IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

How the Virtual Business Library Meets the Virtual Researcher - A Case of a Customer Driven Innovation

Eeva-Liisa Lehtonen (PhD)


Teppo Savinen (MSc Econ)

Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration Library


The Librarian as a Public Entrepreneur

"In my view, the librarian is a public manager" - public entrepreneur - says Mr. Mark H. Moore from John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, in his article about public service management development (Moore 1997). For the entrepreneur risk-taking is self-evident as well as the need for innovations as the basis of a dynamic strategy. Innovation is the ability to look forward: the business school librarian of today faces the entrepreneurship as a challenge for future.

Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration is the second oldest business school in Nordic countries founded in 1911, two years after Stockholm School of Economics. It is the largest school of economics in Finland - an independent state institution at university level with 5.000 students and 280 teachers - yet small in international comparison. The school has long-standing cooperation with the American and European academic communities.

One of the benefits of a small business school is flexibility. That has also been the keyword when developing our library and information services. As the national resource center for economics and business sciences in Finland the research library is serving a great variety of customers: it is public in the Nordic style i.e. anyone can use our services.

Identifying the customer and market segments has become more and more important also for the Finnish research libraries while the resources have been cut by the government in the 1990's. The basic library services - catalogues, circulation etc. - are free of charge. If a library unit wants to achieve long-run financial performance, it must create and deliver new products that are valued by customers.

Customer Driven Approach

Helsinki School of Economics library - the organization of 28 information specialists and library professionals - has a long dynamic and innovative backround in developing online products for local and international markets since the 1970's. In fact product innovations have been part of the library strategy during the last twenty years. The brand name HELECON (HELsinki School of ECONomics) Information Services became familiar in 1989 when our first cd-rom product "Helecon International" with references and abstracts to economic and business journals was launched in London Online Meeting. In the 1990's it became obvious that if the library wanted to serve the customers better also fulltext databases should be developed.

The vision of the future was that of digital library combined with new ideas of knowledge management (Hedlund 1994, Kulkki 1997). The question was: how should we continue? We had our online and cd-rom services, we had our homepages in Internet and we were most interest in electronic journals. We were working hard with all those world wide web resourses and found Internet a very important delivery channel. We agreed that the strategical starting point for all development work should be the idea of creating value to our customers and the focus on customer needs (Hall 1991). Also we had to remember the realistic budgets and time frames: the fact that any new project should be self-supporting, self-financed without governmental money.

Thomas Kuczmarski emphasizes the innovation mindset, patience and a desire to discover as key elements when looking for new innovations (Kuczmarski 1996). Stewart Bray says: "If a company wants to be innovative, it has to provide a forum for its staff to provide new ideas, and for those ideas to be nurtuned, sorted, encoured, discarded, tested and commercialised" (Bray 1995). The case of our product innovation "Helecon Enterprise cd-rom" includes both elements: the innovation mindset of the customer and the ability of the staff to find out the new values of the researcher.

How did it all happen? The innovation process began with complaints of a researcher asking why it was so difficult to find company reports in our collections. Realising that she needs that kind of information continually the researcher contacted the information specialist on duty asking whether there is a database containing such data. Unfortunately no such commercial database could be found. What is more - no such database was even produced. The simple question "Why don't you collect this material on cd-rom?" was the impulse for the interactive development work between the library and the customer.

As a consequence of discussions it was decided to form a project group to define the development process and to investigate the real need and market analysis for Finnish company information database. The teamwork approach was essential: the customer, one cd-rom specialist, two information specialists and the librarian met for the first time in September 1994. Next initial contacts were made to some companies requesting their willingness and possibilities to provide material for the database. The idea was that companies included should be listed in the Helsinki Stock Exchange. The negotiations were successfull and the feedback was positive. At the same time new technologies were emerging: Adobe Acrobat, a universal electronic publishing tool was launched to the markets. The preconditions of the new product - "HELECON Enterprise cd-rom" - seemed to be good at the end of the year 1994.

Choosing Technology

It was obvious that existing experience of database and cd-rom production at the Helsinki School of Economics Library could be used as the basis of the new project. There were however entirely new elements to be considered. Annual reports contain also pictures and graphs that are essential part of the story. So it was not only a question about a full-text-database but it would also need to be able to incorporate any non-text information found within the documents - preferably in colour. Other requirements included the possibility to use numeric company information for analysis purposes.

In the beginning different paper scanning methods were considered. That approach had however many drawbacks. Firstly it would have been extremely tedious process. The sheer volume would have been overwhelming. Also the sizes and shapes of reports differed considerably making it hard to process them efficiently. Secondly good quality scans - especially in colour - would have taken so much disk space that all the documents would not have fitted on one cd-rom. And thirdly textual information would have been lost. i.e. searching would have been impossible. That would have reduced the product to mereley electronic archive of paper documents.

Instead of scanning the documents another approach was selected. Since all annual reports are produced using computers it should be possible to get the electronic version of documents before the paper form. Although this approach had it's disadvantages too - especially different computer formats - it offered the best possible quality of the product. Fortunately in 1994 a new software product (Adobe Acrobat) enabled viewing of formatted documents. With this software we could take original documents in electronic form and process them to unified format that users could view on screen.

