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Elsevier Acquires Collexis’ Semantic Technology
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Posted On June 17, 2010


Darrell W. Gunter, executive vice president and CMO of Collexis Holdings, Inc., likes to say that there are three ways that companies can expand their offerings in the marketplace: by partnering for it, by building it, or by buying it. And that's just what happened to Collexis on June 10. Elsevier announced that it had acquired the assets of Collexis' semantic technology and its knowledge discovery software. Details about the acquisition, which was effective immediately, were not disclosed.

The acquisition came on the heels of a project that started last April between global STM publisher Elsevier and Collexis at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and North Carolina State University. In the partnership, Collexis is linking research faculty data for the two universities from Elsevier's Scopus database and RAMSeS software developed at the UNC at Chapel Hill. Once the project is finished, the platform will become the largest statewide research community of its kind, offering a web-based network with fully populated information on grant data, publications, and citations from more than 15,000 researchers in all research disciplines.

"Without ever lifting a finger, each researcher will have a robust expertise profile that will continue to update as they write new scientific papers," says Christian Herzog, managing director of the Collexis STM business. "The system is even suggesting potential collaborators based on the comparison of the expert profiles across all disciplines. ... implementing such a system will really change the scientific landscape."

And Elsevier has been watching the changing landscape of the research market for some time. "We at Elsevier have been concentrating on how the research market is changing the landscape for libraries and for librarians and researchers," says Jay Katzen, managing director of Elsevier Science and Technology. "We've also been looking at the drivers that are changing the landscapes, for example, there's a significant increase in funding pressure as funding becomes more competitive with the economic downturn. There's also a drive toward multidisciplinary research. ... and there's more growth in international and national collaboration," he says.

Combining the assets of Collexis and Elsevier raised the offerings to researchers and institutions to an all-new level. Though Elsevier obviously had assets such as the Scopus database to help in these areas, the acquisition of Collexis is a way to extend Elsevier's product line and offer new value to universities and agencies in meeting the new challenges around performance, planning, and funding (PPF), he says.

"As more value in scientific research shifts towards the relationships between experts on very specific topics regardless of the phase in which their work may be in a publication cycle, organizations like Elsevier are examining how to deliver value to scientists in this greater cycle of scientific communications," says John Blossom, industry analyst and president of Shore Communications. "While formally published scientific research remains highly valuable, the processes that go into its creation and its ability to foster new cycles of inquiry and insight are becoming at least as valuable to its audiences as the publications themselves."

Armed with Collexis' semantic technology, Elsevier has new ways to help researchers and institutions collaborate, accelerate grant-related workflows, and showcase their accomplishments. "Collexis is a clear leader in this space," says Katzen. "We've invested in this strategic direction, which allows us to create solutions to help identify institutional strengths, such as comparing how University 1 ranks against another university, in say, biofuels versus biology and chemistry," he says. "So we're looking at this from a much more granular level to help inform institutions how best to set their strategic direction to measure their performance, how to identify the top researchers, how to identify who to recruit, and who to collaborate with." One of the areas that interests Elsevier's customers is identifying performance and performance metrics to facilitate their strategic directions, especially with the current emphasis on multidisciplinary research.

At the heart of the semantic technology is Collexis' use of thesauri for information retrieval, where synonymous terms are linked to one concept. Its matching technology calculates the "distance" between the actual query and the term being searched, which allows partially matched documents to be discovered. That way, users don't need to plug in a complicated search query to generate relevant results.

