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Dialog Divides into Sci-Tech/Intellectual Property and Business/News
Posted On February 7, 2005
When The Thomson Corp. announced on Jan. 10 that Roy M. Martin Jr. had changed jobs as of Jan. 1, moving from president and CEO of Dialog to president and CEO of Thomson Tax & Accounting, the obvious question was who would replace him at Dialog. Thomson maintained radio silence on the succession announcement, although rumors had been swirling since early December that Dialog was to be broken apart into two separate business units. Thomson has now confirmed those rumors.

Dialog and DataStar will shift to Thomson Scientific & HealthCare. Its general manager will be David Brown, who will report to president and CEO Vin Carraher. The remaining units (NewsRoom, NewsEdge, Profound, LiveNews, and Intelliscope) will stay as part of Thomson Legal & Regulatory. Its general manager will be Ciaran Morton, who will report to president and CEO Steve Buege. The general managers will remain at their present physical locationsóBrown in Cary, N.C., and Morton in London. The general manager title seems a bit of a comedown from their previous job titles of senior vice president and executive vice president, but Thomson's take is that the titles reflect their new "wall-to-wall operating responsibilities."

Why split Dialog? According to Buege, it's to realign Dialog to fit Thomson's market groups. Thomson management looked at the various product lines within Dialog and decided they fell into two separate areas. The news and business lines were a natural fit with Legal & Regulatory, particularly now that Factiva is no longer providing this type of information to Thomson West. Dialog and DataStar, however, were "always a stretch for Legal." They seemed to line up better with Thomson Scientific & Health.

Carraher noted that Thomson Scientific & Health "has been evolving over the last 4 years as we bring together the power of Delphion and MicroPatent with the other scientific and intellectual property information sources." Both Carraher and Buege stressed that branding would follow product development. Thomson is committed to branding that is "clearest for the customer to understand" and that emphasizes the strategic shift within Thomson towards being an operating company rather than merely a holding company.

The ascendance of the Thomson brand is evident in the increased coordination among its management team. There was a time when not only would I not have had a conference call with the heads of two Thomson units, those heads might not even have known each other's name, let alone ever been in the same room. The coordination bodes well for customers, as there is a greater willingness to share information sources and integrate product offerings. Particularly encouraging is the possibility of adding some Thomson Financial information, probably from Thomson ONE. Carraher said there will be a "concerted effort to look across Thomson's vast content assets." He mentioned the new Thomson Pharma as an example of how products can be integrated from multiple Thomson entities to create a new niche product.

On the technology side, dividing Dialog in two makes great sense. NewsEdge, NewsRoom, and Intelliscope are on Thomson's common platform, NOVUS, as are West and CheckPoint. Grouping them together in one business unit is a logical technological move. Dialog and DataStar, however, sit on different platforms. Buege drew a sharp distinction between platform and interface. Even when products share a common platform, they can present different interfaces to customers, based upon what customers need. "One size fits all is not our goal. We're looking at multiple skins on a common platform and a cross-populated environment." Even language doesn't necessarily affect the common platform. Buege said that two new products, one from Germany and the other from Brazil, will sit on NOVUS, although they're not in English.

Will Dialog and DataStar customers see a difference? Not according to Buege and Carraher. They plan to tell customers individually and do not view the dividing up of Dialog as a huge announcement. It's just an internal alignment, according to them.

From the beginning, Dialog has spent most of its corporate life as a subsidiary to larger corporations, first Lockheed, then Knight Ridder, now Thomson. During the brief period of time when it was a freestanding company, it acquired some lines of business that weren't in the core information industry space. Those lines of business did not come to Thomson during the Dialog acquisition. After its acquisition of Dialog in 2000, Thomson gradually put together several products (Intelliscope came from Thomson Financial; NewsEdge was acquired) under the Dialog umbrella; the company has now decided these products belong elsewhere in the organization.

Dialog/DataStar's new general manager, David Brown, has been with Dialog since 1988, so he understands the products and also the customer base. Ciaran Morton started his stint with the company in 1990 with the Profound product line; he then headed up international sales and account management for Thomson Dialog. In a sense, both are now responsible for the legacy products on which they cut their teeth. The challenge is to properly position these legacy products as highly relevant to today's information professionals and the overall information-seeking environment.

One piece I find disconcertingly missing from the discussion is business research. Not all business researchers need the real-time, analytical products central to Thomson Financial, but to assume a total Dialog customer profile that matches Thomson Scientific & HealthCare isn't realistic either. Business researchers are not just in the pharmaceutical industry and are not solely interested in intellectual property.

In earlier incarnations, Dialog viewed itself as the "information supermarket," with something for everybody. As Thomson simultaneously divides itself into niches and integrates those niches to the widest extent possible, Dialog presents a business model anomaly. Dialog has, however, seen more than 30 years of change and development. With enlightened management and an eye to the future, it should both survive and thrive in its new reporting relationship.

Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

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