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Elsevier’s New SciVal Products Target Academic Accountability and Strategic Planning
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Posted On October 8, 2009

Elsevier (www.elsevier.com), the self-described "world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services," released its Scopus database-promoted as the largest "database of scientific literature ever assembled"-in November 2004. The release of Scopus brought Elsevier into direct competition with Thomson Reuters' Web of Science citation databases-as well as the growing Google Scholar and similar cited reference products. However, Scopus' strong concentration in the sciences slowed widespread market adoption in academe.

In June 2009, Elsevier announced a major upgrade to Scopus, increasing Arts & Humanities titles to 3,500 and adding "top global journals using the European Science Foundation's European Reference Index for Humanities (ERIH)," reports Daniel Calto, Elsevier's director of product management. "Compared with years past, we have also added a substantial number of social science journals to Scopus." With a current resource base of 18,000 peer-reviewed journals from more than 4,000 international publishers, Scopus is emerging as a major player in the citation database arena.

Building on this foundation, Elsevier recently announced a new product family, SciVal, "a pioneering suite of research tools that helps you evaluate, establish and execute your research strategies more effectively." The first two products are SciVal Funding and SciVal Spotlight. Each product seeks to meet the specific needs of the research community and provide serious competition to existing database services in these areas. Both are available institutionwide via IP access and allow for remote logins.

A Growing Market for ‘Academic Analytics'

In 2005, EDUCAUSE published a study of the state of what it called "academic analytics" to the management of higher education. It found that only 8% of the institutions in its survey regularly applied competitive and assessment techniques, which are common to the private sector. These tools include those used by businesses to do decision support, operational analysis, predictive modeling, and other analyses (http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EKF/EKF0508.pdf). In the past few years, higher education has risen to the challenge; as a result, many companies-such as Academic Analytics (www.academicanalytics.com), which claims to have nearly 60 clients-have entered the market to fill this gap.

Elsevier is entering an educational market that has, now, adopted these new management techniques and tools for internal assessment of productivity and for external comparative assessment. "Given the challenging funding environment, the need for a solution that could improve competitiveness or user efficiency, even slightly, would already be a huge step," explains Josine Stallinga, of Elsevier's Academic and Government Group. "From that perspective, the timing of this launch seems to be very appropriate."

SciVal Spotlight

SciVal Spotlight (www.info.spotlight.scival.com) is intended to provide research administrators with a "strategic analysis tool that enables academic executives to make informed strategic decisions by measuring and evaluating an institution's research performance." By allowing administrators-and those people they administer-to easily find and manipulate data on their relative standing in terms of productivity, grants, publications, etc., SciVal Spotlight seeks to support better internal management as well as assess other research institutions in an increasingly competitive research environment.

"SciVal Spotlight does not use traditional citation analysis to evaluate researchers," Calto explains. "It uses co-citation analysis, which allows the product to highlight an institution's distinctive competencies in research."

Positioning SciVal Spotlight as a productivity tool for administrators as much as a grants database, Elsevier's announcement notes that universities (which are prime audiences) "are being held under greater scrutiny and need to substantiate their contribution to society." It stresses that SciVal Spotlight will help institutions prove that their research performance is sufficient to justify the investments being made in them. Elsevier sees the SciVal Spotlight as helping administrators in six key areas:

  • Identify specific areas of research excellence and emerging strengths
  • Identify areas of interdisciplinary research
  • View their relative standing to their peers in various disciplines
  • Uncover and identify new research opportunities
  • Determine areas of research leadership that may be at risk of being overtaken by others
  • Search for top candidates for external recruitment or retention within an organization

"I applaud the effort by Elsevier to try to capture the interdisciplinary nature of major research efforts," notes Michigan State University librarian Kate Corby. "The idea that one should be able to evaluate an individual institution and set a course to strengthen specific areas is inspired."

Using the Scopus database, SciVal Spotlight uses citation data from Scopus' 18,000 journals over a 5-year time period. Circle Maps present information on competencies and areas of excellence visually by subject areas for easier analysis.

