Interview with Britt Mueller, Qualcomm
For podcast release Monday, March 31, 2014
KENNEALLY: With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets throughout the world, the day approaches when everyone will have a computer. Individual access to information is already changing lives, overturning governments, and remaking businesses. Even the nature of information is seeing dramatic transformation. Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.
From a world of content organized by news headlines and journal abstracts, we are moving into a universe of data that has potential to reveal insights and yield great discoveries. For a business like San Diego-based Qualcomm, which has grown from seven individuals meeting in a den in 1985 to a world-leading provider of wireless technology and services, the challenge is delivering access to information of every kind, where and when it’s needed, and on every type of device. Britt Mueller is senior director for Qualcomm’s library services, and she joins me now from her San Diego office. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Britt Mueller.
MUELLER: Hi, Chris. Thank you for inviting me to the show.
KENNEALLY: We’re happy to have a chance to chat with you. We’ll tell people that in addition to your work for Qualcomm, where you’ve been since 2001, you’ve served on IEEE’s Library Advisory Counsel. Britt Mueller is also a member of the Industrial Technical Information Managers Group, Special Libraries Association, the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals, and Britt has authored a number of papers, presentations, and so forth focusing on information needs in corporate environments.
Britt, you and I met just about a month ago at the annual conference for NFAIS, and as part of a presentation there, you looked at the kind of content investment that a company like Qualcomm is having to make. You noted that there are three major areas of focus, and I wonder if you could talk about each of those three. I believe it all really starts with that mobile transformation we’re seeing, where as I said in the opening, everyone will have a computer at hand very shortly.
MUELLER: Definitely, Chris. That’s exactly what we’ve been talking about. We think that there’s a real change in the way people need content and need information, particularly in larger corporations, where we have a very distributed workforce. We’re really all over the globe, and when you are trying to meet information needs of a company that is fast-moving, that’s distributed like that, and is growing, it can be a real challenge.
My concerns have always been – (inaudible) at Qualcomm for quite some time, and lots of corporations do. Of course, academic libraries are very familiar to people, as well as public. A lot of times, library brings up a very standard view, this idea of books in a room or books in a location. Certainly, that’s expanded to also include online content.
But beyond that, as we’re investing in content at Qualcomm, the Qualcomm library, we’re seeing a real shift, where we – of course with limited budgets – need to really focus on three specific areas, so that when we buy that content, we can distribute it appropriately.
That is of course, first and foremost, that it needs to be mobile. We’re a mobile company, and our distributed workforce and our employees are looking for information, are accessing information on many types of devices. That could be on a desktop machine. That could be on a laptop. That could be on a tablet. It could definitely be on a smartphone. They may not be using just one of those devices, they may be using all kinds of those devices at different points in time.
And we really can’t wait for them to come back to just the computer. We really need to be able to distribute it at the point of need. So if they’re coming through on a smartphone, and they absolutely need that data, we need to be able to distribute it. That’s a really big challenge. Qualcomm’s certainly on the cutting edge of mobile and wireless, but a lot of the content providers are just catching up with that.
KENNEALLY: Indeed, it’s something that you couldn’t possibly miss sitting where you sit there at Qualcomm. We all recognize it sort of intuitively. We know the world is moving to mobile. But what we’re talking about here is the way the corporation is moving to a mobile environment, and that’s really significant, I think.
MUELLER: Yes, it’s a subset of the world. Just like mobile is certainly the driver for much of our new technology economy, we have – within Qualcomm, and within many companies, the expectation is that their information can be achieved in as seamless a manner as they would get it if they’re on their own, and they’re on their mobile phone, and they’re going to an app store from Apple or Google+ and getting that content themselves. That expectation is there, and if we have difficulty distributing it within the enterprise to that level of need, we’re going to be falling behind, and that’s something that’s just a given. We need to be able to distribute content at that same level.
KENNEALLY: You mentioned the app store. We’re seeing, in fact, in the corporate environment that content is becoming distributed or beginning to be distributed through the so-called enterprise mobile app stores. Tell us what those are like.
MUELLER: Yeah, absolutely. I think just like you have the app store that people are very familiar with, where they download applications that are meaningful to them, that is coming to a lot of companies and a lot of enterprises, and certainly a lot of organizations, I think, where we want to have a slightly controlled environment where that content can distributed. Particularly proprietary or internal content can be distributed to employees very, very quickly.
That could be something that’s directional, some maps for the company. It could be information around a directory. But it could also be information around how people can do their jobs better. That could actually be news. That can be actually information around how to get the most current information in a competitive situation.
