Magazine article Information Today

IT Interview: John Regazzi Reinvents Ei

Magazine article Information Today

IT Interview: John Regazzi Reinvents Ei

Article excerpt

John Regazzi has shepherded Engineering Information through turbulent times into the Web era, notably with the concept of Ei Village. Here are some of his perspectives on that process and on Ei's future.

Q Briefly, what is Engineering Information's background?

A Engineering Information is the world's oldest abstracting and indexing organization. We were originally founded as part of the American Society for Mechanical Engineering in 1884, and for the first 50 years we operated as a division of the ASME. We were subsequently spun out as a not-for-profit organization in 1934.

Q And more recently there was a management buyout?

A In 1994 we were restructured into two separate organizations: the Engineering Information Foundation, a private grant-giving foundation, and a for-profit organization called Engineering Information, Inc., which is the company I head up. I would stress, however, that the majority of the new company is owned by all the employees, not management alone.

Q This must have been a dramatic change?

A In some ways yes, in others no. After all, we were unlike many other notfor-profit organizations in that we had no separate endowment and no membership. So we were very much like a commercial organization and have always had to support ourselves from sales. Above all, what the change in structure has given us is more access to capital, and more flexibility in the nature of the contracts and joint ventures into which we can enter.

Q So how is the new company perKonning?

A Since I joined Engineering Information, in 1988, it has tripled in size. Growth has been achieved through product development and rising sales, rather than by means of acquisitions.

Q Presumably the nature of the business has also changed?

A Absolutely. Engineering Information has transformed itself. In 1988 around 60 percent to 70 percent of our business was in print journals; today that is less than 15 percent, with 85 percent electronic. Nine years ago 80 percent of our business was through third-party distributors; today over 70 percent of our business is direct sales into the marketplace, with just 30 percent distributed through third parties. So there have been tremendous changes.

Q Does this mean that you now have more salespeople and fewer indexers?

A Right. There's been a big shift, both in the numbers and the type of employees. When I joined the company we had 150 positions; today we have 42 globally-and in fact at one point there were just 30 employees. In 1988, only about five of that 150 were in marketing and sales. Today, around half our staff is in marketing and sales.

Q Am I right in thinking that the Compendex database is your primary product, and that all the others are subsets of Compendex?

A Certainly our print, online, and CD-ROM products and services are all sub-sets, or derivative products, of Compendex. Ei Village, our Web product, is quite separate however.

Q Some argue that as search engines get more sophisticated-and publishers put more of their journals on tF Web-indexing and abstract databases will become redundant. Wold you agree?

A It's a real threat. Without doubt, as search engines get more robust-and assuming they were able to search across multiple publishers and that all the publishers had their abstracts in a common form-at some point you could effectively replace databases like Compendex.

Q Given this, what is Engineering Information's migration path?

A In the late 1980s we realized that just continuing to be an old-style abstracting and indexing service was not going to work. So in the early 1990s we set about re-tooling ourselves. Ei Village was developed as part of that process-in effect, we reinvented ourselves with The Village.

Q What's different about Ei Village?

A What we've done is to take the core competencies of organizing, classifying, indexing, abstracting, and summarizing that we have always used with the journal and conference literature and applied them to a whole new range of information sources. …

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