A belief in collaboration

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WIth a background in mathematics and an early career developing software applications, Ella Balagula now leads the Engineering and Technology Solutions business within Elsevier's R&D Solutions group

Tell us about Elsevier’s Engineering and Tech Solutions business

Our solutions have a simple goal: to give companies the knowledge to help make confident decisions about what matters most to their business. We develop information solutions for engineering and technology-intensive industries – our flagship product, Knovel, helps design and development engineers in chemicals, oil and gas, and other industries – as well as engineering students – make faster, more effective, and safer decisions. Geofacets, our solution for geoscientists, helps them discover and act on critical scientific information to make confident subsurface exploration decisions. We do this through the careful curation of validated and trusted information from world-leading sources, and by enhancing this data with robust search and analytics.

What are the most significant recent developments for your department?

Engineers are the benefactors of society, applying scientific and technological knowledge to solve the world’s toughest and most pressing challenges. To be successful, engineers require both authoritative information and advanced platform capabilities.

For Knovel, this year we extended the use cases we serve, from providing answers to engineering challenges through foundational technical reference, to enabling engineers to find and act on emerging technological developments. We did this by expanding our content sources from engineering books to include academic journals. As with technical reference, we enhance the journals’ content with practical interactivity; for example, the Knovel Journals Module contained 300,000 interactive equations at launch.

We continue to invest in deeper integration with user’s daily workflows: from launching the My Knovel ToGo mobile application, to partnering with major discovery platform vendors such as EBSCO (available today) and Proquest Summon (available by end of year), to launching integrations with leading engineering applications such as Autodesk AutoCAD.

How do you see this market developing?

I believe in the value of collaboration and strategic partnerships. Customers and users are becoming agnostic to content source, but demand comprehensiveness from solution providers. Of course, the content must be validated and trusted, but the publisher source and brand are becoming less important than the analytical tools and platform capabilities of a solution.

We see more and more willingness from publishers and database providers to license their content to best-in-class solution providers, as demonstrated by our strong ecosystem of 120 publishing partners for Knovel and expanding relationships for Geofacets, such as the addition of seminal Wiley and AGU geoscientific content.

The market continues to move towards the convergence of content and software solutions, and as a result we will see more and more collaboration between the two. Users expect to access content where and when they need it.

To maximise its value, it must be embedded into their day-to-day world.

It’s three years since Elsevier acquired Knovel. Was it a good deal?

The Knovel acquisition has been a great success, by several measures. First, we were able effectively to integrate the company into the larger Elsevier organisation, leveraging broader technology, operations, content innovation, and marketing capabilities, while retaining critical Knovel talent. Integration is where so many acquisitions go wrong, but we were able to make it work, and work well, as we’ve maintained the innovative technology start-up culture of the company and provided the investment required to expand content and product functionalities.

More importantly, Knovel signified an entry into a relatively new market for Elsevier by serving design and development engineers. We have exciting plans for next year; we are launching a new Knovel Materials Solution that will help engineers make critical material selection decisions, such as a chemical engineer selecting safer, greener, and the most effective chemical substances, or an oil and gas metallurgist comparing metal properties to improve operational efficiency. We develop these solutions through deep engagement with the market and our customers, ensuring that we are helping them with their most important challenges.

Interview by Tim Gillett