Co-operation with Data Providers

Although participating companies had positive attitude towards our project it doesn't mean that there were no problems. We started contacting companies in the first months of 1995 - and that was too late. At that time the annual reports were in the finishing phases for most of the companies. In principle the participation in the project was free of charge but providing the data to the library in electronic form did cause some internal expenses to companies and in many cases the PR budgets had been planned in the previous year.

Finding the correct contact with the partners was not easy either. Also trying to explain what we were doing proved to be difficult including all copyright problems concerning textual data, pictures and graphs. And after all we were dealing with new technology that had just recently surfaced and not even all professional people were aware of it - let alone people who could make the decision whether the company would participate or not.

While initial contacts were made most of the practical work was usually done with the representatives of the companies - typically advertising agencies or print houses that did the actual annual report. Again finding correct contact was quite hard at times. Sometimes we had problems with the last minute changes made to the annual reports. And lastly advertising agencies and print houses were able to integrate our needs to their overall process of annual report production reducing costs further.

Another dataprovider besides the participating over one hundred companies was the Helsinki Stock Exchange. From them we bought background information covering publicly traded companies. This information included stock trading history for the past five years and the stock exchange trading newsletters for the previous year.

Domestic and International Customers

The product innovation process started with the consumer problem and launched with the commercialization: the researcher who gave us the original product idea is nowadays our paying customer. So are quite many other companies who have attended to the project. Most of the interest is domestic due to the contents - the Finnish company reports. However there seems to be also some interest outside Finland because the 1996 edition included 101 reports also in English. The third edition of "HELECON Enterprise cd-rom" has been published in August 1997.


"Innovation is not a science. Innovation is an art. You can tell if a new product or service will be a success or failure only after it has been completed and launched into the marketplace. Its success is then determined by comsumers, who judge its value or worth based on their own criteria", says Thomas Kuczmarski in the book "Innovation. Leadership Strategies for the Competitive edge"(1996).

It seems that we have succeeded with the new product: the feedback from the partners and the customers has been very positive. The comments from our users tell us that the easyness of the system has been appreciated. User friendliness has been one of the main goals in the design of the product so that kind of response is most gratifying to hear. Both user friendliness and simplicity will remain one of the basic design objectives in the future as well as when new features are added to the product. The professors of business schools and polytechnics have found the cd-rom most useful as a teaching tool.

On the cd-rom all material is in one place, as one collection. Having them all in one place can be understood in two ways; firstly all the companies are together making it easy to compare them and secondly different kind of information about one company is available so that broader picture can be established. Some users found that maintaining the original form including pictures and graphs was valuable to them.

On the wish list we can find things like ability to move numeric information from the company report to spreadsheet applications, continuous updates (i.e. World Wide Web) and naturally more companies should be included.

The practical interactive cooperation with the leading Finnish companies has been interesting and useful for the library and the information services: we have got new contacts and new customers.

The Future - World Wide Web

New features are added every year and general trends and user feedback are closely followed to make the product even better. In 1996 version the full-text retrieval ability was added. Current development includes having more material and world wide web (WWW) distribution. This year there were more companies cooperating with us. Also more information is available: latest addition to company data includes analyses based on financial statements.

Even if the rumours of the death of cd-rom technology are exaggerated, there will be changes in the future markets. Cd-rom developers are reporting for so-called hybrid discs - products that combine cd-rom data with information held on WWW. (Blake 1997). World wide web version will be part of the future plan of the "Helecon Enterprise cd-rom". Today many companies not only want that WWW version is provided but in fact actually insist on it. WWW distribution creates new challenges to the project and probably the form of WEB version is not going to be identical to that of the cd-rom. Most obvious benefit of WWW is that it can be continuously updated - i.e. when company report is ready it can made available immediately instead of waiting for all the reports to be ready at the same time.

Potential future developments include more tools to analyze numeric data, generation of graphs based on material on disk, comparison tools to make it easier to find similar information on other companies and e.g. moving picture and sound provided that appropriate material can be obtained. This could include TV news reports, paid advertisements by participating companies etc. Full-text newspaper articles is one possible extension.

In general future developments should concentrate on making the product comprehensive archive of company information were all the needed data could be found in one place. At the same time the use of this product should be simple and efficient and perhaps even enjoyable.

For Further Reading

Blake, Paul (1997), Leading edge. Hybrids are happening. In: Information World Review 1997 March p. 13-14

Bray, Stewart (1995), Total innovation. How to develop the products that your customers want. Pitman Publishing

Hall, John A. (1991), Bringing new products to market. The art and science of creating winners. American Management Association

Hedlund, Gunnar, A model of knowledge management and the n-form corporation (1994). In: Strategic Management Journal 1994(15) p. 73-90

Kuczmarski, Thomas D. (1996), Innovation. Leadership strategies for the competitive edge. NTC Business Books & American Marketing Association

Kulkki, Seija (1997), Knowledge creation of multinational corporation. Knowledge creation through action. Diss. Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration. Acta Universitatis Oeconomicae Helsingiensis A 115

Moore, Mark. H. (1997), Creating public value: the entrepreneurial duty of every public manager. In: Creating public value: management in the public sector. European Forum for Management Development 1997:1