LexisNexis has announced that it is "nearing completion" in its efforts to create a platform that will standardize the delivery of its legal, business, and news information using a single technology. According to Jim Peck, senior vice president and global product officer, the project has been in development for 2 years and stems from the strong desire of LexisNexis management to present a truly global interface to its worldwide customer base. The single technology platform is expected to roll out in France, Germany, and Australia toward the end of 2003. A preliminary version is now available in Germany. "Our objective," says Peck, "is to enable all LexisNexis assets to be delivered to all users."
Some might wonder whether "nearing completion" is an accurate phrase to describe something that is still months away from a partial rollout. Peck defends the statement by noting the extensive market research leading up to the technical portion of building the platform. Not only did the team talk to some 6,000 customers — lawyers, librarians, and end users — they watched how individual searchers worked. These one-on-one observations revealed that there were no significant differences from country to country in how people searched, although there were some differences between legal and business searchers.
In every country, searchers want to see local information first. Then they'll branch out into international sources. Legal researchers want to solve very specific problems. Thus, they use more precise search strategies. Business and news researchers, on the other hand, tend to start with a broader view of the subject and then narrow it down. One country-specific difference among legal searchers is Shepardizing. Other countries don't Shepardize as legal researchers do in the U.S. Civil law countries, for example, look at versions of legal materials they retrieve. Thus, the new platform must account for variations in linkages — the way one piece of information works with others.
Peck also says that present LexisNexis subscribers will see incremental improvements as the single technology platform comes closer to launch. He specifically cited changes coming to Company Dossier, which will first be released into the German market, migrate to the U.K, and then to France.
An important component of the new platform is taxonomy. To some extent, the taxonomy development uses iPhrase technology, but much is home grown at LexisNexis. "Nobody else has done it like we are doing it," claims Peck. To integrate information globally, the taxonomy must, at the very least, provide synonyms in other languages. More than that, it must also be contextual, rather than a word-for-word translation. The taxonomy must be relational and take concepts into account. As anyone who has looked at machine translations knows, this sounds easier than it really is. To take into account context and concepts when creating multilingual relationships is extraordinarily challenging.
The new platform will not require a full reload of existing data. Instead, LexisNexis intends to use metadata to re-index its content. The new platform will allow LexisNexis to handle XML more efficiently — an important consideration as more documents entering the system come in XML format.
Another component involves coordinating internal and external information. For this, they're using FAST's Data Search. Branded by LexisNexis as TotalSearch, the FAST technology will run in conjunction with searches on the new platform and scour internal documents for relevant information. The new platform will thus be complemented by FAST's search capabilities.
The single technology platform, with its emphasis on multilingual taxonomies and behind the scenes linkages, indicates that the strategic direction of the company is toward increased globalization and standardization. LexisNexis believes that its new platform will unify its 35,000-plus sources for legal, business, news, and public records information. As LexisNexis expands, both by adding international content and by acquiring information companies, it has confronted the complexities of running multiple platforms, some of them unique to one country's user base. Plus, at the present time, users in one country do not necessarily have access to information that users in another country do, even though both appear to be subscribing to the same service.
As Andrew Prozes, CEO of LexisNexis Group, puts it, "A single platform allows us to be more fleet-of-foot, speeding up both local and global product development and reducing time-to-market costs."
LexisNexis obviously also hopes that it will add to its customer base in all parts of the world by implementing a single technology platform. For now, searchers will have to take a "wait and see" attitude. When the new platform is completed, rather than merely "nearing completion," customers will be able to see if the dream of a truly unified, standardized, international interface can be realized.