Competitive intelligence (CI) isn't something that I'm used to spending a lot of time with in my academic library life, but it's a major concern for information professionals in corporate and other special libraries. In the corporate world, it's vital to know what's going on in your specific industry and about other companies that are your rivals and partners. Having a current stream of information of this type is important for developing business strategies. A new product from Inmagic, named IntelliMagic, provides a set of tools for discovering, acquiring, managing, and disseminating competitive intelligence information.
While services abound for gathering CI, Inmagic has designed IntelliMagic as an application that integrates all aspects of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating competitive intelligence data. The product is geared toward the corporate environment, and would likely be used by corporate libraries and information centers to provide a customized CI interface for use by analysts, staff, and executives. In this month's column, I'll discuss some of the characteristics of this new product and offer some background and perspective.
Since 1983, Inmagic, Inc. has been in the business of developing text-oriented database products, focusing largely on the corporate library market. The company's DB/TextWorks product is a database and text-retrieval system that works under the various Windows operating systems and can be used to manage many diverse types of information. While DB/TextWorks is especially suited for text-based information, it can also manage images and other forms of multimedia.
In addition, Inmagic offers DB/Text WebPublisher for providing access to textbases created with DB/TextWorks on the Web. The DB/Text WebPublisher Interactive module enables textbases to be updated and maintained through the Web. A Library Module add-on for DB/TextWorks is available that supplies the textbases and templates that allow it to function as a traditional library automation system. Inmagic also offers the BiblioTech PRO library automation software, a sophisticated, full-featured system it acquired in 1999 from Comstow Information Services.
I've worked with Inmagic's DB/TextWorks for many years and have found this database environment to be well-suited for managing text-oriented information and for providing access to multimedia data, such as audio files, digitized images, and video. My preferred approach to creating Web-enabled databases involves the use of DB/TextWorks as a back-end database with the ODBC (Open Database Connectivity Model)driver that's included with WebPublisher Interactive to provide Web access through CGI programs written in Perl. My Library Technology Guides Web site, for example, follows this approach.
Recently, Inmagic has begun an initiative to provide services that automatically deliver content to organizations that use its database products. The initial phase, termed Inmagic.NET, supplies bibliographic records that can be automatically fed into DB/TextWorks for materials purchased through online bookstores. Taking this initial content-integration model a large step further, Inmagic developed IntelliMagic to help organizations acquire and manage CI data.
IntelliMagic combines a number of Inmagic's products and services with those of external content providers to form a turnkey competitive intelligence product. IntelliMagic uses the XML-based content-delivery mechanisms of Inmagic.NET to transfer information to the local site, while DB/TextWorks serves as the local information repository and WebPublisher disseminates information throughout an organization's intranet. IntelliMagic can also be thought of as a CI toolkit. A corporate library staff would use IntelliMagic to create Web-based CI pages that can be accessed by authorized individuals throughout the organization to retrieve current information dynamically on tightly focused areas of interest.
One of the major trends that I've observed in the last couple of years is that library software companies are becoming more heavily involved in the delivery of content services. In today's environment, it's not enough to develop software products that are vessels for holding and managing content. Those companies that create the vessel also seek opportunities to provide content to help fill it. In the large-scale library automation arena, for example, Endeavor has been very aggressive in its pursuit of this goal through its ENCompass and LinkFinderPlus products. Practically all the library automation vendors now offer Web-based online catalogs that feature a dynamic enrichment of bibliographic records with tables of contents, book jacket images, summaries, abstracts, and reviews. As library automation software becomes mature, the next steps in creating value often involve building technologies that link and integrate external content, and in delivering streams of content. The Inmagic.NET and IntelliMagic products from Inmagic embrace this trend.
Inmagic.NET's initial phase offers the ability to automate the acquisition of cataloging records that correspond to books purchased online from selected vendors. Beginning with DB/TextWorks version 4.2, customers who participate in the InmagicADVANTAGE support plan can receive bibliographic records corresponding to books purchased on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, barnesandnoble.com, Baker & Taylor, and Fatbrain.com. Using XML, Inmagic.NET delivers the records for import directly into DB/TextWorks. This delivery of cataloging records was but the first foray into the realm of integrating DB/TextWorks with content-delivery services. IntelliMagic greatly extends the technologies of Inmagic.NET to a much more ambitious information-delivery architecture.
Partnership with Northern Light
The content-delivery component of IntelliMagic involves the delivery of news and other Web-based information through a partnership with Northern Light Technology, taking advantage of the resources available in its Web portal services. Northern Light features a variety of news and business information resources that can be valuable for competitive information, including Reuters, BizWire, AP, and over 7,100 print publications.
Though content from Northern Light forms a key part of this competitive intelligence environment, many other sources can also be included and integrated. Local resources such as existing DB/TextWorks textbases, online catalogs, and SQL-based resources can also be part of the content streams that feed into IntelliMagic.
DB/TextWorks as CI Repository
IntelliMagic builds on many of Inmagic's existing products. DB/TextWorks, the company's core database product, serves as the repository for CI data. One of the characteristics of IntelliMagic that differentiates it from the CI-retrieval services is its use of DB/TextWorks to store and manage the streams of relevant content. Content streams from the external resources retrieved via Query Builder are transferred through the XML-based Inmagic.NET technologies into a DB/TextWorks textbase. As news stories and other documents are fed into the system, they're incorporated into DB/TextWorks so that they can be made accessible via its search-and-retrieval engine. Through WebPublisher, this information can then be further distributed on a company's intranet.
