Information professionals interact with content and technology vendors every day. We couldn’t do our jobs without them, and yet, we often know very little about the corporations or their leaders. This article—which originally appeared in the July/August issue of Information Today and is the first in a planned series—fills that gap by presenting interviews with the leaders of prominent organizations in the information industry.
Our first interviewees are Matti Shem Tov and Oren Beit-Arie of ProQuest. With some 2,500 employees operating in 34 countries, up from a reported 1,800 in 2015, ProQuest is one of the largest companies in the information industry. Shem Tov was appointed CEO of the company in May 2017. Beginning in 2003, he was president and CEO of Ex Libris, which merged with ProQuest in 2015. After the merger, he became president of the Ex Libris business unit within ProQuest. Beit-Arie is ProQuest’s chief strategy officer; previously, he filled the same role for the Ex Libris business unit. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
DAVE SHUMAKER: To start, could you introduce ProQuest to us? Are there a few key characteristics that make it unique?
MATTI SHEM TOV: ProQuest is a global higher education technology leader with diverse offerings to the academic and research sector. Overall, what makes us unique is the combination of content, technology, and services and being a trusted partner with both libraries and content providers.
Let me go into more detail. The first element is the diversity of products and services. We have a wide range of curated content collections. We provide services ranging from analytics to digitization and preservation. We also offer diverse business models. For example, we’ve pioneered the “access to own” business model for libraries. So, our broad assets and expertise are the first element that makes us unique.
The second element is our culture of innovation. We’re not afraid to reinvent what we do—we invent and then reinvent. For example, we offered Aleph [an ILS] and then acquired Voyager, but we didn’t stop there. We had the courage to reinvent library automation by introducing Alma [a library services platform]. Also, we’re currently working on our Rialto product to disrupt the library acquisitions process. As we innovate, we also work collaboratively with our customers and our content providers. The orientation to collaborate has been strong from the foundation of both ProQuest and Ex Libris. We do this in various ways, such as focus groups, user groups, and an online Idea Exchange, where anyone can submit feedback and new ideas.
The last element of our culture is our passion. We have a passion for higher education, scholarship, knowledge creation, and dissemination. We couldn’t be successful without being passionate about providing better products and services to students, researchers, and librarians. I’ll end by saying that we’re good citizens of the global academic and research community. We’re not just serving the community—we’re part of it.
SHUMAKER: You’ve pointed out that ProQuest is a global organization. Could you say more about your global operations and the implications of operating around the world?
SHEM TOV: Cultural and ethnic diversity are central. We have offices in 34 countries. One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to travel and work with staffers and customers in many different places. Most recently, we’ve decided to expand in Latin America. We’re opening offices in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Chile. As we expand in more countries and cultures, I’m proud that we try to learn from each and every culture.
OREN BEIT-ARIE: We have a global strategy, but local execution. The strategy is to advance research and education globally, but we make extra efforts to understand the differences of regions and countries so that we operate within the local culture and context.
SHUMAKER: When ProQuest and Ex Libris merged, you were both involved in that process. How has it turned out? Has the merger met your expectations? Have there been any surprises?
SHEM TOV: Overall, the merger has exceeded my expectations, as well as the expectations of our shareholders and customers. Both Oren and I have been through mergers and acquisitions before, and we know it’s very important to be transparent, especially in communicating our product strategy and development plans to our customers. The merger was well-received in the market, and we had a strong alignment of the culture and vision between the two companies. They were complementary: It made sense to merge a company with strong technology and a company with strong content. The combination has enabled us to serve our customer base better—to create a better, richer customer experience and better products, in terms of both content and library workflow. The two organizations have created some joint offerings. Rialto is the most recent example. It combines the Alma technology expertise with the ProQuest publisher relationships, and we’re very pleased with the outcome.
SHUMAKER: As I look at the company’s website, it seems like there’s a clear distinction between the Ex Libris and ProQuest product lines. Do you plan any changes to converge the two more fully in the future?
BEIT-ARIE: We made a conscious decision to operate Ex Libris and ProQuest as separate business units, because we wanted to maintain the focus and expertise on both sides. Particularly, we wanted to avoid any disruption to customers or to our development roadmaps. But that doesn’t mean we don’t cross-pollinate and realize benefits from being one company. Continuing to work based on our guiding principles of openness and choice and the trust we’ve earned over the years, we do introduce synergies and value through streamlining, cross-pollinating, and sometimes integrating. Our mutual customers expect that. When libraries buy more than one product from us, they expect us to help them increase efficiencies and value. So we’ll continue to provide streamlined customer support, and to realize synergies and value, while operating in separate business units.
SHUMAKER: I’m curious about your contact points in a typical customer organization. Do Ex Libris and ProQuest deal with the same librarians, or are the buyers different?
