Corporate information centers and knowledge managers have always had to justify their budgets and often attempt to calculate the return on investment that their organization receives from the information center’s services. They gather and analyze data on usage, expenses and time saved to demonstrate the value provided for the information center’s budget.
While these metrics are useful, they may not adequately convey the full impact of the services provided by today’s information centers. In addition to straightforward calculations of time and money saved, information centers are offering new types of services that do not easily lend themselves to a simple ROI calculation. Instead of talking about doing more with less, the conversation is now about doing something more valuable, creating insights that were not possible before, and contributing directly to the strategic business goals of the organization.
The following is an excerpt from Proving Your Value: Making the Case for Information Services by Mary Ellen Bates. You can download the full version of the white paper here.
One-way information professionals bring value to their organizations is in their understanding that simply providing access to full-text documents may not best address their users’ research needs. By using internal tools or third-party services to provide licensed content in structured XML format and semantically enriched with structured metadata, researchers can glean important insights not discoverable from a simple search and read.
In talking to the manager of a health sciences information center, he said “I see us primarily as a service rather than a place, and part of our service is helping clients get better value from our e-content.” That may be anything from identifying the most cost-effective dataset for a given project to helping a group license an API to pull together and analyze research data from a wide range of sources.
Information managers are challenged with conveying the strategic value of their centralized purchasing for information resources that will—or could—be used for multiple groups or functional areas. One biotech information center manager I spoke with emphasized the distinction between the strategic savings and cross-sharing of resources realized by coordinated content acquisition and the more administrative functions of his organization’s purchasing department. “We think about the whole life cycle of the information we are buying, what other uses it might have, what other groups might want to have access to it. Information centers have always served to connect groups together, so when I hear that someone has licensed a particular dataset or API, I make sure I put them in touch with any other group that might need that resource as well.”
Information managers can highlight their unique perspective on how information is acquired, enhanced, used and saved within the organization—identifying and breaking down departmental silos, and building synergy among information user groups.
Understanding the ROI for the information center’s content budget
Managing the content acquisition function and negotiating high-budget content licenses means information managers must be able to justify their expenditures and fend off the annual budget-chopping that big-ticket line items attract.
The information manager of a pharmaceutical company I spoke with described the approach he takes to ensure the financial leaders understand the ROI for the information center’s content budget and recognize the scrutiny that these purchases include. “Every year, I evaluate one of our biggest platforms in partnership with our sourcing people. I bring in some of the heavy users and we all look at the current provider and the competitive options, and decide whether this is still the best choice for us. This has worked out really well; it has a lot of impact for the limited time I have available, and it gives me a lot of leeway with the financial department. They can see that we are doing all we can to ensure the most value for all our subscription purchases. When I tell them we just can’t eliminate an expensive resource, they know I have done my due diligence and that we are vigilant about our expenses. They give me more flexibility in addressing budget crunches because they trust me.” This kind of ongoing, proactive scrutiny and engagement with all the key stakeholders can help ensure that the information center continues to receive the financial support needed to support the goals of the organization.
Taking a multi-pronged approach to justify budget
In addition to these top-to-bottom evaluations of an information service, information managers can take the same approach with other content subscriptions. One information center manager takes a multi-pronged approach to justify her e-content budget and connect her spending with strategic outcomes for the larger organization. She creates compelling graphics that highlight departmental usage and correlate information center spending with specific activities. In addition, once a year she conducts an in-depth analysis of all her ongoing content usage—online journal publications, print subscriptions, and electronic databases. She evaluates each resource with an assumption that every information source has to be justifiable today, based on both the amount and type of usage. “We usually face a flat or reduced budget every year, and it is critical that I can show that we are acquiring the right content for strategic reasons”, she noted. “It takes 80 or 100 hours to do this level of analysis but it’s worth it, because upper management knows that we are spending money to best benefit all the key areas of our organization.”
In a nutshell:
- Simply providing access to full-text documents may not best address their users’ research needs
- Evaluate each resource with an assumption that every information source has to be justifiable, based on both the amount and type of usage
- Ongoing, proactive scrutiny of content and engagement with all the key stakeholders can help ensure that your information center will receive the financial support needed to support the goals of the organization.
Keep learning. Download your copy of Proving Your Value: Making the Case for Information Services