An XML-Based Approach
XML currently dominates as the preferred method for moving data among or within applications. Inmagic.NET takes advantage of XML-based technologies for the transport of information between online booksellers and customers with DB/TextWorks. XML is used to integrate external content into DB/TextWorks from companies that have established relationships with Inmagic through Inmagic.NET.
In itself, DB/TextWorks does not rely on XML; its architecture predates this standard. In the broader database and Web applications arena, XML has grown to be the standard approach for moving data from one application to another, or even for dealing with data within applications. Inmagic has adopted XML as its approach for distributing content related to its Inmagic.NET and IntelliMagic services. The use of XML for this product is a positive step for Inmagic in that it paves the way for other content-integration opportunities.
Another key component of IntelliMagic is a special Query Builder utility that can be used to construct and store queries that can be executed on demand to retrieve current information. Query Builder retrieves information from external sources automatically. Rather than having to manually visit a Web site and formulate a search, Query Builder presents a simple link that works automatically.
Query Builder can be used to build a set of links that each deliver current information about specific business sectors, companies, or issues. One need not be an expert in search and retrieval to initiate these predefined queries and view up-to-the-minute relevant information. Using Query Builder, a librarian can construct a reusable, highly focused, and complex search query that specifies the terms, operators, and sources that match a particular business concern. Multiple queries can be built to address each of the issues to be tracked. A link could be created that checks for any activity in mergers and acquisitions for the general business arena of interest. Links could be ready that deliver current news from specific companies, and other links might track political news in a geographic area of interest. Once configured, these pre-built query links dynamically retrieve current information from selected sources with a single click.
Inmagic's Query Builder operates much like the LiveQuery service offered by Northern Light as part of its RivalEye competitive intelligence product (see http://www.northernlight.com/docs/rivaleye.html).
The Query Builder component of IntelliMagic is an example of the growing array of dynamic linking systems. Dynamic linking involves finding ways to extend the static model where a single URL represents a single Web page to one where a single hyperlink can represent a unit of content, regardless of which physical Web server hosts it. Dynamic linking can also be used to probe deeply into databases to retrieve specified information. As more of the content resides in databases that are not available to the standard Web search engines, dynamic linking grows in importance.
One of the most sophisticated dynamic linking applications is the SFX Reference Linking product from Ex Libris, Inc. SFX uses dynamic linking in conjunction with the OpenURL construct for generating links that offer a number of useful functions, such as linking from citations to corresponding full-text documents, displaying local holdings information from the library's online catalog, providing related services like finding other works by the same author, ordering the document from a document delivery service, and purchasing the book from an online bookseller. SFX aims to provide only relevant links, connecting users only to information for which they have access and making use of a local database that identifies the resources to which the library subscribes. Through OpenURL, SFX is able to establish dynamic links among a very large array of information resources. OpenURL is currently under consideration by NISO for adoption as a national standard (see http://www.niso.org/commitax.html).
While Inmagic's Query Builder adds an important component of functionality to its new IntelliMagic product, in the initial version it operates only with a limited number of external resources—primarily the Northern Light portal. It would be interesting to see how much versatility could be added to the application through the use of OpenURL.
Information Management Cycle
According to Gerry Brown, Inmagic's vice president for new product development, the company designed IntelliMagic around an information management cycle based on four phases: discovery, acquisition, cataloging, and dissemination. IntelliMagic channels content through each of these four phases, resulting in a competitive intelligence application that presents focused information to the corporate desktop in an efficient and user-friendly manner.
The discovery phase will tap numerous content sources, some provided as part of the product and combined with sources already available to the organization. Relevant content sources will include Internet search engines, news services, online book sellers, and library catalogs, as well as any existing corporate knowledge bases. Through its partnership with Northern Light, IntelliMagic will gain access to up-to-date news content.
The acquisition of content happens throughan XML interchange. News items and other retrieved results are packaged in XML so that they can be easily delivered over the Internet and automatically imported into DB/TextWorks.
Cataloging provides accessibility to information. In a dynamic system such as IntelliMagic, a manual cataloging process would impede the flow of information. Under IntelliMagic, the information delivered will come with its own metadata, making cataloging an automatic process.
The dissemination of information is made easy through the integration of DB/TextWorks and WebPublisher. As information is channeled into these applications, the search-and-retrieval capabilities of DB/TextWorks can then be used to facilitate the local collation and distribution. WebPublisher allows the application to be used through a Web interface, avoiding the need to provide all users of the system with a copy of the Windows-based DB/TextWorks.
Pricing and Availability
Inmagic will license IntelliMagic for $6,995. Software prerequisites for IntelliMagic include DB/TextWorks and WebPublisher, which are priced separately. Current pricing for DB/TextWorks and related products are as follows:
- DB/TextWorks (single-user license), $1,250
- DB/TextWorks (multi-user license for five simultaneous users), $3,900
- DB/Text WebPublisher Lite (allows only one textbase to be available on the Web), $3,000
- DB/Text WebPublisher (allows an unlimited number of textbases to be available on the Web), $6,000
- DB/Text Interactive WebPublisher (allows textbases to be updated and maintained through the Web), $11,000