with being forced into making decisions based on what they did in the past.’

According to Jongejan, these initiatives strike a chord with both publishers and librarians. ‘They take us to where we think the industry is moving,’ he concluded.