Category Archives: SLA

Just A Few Questions: Penny Leach

Author: Hal Kirkwood, Bodleian Business Librarian and BIR Editorial Board member

In the second instalment of Just A Few Questions, I spend a little time with Penny Leach, Head of Business Information Services at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to find out more about her role and her perspective on the information industry. 

Hal: Tell me about the EBRD and your role there.

Penny: The EBRD is the only International Financial Institution (IFI) based in the UK.  Founded in 1991 in the post-Cold War era, to further progress towards ‘market-oriented economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative’ in Central and Eastern Europe, we now operate across three continents in almost 40 countries and have as shareholders 71 countries as well as the EU and EIB.   Our primary activity is to finance projects in our Countries of Operation so as to promote environmentally and socially sound and sustainable development; our investment work has evolved over the years,  most recently with the Green Economy Transition approach.   

I am the Head of Business Information Services (BIS) at the EBRD.  We provide access to external content for our internal clients, either directly through licenses to data and research products, or via our team of researchers.    Given the wide-reaching mandate of the Bank our client base is very diverse – bankers, risk managers, economists, political counsellors, lawyers, and compliance officers amongst others.   The majority of the team are based at our London headquarters; however, in line with the expanding footprint of the Bank we now have staff based in subsidiary offices, including Istanbul now that Türkiye is the biggest recipient of our funds.   Fortunately, unlike some of our colleagues in other multilateral development banks, our services are all virtual – we do not maintain a physical collection of any kind. 

Hal: What are some of the specific projects you are currently working on? 

Penny: BIS is very much part of the Bank’s first line of defence of the integrity of the Bank, helping protect its reputation and future through due diligence in relation to new business and existing transactions.  Our Integrity operations have grown in volume and complexity, and we are reviewing the tools and processes we follow and use.  The intention is to be part of the digital transformation of the Bank.

Obviously, we need to constantly review the skills of the team as well as the portfolio of external content we can access, to remain aligned with the Bank’s business and other initiatives.  In recent years changes have included expanding our linguistic capacities to support the Bank’s geographical expansion in to the Southern and Mediterranean region and researching sources to support our Countries of Operation through the pandemic, the impact of the war on Ukraine, changing sector strategies (such as the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy) and the need for climate finance.    

As a background to all our activities this year, we are making a physical move from the City of London to our new office in the Canary Wharf business district, and a virtual move with a migration to a new computing environment.   Currently we are also implementing a new enterprise subscription management platform.

Hal: What do you see as the biggest or most influential trends within business information?

Penny: Naturally we subscribe to a wide range of data and information products ranging across many content types – market data, market research, ratings, risk intelligence, news, statistics and so on – as well as searching open sources.  In common with other colleagues in the sector, we see that M&A activity is dramatically impacting the business information sector, causing disruption and uncertainty in managing agreements with providers and their mix of products.   I look forward to further innovation from the investment in the market.  We also see big players bundling products in to a ‘one size fits all’ offering; while internal customers want very granular data, potentially as feeds, raising the complexity of licenses – already more complex due to data protection and other provisions – and adding to the challenge of understanding and monitoring usage.  Suppliers are affected too by change and cost pressures, with one seeming by-product a dramatic increase in the rate of churn across account contacts and, in some cases, a decline in service levels.  When it comes to market research a particular challenge is distinguishing credible research providers against those offering very topical reports, but which are not necessarily based on anything other than mathematical manipulations of figures extrapolated from open sources or their more reliable competitors. 

Hal: Considering the information profession as a whole, what do you see as the biggest challenges on the horizon?

Penny: I prefer to view this question as focused on opportunities for information pros.  These are huge as the need for information and data, and their effective management, rises across sectors (academia, industry, third sector, etc).   Roles can be very varied – researcher, knowledge manager, product developer, account manager, business analyst.  However, it’s true that the value of information professionals may not be recognised against multiple perceptions of information as a commodity to be procured, as a business tool, as part of a technology platform, as a problem that AI will fix, as an activity where a commonly used search engine can find the answer.   And we need to keep investing in our talent pipeline.  Unfortunately, as witnessed by the challenges facing membership groups such as the SLA, the diversity of roles for information professionals can weaken the bonds of the professional community, otherwise a valuable source of education and experience for that pipeline.   Nonetheless SLA Europe is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and is still going strong. 

Hal: Thanks very much, Penny, for chatting with me today.

Just A Few Questions will become a recurring series here on the Business Information Review Blog. If you would like to suggest someone for a future interview, please email me at

Emerging technology and content buying

Author: Penny Leach, Associate Director, EBRD, and BIR Editorial Board Member

Please note this post contains the personal views of the author and are not connected with her employer.

Emerging technology and innovation are impacting content buying – and selling – in multiple ways.  This was the conclusion of a lively session held at the SLA Conference this year.  The situationis evolving rapidly, with varying levels of appetite and capacity to optimise the exciting opportunities.  As is so often the case, collaboration between multiple parties is more likely to lead to success, makingthe most of harnessing data in ways thatfree human intelligence for more value-add activity, and create appropriate commercial models.  However there are challenges and concerns – the fear of unknown costs, of loss of control over proprietary content,of missing out (and being disenfranchised) due to a lack of knowledge or resource and appropriate infrastructure, raising both private and public sector concerns.

