Tag Archives: business information

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 kirkwoodhal-birblog@gmail.com

Just A Few Questions: Seema Rampersad

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

In this first instalment of Just A Few Questions, I ‘sit down’ with Seema Rampersad, Senior Business Research and Service Manager at The British Library, and the current President-Elect of the Special Libraries Association to ask her about her current role at the British Library and what she sees as the key issues for the business information profession. 

Hal: First, please tell me about the BIPC and your role there.

Seema: The Business & IP Centre at the British Library has been supporting start-ups and established businesses to grow and develop.  We have one of the largest free collections of business information in the United Kingdom.  Over the last 16 years, we have supported 10000s of entrepreneurs, and the success of the centre has created a strong blueprint brand to expand our network across the United Kingdom to other regionals and local libraries. We have also collaborated on European projects to support business such as in the Erasmus for Young Business and in our own Innovating for Growth programme.  

I work in the reference and research section of the Business & IP Centre, which can be very varied on a day-to-day basis.  I serve customers in our Reading Room in the centre with their reference or research queries, deliver workshops, webinars, one-to-one clinics, and project work. We have several business information databases which can only be accessed in the centre, these require showing customers how to use the systems, how to navigate the library electronic and hard copy sources.  We have an online reference enquiry and chat service using the LibAnswer system where we answer general queries from an international audience. I provided a chargeable business information and evidence for patent litigation research to private international clients.  

We have been running programme webinars for over ten years, which helped us transition seamlessly in the pandemic.  I usually present about 2-3 business related workshops per month, and we hope to go into a hybrid model soon.  There have been a few projects work over the years such as an Open Innovation with European Partners, training and sharing insights with the BIPC Network in the UK, and more recently, the Start up In London Libraries over 10 London boroughs.  As a national library, we do host lots of visits, tours and talk on the collection, our services, and the centre. 

Hal: Is there a high demand for business information to support entrepreneurial development and growth? What type of projects or clients do you work with?

Seema: Definitely there is a high demand for support, and it was one of the feasibilities for the expansion of the BIPC Network.  There has been a phenomenal number of entrepreneurs over the years who are innovative on multiple sectors.  We have seen a whole new tech industry develop over the last 15 years in London but also across the UK.  There has been an organic growth in persons wanting to start their own businesses as well as using the positive developments of ecommerce and online presence.  Business information is still at the crucial to a company who is planning their strategy for launching and growing.  We encourage entrepreneurs to look at the commercialisation of their business idea, explore the market and look at the trends and forecasts for their sector, as well as assist them in finding B2Cs and B2Bs using the company data sources held in the library. Our unique selling point is the strong ties with the Intellectual Property Centre and with the collection for patent information, which complements business information for protecting businesses. We frequently provide expert intellectual property knowledge to customers and for project work.

We generally work with anyone wanting to start or grow a business, but we also have academic researchers, other corporations for their paid prior art or business research, and any readers who come into the library to use the collection or spaces.  We do also have various partnerships and frequently liaise with our project partners inside the British Library and other outreach stakeholders. 

Hal: Is there a strong and supportive information ecosystem between organizations like BIPC, academic business libraries, and other groups?

Seema: There were some organisations who do similar service such as ourselves for the business community such as the Small Business Research and Enterprise Centre (SMREC), London & Partners, the London Growth Hub, and we tend to refer our customers to these complementary organisations.  In the past, we have had some projects with academic business departments such as UCL and Edinburgh University – it is an area of work that we can explore more in future; for example, I am aware that the CASS Business School do great work for business.  I do regular tours for students on Goldsmith University’s Master in Creative Entrepreneurship.  For intellectual property projects and initiatives, we do have regular projects with the PatLib Network, The IPO and the European Patent Office. And not forgetting, we now have a National Network of BIPC Libraries – which is a supportive information ecosystem attached to regional and local libraries across the country. 

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

Seema: There will still be a focus on new data tools.  Having seen the evolution of databases over decades, there have been gradual but consistent changes over the years to incorporate new data sets that are available from open data sources, such as the Statista database having a large percentage of content from open sources, as well as from their own content and analysis.  The last few years have seen a change in the megatrends that is affecting the way we work and live our lives – this too is reflected in the information and the trends we find on business sources.  Global sustainability goals are mentioned more in business information content, as we try to mitigate some of the issues and risks that the world is currently facing.  Hybrid models of working have impacted on access and our information needs, plus we have seen a great positive digital transformation for organisations who may have been a bit slow in adopting digital and collaborative technologies. It can only get better.   

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

Seema: Financial stability and raising costs will be one of the biggest challenges as we go into the third year since a pandemic as well as the rising cost-of-living and inflation internationally.  I am hoping this will not have an adverse impact on libraries, library and information budgets, and professionals as we have already had so much disinvestment over the last 15-20 years.  This gives us more of impetus to find positive ways to showcase our role in stimulating business and the economy indirectly by the support we give to entrepreneurs and business small and large – near or far.  We must demonstrate our unique access to specialist information, networks of expertise, and a skill-set that is great for supporting research, productivity, innovation and creativity. Therefore, we must actively advocate, invest, and find our allies in industry and the business community to highlight our roles in enabling and empowering economic and sustainable futures. 

Hal: Thanks very much, Seema, 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 kirkwoodhal:@gmail.com