Vendor Best Efforts and Shared Responsibilities: What Your Vendors Know and Don't Share Can Be Hazardous to Their Business

Article excerpt

Usage data is a tool vendors have on-hand, but share with their subscribers only when it serves their own needs-often when negotiations for license renewals are not going well. Vendors would be better off if they made data concerning usage readily available on a regular basis to those managing large, organization-wide subscriptions. Information managers would then have a better sense as to what was useful, who was taking advantage of information made available and, most importantly, who was not. The importance of discerning why not would also be addressed.

Originally, I planned to use OneSource as an example of a vendor that collects a significant amount of data on usage for large clients and describe bow the vendor shares that data with those managing the account within the customer's organization.

NOT ENOUGH TO SIMPLY PROVIDE USAGE DATA

As my research into "Vendor Best Efforts" progressed, it became clear that provision of usage data is not enough. Not unlike Web sites that monitor traffic, data might be provided to individuals who were not in the habit of analyzing in such detail. These individuals often did not recognize reports as a tool to be used to help their organization beyond merely justifying renewal of the service. Even when it was deemed useful, many had neither the time nor the expertise to devise a program to address the issues that had been uncovered through the analysis. Time and again, I heard, "It's not my job."

My focus changed from how important analyzing usage data is to the success of a distributed information program to what additional tools vendors could develop to help their largest customers. Services developed to assist those within the most complicated organizational structures could later be extended to smaller clients who could also derive benefit from them.

Such assistance to information managers could evolve into an entire range of auxiliary products to augment a vendor's core offering-the initial database or set of databases. With the proliferation (and overlap) of information sources among key database producers and vendors, these ancillary products could serve as a competitive advantage and a key reason for organizationsparticularly large, multinational enterprises-to switch brands.

INCREASED COMPETITION

In recent years, competition among information providers has intensified. Users can access more information sources, from a wider array of information providers, media, and formats. Within any one discipline, overlapping of quality resources among systems and vendors poses significant challenges for the occasional user with regard to choice.

The need for a vendor to distinguish its products, services, and company from others (whether traditional database producers and online vendors or recent Web-based start-ups) has led to significant changes in the industry:

* Traditional online database producers and vendors, such as Dialog, Factiva, and LexisNexis, adapt their products to the Web.

* Data forecasting services, such as EcoWin, team with aggregators of historical data, in this case EIU.

* Numeric data is paired with textual sources covering the same topic.

* Subject directories, such as Yahoo!, add search mechanisms, indexing their content, and vice-versa, such as Google.

* Free Web sites, such as Free Pint and Hoovers, offer value-added services on a fee basis (sometimes transitioning to a fee-based service entirely).

DIFFERENTIATION AND EXPANSION

Information providers work hard to differentiate their product from similar offerings available to the same pool of users. As long-term clients are persuaded to switch loyalties, the only other route for increasing sales is to expand their user base to new groups. These aims are achieved by:

* improving the quality of an information base by increasing the number and types of data sources.

* adding summaries or abstracts to bibliographic data and more items in full-text format, including graphics, tables, charts, and photos. …