Data services don’t go bump in the night


Business publishers are, frankly, terrified of developing industry data products. They shouldn’t be. 

I’m talking about services which give budget-holding executives data and analysis which - depending on their mind-set - makes their purchasing decisions better…or less likely to get them into trouble.

These have sprung up in many industry sectors in the past two decades. For example in insurance, transport and banking they provide: 

  • Insurance brokers with the facts of every car accident claim made in the US in the last five years;

  • Aircraft fleet operators with details on the availability and location of every spare part they might need for their Boeing 787.

  • Global banking compliance officers with alerts on all European transactions that might be concealing money laundering.

Three types of data suppliers have emerged to offer these information services:

  • Industry specialists who understand the core data that underpins market transactions;

  • IT entrepreneurs who develop software they believe will disrupt the way current business is done;

  • Business publishers who use their long-standing relationships with business audiences to sell data products alongside web services and magazines.

On any measure, it’s the business publishers who have done the best job. Companies such as Reed Business Information (part of RELX) have developed new revenue streams running into hundreds of millions of dollars from their engagement with executives which was - just a short time a go - all about sending them magazines.

 I rarely see good products from the other two groups. 

Industry specialists, up to their necks in the markets they love, usually over-specify. They know and understand complexities and they want their service to address and improve every one. They’d be better off isolating the essential material. 

The IT entrepreneurs are preoccupied  too - but this time with the beauty of their technical solution. They’re often right - if industry adopted their technology it would be far more efficient, but that doesn’t mean it will. 

I was working in the chemical industry information business 15 years ago when four rival digital transactional exchanges were launched in a matter of months. All were technically sound, providing real-time information and trading technology which would have transformed a fragmented and arcane marketplace. What the newbies hadn’t looked at were the thousands of traders around the world whose livelihood depended on their ability to navigate the fragmented and arcane. Those turkeys weren’t going to vote for Christmas then - and they still haven’t.

I was having this conversation with the CEO of a large business publisher a couple of months ago.  “All very well” she said, “but where do I go to find people who understand the essential data that people would pay for?”

Our meeting was taking place in glass-walled meeting room next to a 20-person editorial team, most mid-animated phone call with their industry contacts. After I pointed out they might help, we calculated the team had between 170 and 200 years of industry experience between them.

Of course, that doesn’t mean a a group of writers and journalists can come up with brilliant data products at the drop of a hat. They need help too. 

I’ve seen the best publisher-developed services emerging when the publisher has hired two of three industry specialists to validate ideas and deal with complexity. And, clearly, your editorial people won’t know how to structure a database or code the product.

The bigger information and data suppliers have an advantage - having already developed or acquired software capable of dealing with the huge quantities of data which needs to be processed. But the technology can be bought. I’ve seen this done well, particularly when the IT supplier becomes a project partner.

So, don’t let fear stop you investigating a new revenue opportunity which is considerably less competitive then, say, events and conferences. And look just outside your office, you might find some people who will enthusiastically drive your initiative.

Trevor Goodman