Here is the headline from Elsevier’s press release: “Elsevier acquires QUOSA, provider of life sciences content management and work flow productivity solutions.” At first glance, that’s a pretty jargon-heavy statement, but in a nutshell, Elsevier sits on an abundance of content while QUOSA has developed software to help manage content. It seems like a good match, but where the company will go with it remains a bit hazy at this point. It appears that the two companies intend to combine the technical innovations developed at QUOSA with the financial backing and content collections at Elsevier to improve literature management capabilities for the user.
Here’s what we know. Elsevier, a large Dutch company that is part of the ReedElsevier Group, has long been recognized as a leading publisher of life sciences information. They print respected journals including The Lancet and Cell and produce the online databases SciVerse ScienceDirect and SciVerse Scopus. In 2007, Elsevier partnered with QUOSA for their PDF Download Manager. Making it available to their Scopus users, they joined Ovid, Dialog, and PubMed in offering this tool.
QUOSA, a privately held Boston company, developed tools intended to help scientists obtain, archive, and share published literature. Positioning itself as “the one scientific literature solution,” QUOSA sought to develop an end-to-end platform for managing the literature workflow.
Few information management processes have more facets than document management. For organizations with heavy reliance on published literature, biomedical and life sciences foremost among them, managing an internal collection of documents presents many challenges. Since 1996, Quosa has sought to provide tools to address the challenges of literature management workflows and archiving including a copyright compliant means to search for articles, obtain full text, archive, share, and apply metadata to the collection. In response to this need, QUOSA developed a series of solutions. These include a desktop application and a browser-based tool used by individuals to manage a personal literature collection, the Virtual Library for sharing company-wide collections, DocFlow for document ordering and delivery, content channels to search and retrieve from free and subscription sources, and Document Download Manager to streamline PDF downloads to just a few clicks. At this point, QUOSA products have reached 60 corporate customers.
Customer response to QUOSA products has been mixed. The PDF download capability received a good deal of traction as Dialog, Ovid, PubMed, and Elsevier all adopted it for use with their databases. Researchers appreciate the way it facilitates batch downloading of full-text articles. Users also like the concept of the Virtual Library, and QUOSA added value to that function by partnering with the Copyright Clearance Center for compliance. Thus, organizations can archive and share articles in a copyright compliant way. This facilitates the need to share articles within an organization and to help avoid duplicate orders. Other features and products have not been as well received. Early on, QUOSA promoted text analytics as a feature, but customers found problems with the user functionality. Some of the applications presented enough challenges to the user that the corporate information centers stopped promoting them to their internal customers. With some applications working well and others falling short, one wonders if QUOSA might have over extended itself in promising more than it could deliver. It appears that the company may have spread resources too thinly in trying to add so many features to the core application.
One biotechnology customer we talked to expressed optimism about the Elsevier acquisition. As a longtime QUOSA customer, the customer hope that Elsevier will provide the resources needed to implement the ideal document delivery workflow for his/her company. The customer recognizes that QUOSA has the potential to offer the most elegant solutions. This particular customer indicated that his/her team will meet with QUOSA president Malcom MacKenzie soon to discuss what the acquisition might mean to them.
I asked MacKenzie what the acquisition means for product development. He stated that it “will have an immediate, positive impact on QUOSA’s product development. Not only will it mean more resources . . . it will give us a broader array of product development tools, expertise, information assets, and customer base to assist us.” MacKenzie could not say how the projects would be prioritized but indicated the intent to support all of the current solutions, “especially QUOSA Information Manager and QUOSA Virtual Library as well as look for immediate applications for already integrated solutions, such as Document Download Manager (DDM) embedded into other Elsevier products.” Recall that Information Manager is the desktop application designed for individuals to manage their personal biomedical literature collection. The Document Download Manager for easy downloading of PDFs has experienced wide adoption, so it appears that this tool is ready to implement beyond SciVerse Scopus and SciVerse ScienceDirect.
Here’s what we don’t know about this acquisition. While Elsevier has indicated that it will continue to support QUOSA’s current solutions and platform, how will it prioritize investment in product development? Does it have the dexterity and internal flexibility to address the elegant solution referred to by the biotech customer? I also wonder whether these products will be available to entities outside the Elsevier family. One can envision a scenario wherein Elsevier holds these capabilities close as a differentiator from other scientific literature databases.
As it happens, QUOSA and Elsevier are not the only ones providing solutions like the PDF download manager. Pubget, recently acquired by the Copyright Clearance Center, has also developed tools to facilitate search, management, and analysis of scientific papers. Tracey Armstrong, CEO of the Copyright Clearance Center, states that, “Blending Pubget’s current and future offerings with CCC’s broad portfolio of licensing products will provide clients with a complete professional information solution.”
One wonders if content consumers might face silos of information where no one workflow tool will truly meet the need, leaving them to hop from one to another in order to access the full range of published literature. As one user observed, customers really do want a unified solution.
I contacted Elsevier with a few questions for this article, specifically what it plans to do with QUOSA technology and whether it plans to develop the text mining capabilities. They are working on their response.
Presumably the haze will lift as QUOSA’s product development unfolds and Elsevier integrates its new technologies into its offerings.