We’re really looking at saying, how do we distribute our content? As opposed to distributing it in the past through maybe a Web portal, how do we do that through an enterprise app store? We’re seeing a big shift to doing that. Again, we think the content vendors are still catching up there.
KENNEALLY: Right. Distribution is only successful in that regard where there is appropriate access. I guess that moves you to the second step in this discussion, from mobile to access. That really must be – as you told us at the NFAIS conference, it must be both secure and seamless. Can you go into some detail on that?
MUELLER: Exactly. When we’re buying content, and all libraries face this challenge, not just corporate libraries, but you’re buying content for a group of people. You’re buying content for a set group of people that you’re saying, OK, this is content that we’re purchasing, and it’s not available elsewhere, so it’s worth that investment. We need to be able to make it available.
The way people have accessed that kind of content in the past has been provided through things like password, what we call IP authentication, where IPs are recognized, or sometimes even some special links that people provided. All of those options, though, have some security problems. In corporate America and everywhere when you’re buying content, vendors included, want to have a secure transfer of data, particularly when there’s high costs involved with some of the content and what it costs.
So essentially what we’ve been looking at is single sign-on. This is not a new idea, but it is one where there are some new standards associated with it. That standard is SAML 2.0. A lot of corporations are working to push forward with this type of access methodology, so that we can have a secure and seamless access that aligns with our corporate security policies that are already in place.
The other thing that that does is that essentially when I talked about password and IP authentication, those are very bulky ways to provide access to the mobile device. When you have a mobile device, you have to be able to get through to the content you’re purchasing. It’s no good if you send somebody an e-mail with a link to a wonderful article or a piece of market data, and they can’t get to it from that device, and they have to go back to their desktop. That’s actually what a lot of us are facing right now. Single sign-on, if it’s deployed at the mobile level, allows that access to be able to be delivered at that point, when the person needs it.
KENNEALLY: Right. This single sign-on, SSO, is a practice that’s been in place in large parts of the academic world. So you’re kind of learning from their experience to try and transfer that into the enterprise.
MUELLER: Definitely. A lot of those familiar names, like Shibboleth and that type of thing. The difference within a corporate arena is that sometimes the security needs are higher, and the SAML 2.0 standard, which is newer than some of the initial implementations, is something that we often have to adhere to. Essentially, a lot of our vendors, again, are trying to definitely get that in place. We’re working closely with most of our vendors to do that.
What we are seeing, though, is in the corporate IT world, there’s been a lot of push to move in that direction. It’s becoming a requirement that is large enough that we’re actually putting it in our contractual agreements with our vendors.
KENNEALLY: Does it represent a significant investment on their end?
MUELLER: It represents a significant initial technical investment. But again, once it’s developed, it can be used very broadly. And again, once it’s also implemented, it’s seamless from there on in. What also is a huge benefit for content providers and publishers when they provide this type of access is that they have more control. They can see how their content is getting used. As you know from the Copyright Clearance Center, the rights to access are a critical part of the success of any publisher or content vendor. Having a little bit more control and visibility on that is something I know that they’re interested in pursuing.
KENNEALLY: We’re talking right now to Britt Mueller, who is senior director of Qualcomm’s library services. Britt, you’ve been talking about kind of a three-pronged approach to the new content investment in this wireless world. We’ve spoken about mobile, we’ve spoken about access. Now we want to move finally to that really enormous challenge out there, which is around data. As I mentioned again at the opening, we’re moving from information in an organized fashion to looking at the data that lies underneath it. How is that going to change the way a library like Qualcomm’s approaches all this?
MUELLER: Yeah, data is critical, and we’ve all heard the term big data. I don’t think it necessarily has to be big, and that’s sometimes the definition. We need data from all of our content sources. Even if it’s a few thousand records or a few thousand pieces of content, that data is as critical as the millions and millions that some other person might be working with as well.
When we’re purchasing content in any library, we’re saying it has value. Oftentimes that value has been delivered to the end user by a traditional vendor platform, where the vendor or the publisher develops a user interface, where the end user can come in and look for a single piece of data or three or four pieces that meet their needs with a robust search, and that’s worked really, really well.
What we’re seeing now is we have a difference. We’re seeing our users and our employees saying, I don’t need to find that specific article anymore. I can find that almost anywhere. What I need to do is take this rich content that an information provider or a publisher is providing and really take it out and re-manipulate it on my own. A lot of times, that means that we have to get the data out of a system. That can be a real challenge.
