IT should help in sales fight: info service chief

Clare Hart believes technologists should feel pressure from competitors just as sales and marketing people do. They should be part of cross-functional teams who help prepare responses to external competition.

Clare Hart (pictured) believes technologists should feel pressure from competitors just as sales and marketing people do. They should be part of cross-functional teams who help prepare responses to external competition.

Hart, who is the chief executive of Factiva, a US-headquartered information aggregation service, believes competitive intelligence is the “responsibility of everyone in the organisation”. She makes the useful argument that companies should be harnessing the “power of intellect” throughout the organisation, and technologists often have a unique insight on issues.

Hart, who began her working life in the 1980s as a programmer, has said that 10 years ago the typical online customer of a service like Factiva was an individual within an organisation devoted to gathering data. These would be an information professional (such as a librarian), public relations or investor relations specialist. Now almost everyone in the organisation needs information, she says, particularly sales and marketing and business executives. They need to know what’s being said in the press about their company and their rivals.

Doubtless this has coincided nicely with the “de-geeking” of most varieties of business intelligence tool, meaning analysis and reports can be compiled by the least tech-savvy.

Tech companies are big users of data aggregation services, Hart told Computerworld, technical people often using it to keep track of business partners and suppliers. She cites one overseas company looking to partner with another but canning it when it learned from the service that it was being bought by a rival.

Information aggregators are fighting their patch on a number of flanks. Some publishers are going direct and removing their content from these services, customers are moving between them for reasons financial and political, and internet-based services like Google or the paid Moreover are snapping at their heels.

As for publishers going direct, Hart diplomatically notes that publishers “need to make decisions that support their business model and strategy”. She counters the strategy by pointing to Factiva’s 1.5 million paying subscribers as a branding strength for customers and the time lost by enterprises when staff can’t find the information they need to do their jobs.

Factiva, which claims 80% of the Fortune 500 as clients, says its local client profile is similar to that in most other countries: financial, transport, academic, government, PR, professional services. Our foreign affairs and trade ministry used such services extensively during the Iraq and Bali crises. It uses all three main ones, Factiva, Dialog and LexisNexis, as well as other feeds and the web. MFAT tends to favour one service over another for specific tasks. For example, Factiva it tends to find useful for monitoring overseas news journals, says library information manager Ken Hales, and Lexis for international legal data. The information specialists within MFAT judge what to use to answer staff and ministerial requests, with an eye to the department’s budgets. The services have good technology and save staff time and copyright worries, he says, though their North American bias means local news doesn’t always make it online as quick.

Factiva has settled on XML as its data standard, and spends much time translating 800 formats from 8000 sources. It regards its indexing skills as vital to the process — it uses 300,000 content codes — and employs information professionals in its taxonomy, customer service and enterprise consulting divisions.

Hart sees a multimedia future in which users will be able to select individual articles, video and audio clips directly from Microsoft Office (which may be one way to expand the budget devoted to information services). She also believes Google will eventually offer the choice of for-fee services.

And what does Hart read regularly? The Wall St Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes and bits of Harvard Business Review.

One-all

Rummaging through Factiva, it’s obvious that the service, and rivals like LexisNexis and Dialog, would be invaluable for stock watchers and investment types.

It throws up the business headlines of all the big papers, paid and free, and is full of potential treasure troves like transcripts of analyst conference calls.

If it’s competitive information you want, to keep tabs on a rival, to plot a takeover bid, or perhaps just to check out the financial solidity of a vendor, it would pay to check out the rates and information scope of these fellows.

Those like Moreoever, which for a fee continuously handpicks and qualifies internet sources of information, could also be worth a look. Microsoft’s a customer.

The score? Your call, ref.

But clearly the collective mind of the internet, though far less focused, shouldn’t be ignored. The bright young thing knows all the numbers, but the wise old soul in the corner misses — and forgets — nothing.

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