SciVal Funding

SciVal Funding (www.info.funding.scival.com), the company's latest product, is a "web-based solution that gives research administrators and researchers in the pre-award stage immediate and comprehensive access to current research funding opportunities and award information." Citing the lack of a single source that melds funding opportunities with competitive information and local research data, Elsevier calls this "the most comprehensive funding intelligence solution" on the market.

SciVal Funding is intended to help researchers locate the most appropriate and most likely grant opportunities to maximize their potential for receiving funding. The product integrates information on existing award winners, based partially on published articles and other results of past winners, as well as other historic information on awards and information from the foundations, or other sources, on their priorities and goals.

"SciVal Funding has integrated award data. This information allows researchers to better estimate their chances and target proposals as well as identify potential collaborators," Stallinga explains. Secondly, SciVal Funding provides more than 5 million U.S. research profiles, pre-populated with Scopus publication information. By matching these profiles to available funding opportunities, SciVal Funding provides targeted recommendations on relevant grant opportunities. Users can get recommendations for themselves or based on other people's profiles, e.g., this allows research administrators to conduct well-informed searches for faculty. Also, profiles can be merged, so recommendations can be made for a group as well. Finally, users can enhance their profile with keywords and or previously received awards to target their recommendations further."

The database includes more than 5,000 grant sources-from U.S. federal agencies to private foundations and corporations-which can be searched by subject area, award type, application deadline, or amounts of the grants. SciVal Funding also catalogs limited submission programs so that "research administrators may set up necessary internal review mechanisms in a timely way." Individual researchers can set up alerts to automatically get information on appropriate funding sources as they are added to the database.

"The fragmented and fast-changing nature of today's research funding environment, combined with the limited time and resources of researchers, is driving a need to rethink the current approach to the grant-seeking process," notes Stallinga. "SciVal Funding helps users make smarter decisions when it comes to determining which research grants to pursue as well as the most appropriate way to pursue them. Ultimately, reducing time spent searching for funding enables scientists to focus on what's really important-their research."

Hope Leman of ScanGrants (www.scangrants.com) believes that Elsevier is on to something. "Throw in the fact that SciVal Funding can harness the incredible wealth of resources vis-à-vis bibliographic tools and scientific literature of Elsevier, and SciVal Funding is a whale of a tool that Community of Science can't possibly compare with."

Elsevier-A Power to Contend With

Elsevier is an ambitious company with deep pockets and a knack for understanding the needs and limits of its primary markets. Pricing will be an issue in this economy. "Cost is dependent upon the size of the institution and other market factors," Calto explains. Will many institutions be willing to move away from existing solutions to SciVal?

The field of grant and research funding is already composed of many well-established databases and resources-from SPIN: Sponsored Programs Information Network; IRIS: Illinois Researcher Information Service; ResearchResearch; and Community of Science to the free websites such as Grants.gov. (For more information on these resources see www.infotoday.com/searcher/jul09/Herther.shtml.)

Many research organizations themselves are already developing their own in-house expertise databases, or they are licensing turnkey systems such as those offered by Digital Measures (www.digitalmeasures.com) and Sedona Systems (https://sedonaweb.com) to build their own competitive and analytical databases.

Elsevier is point-on with its advertising assertion that "the competitive landscape of research is evolving rapidly." The key for resources such as SciVal will be in providing timely, accurate information with a flexible, full-featured interface that includes plenty of bells and whistles. "We envision that the primary customers for the products will be research-oriented or education-and-research-oriented institutions," Calto notes. "The SciVal Funding product is being launched initially in the U.S., SciVal Spotlight globally."

By "integrating current funding opportunities with historical award information and publication data," Elsevier has launched two impressive online databases that present a strong frontal attack in both the funding database sector and the research evaluation market. We can expect that the existing players in these fields will respond. Earlier this year, for example, Thomson Reuters launched its InCites product, "a customized Web-based solution that provides users with the tools needed to demonstrate the impact and importance of their institution's research."

"As research evaluation and planning become an increasing challenge for research institutions and their funders," notes Outsell's lead analyst Daniel Pollock. "Our view is that these visualization tools make a market as well as responding to it. As these tools gain acceptance, they may well become their own standards as institutions seek to measure themselves and each other against common benchmarks."


Nancy K. Herther is American studies, anthropology, Asian American studies, and sociology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities campus.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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