That’s actually a big transition for publishers and content providers as well, and they’re working through some of those problems. They are aware of this, I think, and they’re really trying to figure out what their model is with it. But it’s moving fast, and those vendors that are able to provide that content right away and to give it to us in ways that we can re-manipulate it are the ones that we’re going to invest in. That goes back to that content investment idea.
KENNEALLY: Right. In this environment of tremendous change, that really is, I guess, one of the important opportunities that you see, that publishers who open up their data to this kind of manipulation would be endearing themselves to you.
MUELLER: Absolutely. I think that this is such a sea change that it can be seen as risky. However, a lot of this content can be seen as being commoditized, and a lot of this content can be gotten from a lot of different sources. When a vendor is looking at how do I provide that information and how do I become the person who I want to buy from, the differentiation oftentimes may not be directly in the content. It may be what the service is and the software on top of it. Are you providing a robust API, so that the content can be leveraged by other machines within our organization?
As you know, we’re distributing content not only to the individual, but to other platforms to be able to be used on necessity, where the person is actually at a point of need, or a system is at a point of need for delivering that. So APIs, the ability to differentiate content with strong metadata, the idea of being able to get the content out easily, not only at the machine level, but also for the individual user level – those are things that definitely endear a vendor to us, and also are the ones that we think will be competitive in the future.
KENNEALLY: Britt Mueller, I think we could call you almost an activist librarian, because you really, I think, take the position that this is not only a new opportunity for publishers and content providers, but this is an opportunity for libraries and librarians, as well. To use an expression I’ve seen you refer to, you want to give libraries a kick in the pants here. Tell us about that. Really, what is the change that you’ve seen in the last couple of years to really make you think that libraries also need to change themselves?
MUELLER: That’s a great question. It’s one that I love to answer, because I just talked about vendors and publishers being at risk of being commoditized. Certainly, libraries are as well. People are very good at getting information. They are skilled at it. A lot of other people within corporate arena and in the wider world are actually providing a lot of the services that libraries have in the past. Technology is providing ways for people to easily get content that, in the past, a librarian needed to deliver.
It’s really imperative on us that we move forward and we drop those things that are no longer valuable to our end users or are commoditized and they can get themselves. This can be hard, because oftentimes it’s something we’ve done for a long time. It may be something even like news delivery. If you can’t provide a value-add on the information that somebody can get on their own, you should really question whether you should be delivering that.
When I talk about a value-add, that’s oftentimes something that can be provided with analysis, with triangulating information from multiple sources. Maybe you’re looking at technical literature and market research and patents and trying to say, what do I see here? Those are things that they can’t get easily out there. But what they can get easily out there is information that, in the past, librarians provided.
We really need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and move forward and always think, what is the value-add? If you’re struggling to define what you’re doing, and if you’re saying that we do this slightly better, be your own worst critic. Say, is slightly better something that would be the differentiator and the value that somebody would be willing to invest in? Because our end users are investing in us. Our companies are investing in us, just like we’re investing in content. They have to see value out of it that is beyond what they can get themselves.
KENNEALLY: Just as there are now so many new types of information, the sources of information have also grown, and they’ve gone beyond the traditional organizations, the kind of legacy publishers. Now, information comes to us from social media as well. I wonder how you struggle with the challenge of presenting that social media in a relevant way to your own users.
MUELLER: Yeah, there’s so much information, and that content can come from all kinds of different sources. It can come from video. That’s certainly a huge area. It can come from social media, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. There’s just enormous areas that we need to move into to make sure that we’re getting what’s appropriate and what’s relevant and what’s timely. There’s a speed issue with social media that allows us to really evaluate and analyze the impact of information, the impact of activities that are out in the world, and to be able to bring that information back much quicker than we had in the past.
So even faster than we can get a news story, oftentimes we can find out what’s happening at a really important conference by looking at Twitter feeds. We can pull back information that is related to the impact of what we’re trying to do, and that’s again the alt-metrics, and say, wow, we can see a lot more quickly what’s happening. Our ability to do that is something that our end users are requiring, so we have to have the appropriate tools to collect, gather, and analyze that, and it’s just a given. It’s not an option. We have to do that.
What’s really interesting, I think, and puts us beyond the marketing space, is that we can combine that with some of the more traditional sources – maybe that’s regulatory filings news, other things – and we can start to maybe see things that folks who are already monitoring social media may not be able to see. That’s going to be something that I think has a really strong aspect for librarians in the future.
KENNEALLY: Thank you for filling us in on all of that. We’ve been chatting today with Britt Mueller. She’s senior director for Qualcomm’s library services and joining us on the line from her San Diego office. Britt, thanks so much for appearing on Beyond the Book.
MUELLER: Thanks for having me, Chris.
KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.
Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.