Founded in Europe in 1999, Collexis arose as a budding player in the semantic technology industry in the U.S. in 2006, and continued to take root in creating customized search-and-discovery platform solutions with its semantic organization, relational visualization, and social networking tools. Its semantic technology provides "conceptual fingerprints" to identify key connections in a vast social network. It not only connects scientists with specific expertise, but it is accelerating research as researchers are finding faster and more targeted ways of finding partners for projects and publications. Collexis' track record speaks for itself: It partnered with AIP on its UniPHY portal for physicists and has set up knowledge retrieval and management programs to improve discovery in government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), World Health Organization, and the U.S. Department of Defense, in enterprises, such as Johnson & Johnson and Lockheed Martin, and in organizations, such as Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Institutions, Wellcome Trust, and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

Collexis brings four key technology components to the table: Expert Profiler (providing research history for institutions with conceptual fingerprints and unique relationships), Reviewer Finder (helping grant managers identify the best reviewer available by automatically identifying the highest quality researcher with the lowest conflict of interest), Professional Social Networking: BiomedExperts.com (connecting biomedical researchers to each other by displaying and analyzing a scientist's coauthor network), and Knowledge Engine and Knowledge Services (helping institutions search, index, categorize trends while matching this information to their own custom data for maximum discovery). In 2010, Collexis won the CODiE Award from the SIIA Content Division for Reviewer Finder, billed as the Best Solution Integrating Content into Workflow.

When Elsevier started talking to the universities about finding funding opportunities and showcasing their output, Collexis stood out in a field of competitors with its unique technology to create profiles for academic institutions and government agencies. These expert profiles not only showed a specific area of expertise, but they also highlighted potential collaboration points, says Katzen. "Collexis was identified as a strategic partner, and obviously, the next step was, given the opportunity, to combine the assets of the Scopus database that cuts across all disciplines and Collexis, which was really focused on life sciences," says Katzen.

The acquisition and combined assets of the two companies creates a new industry-leading bridge that covers all disciplines and allows users to go to the institution and identify the expertise of that institution at the national level, he says. The acquisition allows Elsevier "to accelerate our foray into this space," he says. The significant overlap in the customer base of both companies provides additional value for their customers "and allows us to use our footprint in the marketplace to take these solutions and make them more global," he says.

As for the Collexis branding going forward, Katzen says Elsevier is "still working through those issues." He says that "from a branding perspective, we've branded our performance and planning suite as SciVal. Under the SciVal suite, we currently have SciVal Spotlight, SciVal Funding, and we're launching two more products later this year." He sees the Collexis offerings of Expert Profile and Reviewer Finder as part of the SciVal suite. "But we're still determining how and when that will be rolled out," he says.

With Katzen as the lead in the acquisition at Elsevier, he says most of the core management at Collexis has been kept intact, as well as the rest of the organization. And the same goes for the customers. "Our goal is to keep all of our current clients for both companies," he says, adding that Elsevier and Collexis already share many prestigious customers, such as the NIH and Wellcome Trust. "But we can now provide a broader set of offerings," he says. In the academic market, there has been "tremendous excitement as I have traveled to Australia, Asia, the U.K., and in Europe for these types of offerings, both from a government and academic side," he says.

Katzen says his team is still evaluating where Collexis technology will tie into the various offerings at Elsevier. "We want to make sure that there is a good integration path in the first efforts, which has already been underway because of the partnership [with NCU]," he says. Integrating Scopus and Expert Profile remains the No. 1 priority, but a connection still exists between the Expert Profile and products in SciVal Funding and SciVal Spotlight, and ScienceDirect to help solve problems in the research community's search and discovery. As for integrating the Collexis semantic technology into the other tools and solutions in the product line, "Elsevier will take it as a step-by-step approach," says Katzen. But the initial focus is really around Scopus and ScienceDirect, and meeting the needs of Elsevier's and Collexis' customers.

Katzen says that blending Elsevier's publishing influence and Collexis' semantic technology "is a great marriage." And he is not alone in his assessment. "This is a great find for Elsevier," says Blossom, "which focuses increasingly on helping innovators in scientific research and applied sciences to find opportunities and resources for innovations that can be brought to market."

Says Blossom, "Sophisticated tools like Collexis can help Elsevier to accelerate the value of both their publications and the community that revolves around those publications much more effectively to help people to identify opportunities in scientific innovation."

Researchers and decision makers now have a faster and more efficient way to assess and execute research strategies while delivering a higher return on investment, says Katzen.


Barbara Brynko is editor-in-chief of Information Today.

Email Barbara Brynko
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