We recently interviewed EBSCO’s Senior Director of Product Management, Joe Tragert, who specializes in the development of EBSCO Corporate Solution’s research databases. See what he thinks about popular research and development topics such as the future of the industry, the challenges that R&D teams face, tools that can help and more.

What is your background in research and development?

I’ve directed product development for online reference services for more than 12 years, providing content and features to support Research & Development (R&D) across a range of industries. My team and I regularly review new concepts with our customers who are R&D professionals, and we are the first level of response when our R&D users have questions, problems or suggestions on how to improve our services.

What are some of the biggest trends you’ve seen in R&D in the past 10 years?

The biggest trend I see is the challenge of knowing which content and tools are useful and which are not. There is certainly more information out there, and online search tools that are easy to access and simple to use. However, the increasing quantity of content does not mean an equivalent increase in quality content. If anything, most of the newer resources are of lower quality and not curated. The ubiquity and simplicity of a search engine does not make it a good resource, as opposed to searching R&D indexes or scientific journals.

What do you think some of the biggest challenges are in the R&D space?

One of biggest challenges for any R&D team is keeping up with changes in their area. this includes keeping up with changes to products, compounds, or technologies that are directly related to current products or technologies and exploring broader content sets to “discover” new opportunities for a given technology or product. Discovery, in this sense, is realizing what you did not know, and then leveraging that realization to improve an existing process or product. To gain this insight, R&D professionals need to look beyond the relatively small set of core resources and journals that they rely on, and delve into the broader knowledge base.

The applications and information that are best for R&D are often found in more sophisticated, more expensive resources. Many R&D teams lack the skills to use those resources effectively, and are expert researchers, but are not expert at using research literature. They lack the core skills that are usually offered by the corporate or R&D librarians. Unfortunately, those same librarians are less common and when they are present, they are typically supporting several constituencies, apart from the R&D team.

The biggest trend I see is the challenge of knowing which content and tools are useful and which are not.

What are some of the most important aspects in having a successful R&D team?

Speaking from the research literature perspective, it is essential that R&D team members know how to utilize literature resources effectively. Many R&D professionals are adept at using the resources and tools that drive their processes, particularly in the lab. They are less skilled at using journals and other literature. In other words, they are not as “information literate” as they could be, and that impacts the quality of a research landscape report, pre-discovery assessments or novelty analysis. By “information literacy” I mean the process of: 1) determining the question to be answered, 2) selecting the proper information resources to use; 3) developing search strategies appropriate to each resource; 4) determining the quality/appropriateness of the results, 5) manipulating the results into an actionable output (e.g. a report or recommendation) and 6) doing all this in an ethically responsible and legal manner. Successful R&D starts with a robust review of the current state of the art, also called a “research landscape.” 

What can corporate librarians or managers do to assist their R&D teams?

Librarians are the best people to instill information literacy skills into the R&D process. If an R&D team is lucky enough to have a dedicated R&D librarian, they are in position to have expert guidance on source selection and utilization. However, in most organizations, there is a corporate librarian (but not dedicated solely to R&D), who must serve many end-users and is responsible for a broad array of resources. In those cases, the corporate librarian can reach out to the R&D team members who are routinely tasked with the conducting the initial literature-based research portion of a project. The librarian can either formally or informally integrate information literacy best practices into the R&D process by working with those team members.

How do the products that you develop work to help the R&D process?

We focus on supporting the initial stages of a research project, as well as competitive intelligence and monitoring a product in the market.

In the “content” space, we provide a comprehensive research index and a massive collection of full text for more than ten thousand journals, magazines reports and more. The index also supports discovery. The huge collection of full text affords immediate access to the desired articles, saving hours (if not days) of time waiting to view the text. We also pull in other content, including specific e-journals that the R&D team may subscribe to, internal repositories of content that have been saved by the customer, web-based resources, and content from other vendors like us.

In the “context” space, we provide a configurable user experience and content management system. We can map the user experience (UX) to existing research work flows, or segment content by type, function, products, compounds or any topic the research team wants to follow. We can also integrate all the premium resources and internal collections into the customized UX. Additionally, we support competitive intelligence and market monitoring via a robust content alerting tool. We monitor incoming content and notify users via email or RSS when new information relating to their topics appears. Overall, our content and user interfaces can be integrated into any type of R&D workflow, using our experts to help define the best implementation to support the customer’s needs.