FEATURE - Mobed: Elsevier’s Next Steps
"Ron Mobed is no stranger to technology. Early in his career as a petroleum engineer at Schlumberger Ltd., Mobed worked with a Nokia modem that ferried data to him in London from offshore oil rigs in the North Sea. Often, critical data had to be analyzed overnight and delivered to the oil companies the next morning. 'The data was sent to a massive computing center that only had half the power that my iPad has today,' says Mobed. And although the times—and the technology—certainly have changed, his foray into processing data from the offshore oil rigs turned out to be the start of a lifelong understanding of information systems and the value of creating workable solutions for customers. Years later, Mobed continues to explore the role that data plays across a number of industry sectors. As the new CEO of Elsevier B.V., Mobed is quick to draw applications and examples from his own background: his technical knowledgebase acquired at Schlumberger, from information services at IHS, from the academic and professional divisions at Cengage Learning, and from the science and technology businesses at Elsevier. Having such a seasoned executive at the helm of the 130-year-old STM publishing company is destined to shape the way Elsevier responds to the needs of the evolving world of technical information in the years to come ... 'Our mission is very clear,' says Mobed. 'We’re here to help researchers and health professionals do their work, either by making them more productive so they can see more patients in a day, do more research in a year, make better decisions, or arrive at a diagnosis or prescribe a treatment plan that wouldn’t have otherwise been made.' Building information solutions that combine Elsevier’s high-quality content and today’s technology can 'open up the utility in that information to make it very specific and targeted to people’s needs,' he says. 'We take in over 1 million journal submissions a year that result in 350,000 published articles,' says Mobed, 'and each one of them is a unique work by one or often several researchers who spend an average of two years per work … so our domain expertise is really important.' And the bar continues to be raised in the research community. With research information getting more complex, more digital, and more interconnected, new domain skills are needed in computational linguistics, taxonomies, ontologies, and information technology to handle the sheer volume of Big Data. We’re all witnesses to the shift in how the health and research communities went from using static to more dynamic information, says Mobed. The second wave of that transformation comes when the massive growth of data is released via digital technologies, he says. Once the static information becomes digital, it can be repurposed, parsed, combined, and used to create derivative data. As new data streams are unleashed, their volume grows exponentially, creating a tsunami of information that can overpower users if companies don’t find a way to make the content relevant and usable. 'The tools that we are developing now [for the health and research communities] are targeted much more around making sense of the information,' says Mobed ... People often find themselves on an information continuum these days, often getting too much or not enough information. Mobed sees librarians as keys to managing that tension, and academic librarians, in particular, can help attract researchers to their facilities by creating the best-of-breed information systems for discovering research collaboration, grant funding, or open access journals. Open access is certainly not a new concept, especially for Elsevier, which has its own collections that range from Open Access Journals to Open Archive to Green Open Access (for self-archiving). Mobed notes that most of the world has a combination of information that is created and distributed on a broadcast model (the author pays to give access) or a subscription model (the user pays to get access). 'By and large, an equilibrium takes place,' says Mobed, 'and in the end, as long as an information solution is sufficiently important to the people who use it, then there is going to be value in that information solution.' The business model for who pays and how becomes secondary to the fact that these high-end information solutions can be created ... 'It’s been about a year since the decision to boycott Elsevier first started,' says Mobed. 'We felt it was very important for us to know what was going on and to listen to what people were saying.' After much corporate soul-searching and investigation, Elsevier came to the realization that 'there were a number of things that we could be doing differently,' he says. Some of the criticism had merit, he admits, and those concerns were addressed quickly; other complaints were just misunderstandings. One-on-one conversations with customers helped ease the tension and open the lines of communication, he says ..."
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