The SLA Conference this year was held in Baltimore in June.  The Conference is a great way to meet other information professionals and other members of the information community from across the globe and build better connections in person.   Every year the SLA Leadership & Management Division’s Content Buying Section brings together an experienced panel representing different approaches in thecommunity of content of vendors and buyers, to provide reality-based insight.   This year the panellists were Amy Davis, Senior External Content Advisor at EY; Tim Baker, Global Head of Innovation at Thomson Reuters (now Refinitiv); and Bill Noorlander, Director of BST America (Conference sponsor).

The panel focussed on four emerging technologies that are creating content and new ways of deriving value from content: the Internet of Things (IoT); Data Analytics; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics Process Automation (RPA).  Early on, the largely buyside audience was reminded that content is not normally for sale but rather is leased for specific purposes – hence the complex contractual terms that are needed to protect all parties (content creator, provider and user).

Several themes emerged from the discussion,and from audience questions during the interactive session.  Generally the new content and technologiesare seen to enable several kinds of ‘smarter’, such as better client experience when deploying more visual and user-friendly products, more machine-ready data that customers can use in their own apps, and more efficient companies using their own data effectively to reduce cost (automated processes) and add value (e.g. finding more content to enrich products).

There is increasing usage of sensor-based devices in personal, industrial and civic applications (IoT).  This is creating new and extremely high volume data streams to add to the fast-growing mass of structured and unstructured data that isalready part of our digitised world.  This data ‘exhaust’, as a by-product of core businesses, offers opportunities for monetisation – for example in the financial sector– but with caveats that (as ever) mean ‘free’ is not really the case.  These alternative data sets are messy, fragmented, lack standardisation and history, and are hard both to use effectively (signals can be weak),  and to price.   For vendors, it is costly to develop and maintain new commercial offerings where client needs might be very specific.  There are hurdles, too, around data privacy and ownership, and legal terms such as the definition of users.  ‘Bots’ for example, one of the tools created by AI and an example of RPA that can free humans from repetitive tasks, may be prohibited by legacy contracts.   And just how do you count ‘eyeballs’ and fingertips?

On the buy side, the panellists concurred that it is better if multiple stakeholders are at the table – information professionals familiar with content licensing and the concept of reference interviews to articulate data needs, IT, procurement, legal advisors, and of course, the business process owners – to determine the requirement, negotiate new or amended license rights, match price to available budgets, and finally but not least, implement the new tools.

New players are emerging- new intermediary service companies such as data  ‘wranglers’ as data science and analytics skills (e.g., Quandl)  and new roles such as Chief Data Officers (CDO). More tools are needed to commoditise processes to reduce development costs and to deal with challenges.  Blockchain for example may help with the tracking of data elements.  As ever, watch this space!

Business Information Survey on the SLA blog

Is corporate information management in crisis?

Our annual Business Information Survey is a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with senior information managers.  Researched and written by Allan Foster, the Survey provides rich data on the development of corporate information services.

In the first of a two-part feature, Allan Foster shares the findings of our 2013 Business Information Survey on the SLA Europe blog, looking at the pressures that are impacting on information services and how they are responding.

Thanks to our colleagues at SLA and once again to everyone who participated in the research process.

Future ready – in Manchester

Allan Foster, Initiatives Editor and author of our annual Business Information Survey recently ran an evening session for SLA Europe in Manchester. Drawing on the findings of the latest Business Information Survey, Allan shared with the delegates pointers to the skills and approaches required to run successful information services. These include the skills set required to work globally (building alliances and integrating services); being prepared for an increased emphasis on compliance work; and developing ‘hard nosed’ negotiation skills. The session feeds into SLA’s Future Ready theme.

How professional associations adapt to challenging times

Professional Associations face a number of challenges as their overheads rise, the economic future become more uncertain, event sponsorship reduces, and increasing membership fees to cover the cost of member services is a sure route to decline. These issues are eloquently described in his 2010 Conference speech by SLA Treasurer, Dan Trefethen.

SLA is strenuously cutting costs and reviewing structures whilst making its best efforts to meet the needs of its members.

Candle in the wind or a beacon for the future? Professional associations facing an uncertain future featured in June’s Business Information Review (27(2), is therefore particularly timely. Stimulated by the demise of CiG, Oriole Newgass explores what makes professional organisations work for their members, and suggests why some are successful and some not so. The issues facing CILIP are identical with those facing SLA and suggest that the larger professional organisations may face greater difficulty than those with a narrower focus.

Getting involved with a professional organisation has been a great development route for many leading information professionals. Now is the time for all of us to review what we gain from this involvement and to see how we can realistically help sustain a viable future for those organisations that we align with best.

Bad information!

A survey conducted by SLA and Dow Jones has confirmed what many information professionals have suspected – that bad information is bad for business. The survey found that the dangers of unreliable information on the free web include making bad business decisions, missing opportunities and wasting time double checking facts.

You can see the press release and the report here.

More ammunition the next time someone tells you there’s no need for information professionals in the age of Google!