BEIT-ARIE: It varies depending on the size and the structure of the organization. It’s also worth noting that we work with a pretty diverse set of stakeholders overall, and that diversity is only growing as we introduce new solutions to address the range of goals in academic institutions. Our strategy is to work with the right people for the right task. We’re providing solutions for addressing institutional goals like research management, teaching and learning, student outcomes, affordability, and the like. So we interact with deans of grad schools, faculty, instructional designers, research offices, and others. As we do that, we include libraries in the conversation. They have an active, sometimes a driving role, even when we go beyond the traditional library realm. The evolution of the business is such that we’re expanding the range of stakeholders and customers we work with. At the same time, the libraries have an opportunity to expand their role as well.
SHUMAKER: Is your Esploro product an example of that? It seems to transcend a library’s traditional role.
BEIT-ARIE: Exactly. Libraries are striving to work more closely with others in the university, contribute to the mission, and demonstrate their contribution. Increasing the institution’s research profile is one of the goals, which is what we’re doing with Esploro. This is a multi-stakeholder effort that libraries want to be a part of.
SHUMAKER: I’ve noticed that your emphasis seems to be on serving higher education and the academic sector, although you do have products and services for public libraries and K–12 education. Are there any plans to change that?
SHEM TOV: You’re correct that our main focus is higher education. It’s strategically important for us, and we strive to excel in it. But we’ll continue to serve the public and K–12 markets as well. We have some unique products for those segments, and we intend to continue supporting and developing them.
SHUMAKER: Let’s turn to the future. What are one or two key opportunities you’re focusing on?
BEIT-ARIE: As we’ve mentioned, innovation is central to ProQuest. It’s particularly important now because, as we just discussed, the role of libraries is changing. We’ve already mentioned Esploro, which maximizes both visibility and compliance and helps institutions increase the impact of their academic research. We’re also excited about our products Pivot and Research Professional, which are solutions to maximize researchers’ funding opportunities. They include an extensive database as well as workflows. This is an area where you’ll continue to see activity from us—also the growing need for open access dissemination.
Another exciting example is the recent introduction of ProQuest One, which is one-stop access to a broad array of curated content. ProQuest One Academic consists of four core multidisciplinary modules, which are available for cross-search. We think it’s going to go a long way in helping institutions expose their faculty and students to the breadth and depth of knowledge across formats, including databases, primary sources, videos, theses and dissertations, and of course books and ebooks. Last, Rialto offers a comprehensive marketplace for content of all types—books, ebooks, datasets, and videos, for example—to support the selection and acquisitions processes. Putting this all together helps libraries buy what they need and use what they buy. So these are three areas where we’re introducing new products for the future. And more is coming!
SHUMAKER: Just to take one of those examples, can you highlight a couple of key differences between Rialto and a traditional ILS acquisitions module?
BEIT-ARIE: When you look at how acquisitions is done today, it starts with a process that’s outside the ILS—selection. Either there’s a patron request, or a specialized bibliographer makes a recommendation. We hear from many institutions that they’re doing selection in the dark, without basic information about holdings, funds, and the context of the request. So there is a lot of inefficiency. We’re changing the traditional model, not just replicating it. Rialto informs the intellectual process of selection with data, analytics, and recommendations. It lets the selector know what else is available, what others have done—benchmarks—whether an item is available elsewhere in a consortium. All this guides the selection process.
SHUMAKER: How does that relate to demand-driven or patron-driven acquisitions? Are you finding strong uptake in that model?
BEIT-ARIE: We are, and we think that uptake can be accelerated when the right tools and business models are offered to libraries. So, we support both the just-in-case and just-in-time models of acquisitions. Many libraries would like to increase just-in-time demand-driven acquisitions, but it’s not a matter of having just one flavor or the other. Providing better tools to make selection decisions and disseminate the selections to users will help the libraries find the right balance of just-in-time and just-in-case. The decisions about the mix should be made by each library based on its own agenda and mission. But yes, we’re seeing growing demand for more options and flexibility, especially when it comes to demand-driven acquisitions.
SHUMAKER: Are there any clouds on the horizon, any threats you worry about?
SHEM TOV: The cloud is that we would stop innovating. Oren and I share this concern. We’ve done a lot of innovating over the years. We have to continue making great new products—we have to continue to be there for our customers.
SHUMAKER: Just to close out on a lighter note: What do you both like to do when you’re not working?
SHEM TOV: My wife and I love to travel. Some years ago, someone gave me a book, Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die, by Steve Davey. We are working our way through the book. So far, we’ve visited 28 of the 40 places. The last one was Chichén Itzá, in Mexico. I’m so proud of this that last Christmas I bought a copy for each member of our executive team, and now we’re having a competition to see who can visit the most places. But I have a 10-year head start!
BEIT-ARIE: As for me, I’m reading the book from Matti, of course. But my main interest is cooking. I love lots of cuisines, but I specialize in falafel—my falafel is the best!