Case Study

When Reed Business needed to classify millions of pieces of content to expand its on-line business, it turned to PeopleForce

How does a market leading, international publishing house expand its electronic commerce activities when it needs to first bring together disparate sources of content, classify them and make them searchable—all within the constraints of rapidly emerging Internet commercialization techniques for advertising sponsored content, key word advertising and click per action. Not to mention the rapid development of companies like Google and Yahoo and their encroachment on traditional publishers’ territory.How does a market leading, international publishing house expand its electronic commerce activities when it needs to first bring together disparate sources of content, classify them and make them searchable—all within the constraints of rapidly emerging Internet commercialization techniques for advertising sponsored content, key word advertising and click per action. Not to mention the rapid development of companies like Google and Yahoo and their encroachment on traditional publishers’ territory.

The answer for Reed Business is investment in technology and the engineering of a process to leverage that investment and expedite development of new revenue streams. To do so, they turned to PeopleForce as an outsource business process service provider with a unique delivery model.

The result is millions of pieces of content that are classified and searchable and new income streams on-line for Reed Business in rapid time.

A Changing Market

Reed Business Information is a division of Reed Elsevier PLC, the largest publisher of business information in the world. Its products cover a wide variety of business-to-business (B2B) markets, including IT, telecom, aerospace, electronics, agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality.

With 200 magazines and over 1,000 web sites, Reed produces 5 million articles plus per year, generating revenues in excess of $2 billion. Publications such as Publishers Weekly, Variety, and ECN are authoritative sources for professionals in over 40 countries. The division employs in excess of 10,000 people globally.

Comprehensive and timely coverage on products, companies, and news are essential for participants in the industries that Reed covers. Each publication boasts deep knowledge of its sector and the company enjoys a market share of 20% in the US $8 billion global market.

In addition to breadth of coverage, access to business-to-business information has become a key growth driver. The estimated growth rate from 2001 through 2005 was 115% (CAGR). B2B has become a significant contributor to the growth of search engines. Between 30% and 40% of all searches are B2B in nature. Media budgets reflect this trend and are moving quickly online. Beyond access, a significant latency effect for this information is occurring. One quarter of users who click on paid search continue to purchase products and services, however over 92% will buy offline at a later date.

Reed’s publications all share a common culture of independence and local control. Each publisher operates on a separate profit and loss and is responsible for the development and storage of its intellectual property. As a result, information on more than 5 million news items, 3 million companies and over 220,000 products and services have been stored in multiple repositories and tools for print and online publishing vary according to local requirements.

Reed recognized these changes in the business landscape and invested in critical technologies that helped them to improve access to information, even if the information is not owned by one of their publications or web sites. The company also invested in technology that lets publishers understand and track customer relationships across its publications. It has also been building corporate-wide programs that make information from its disparate sources available to online customers through a common search application.

The Challenge

However, the company faced a difficult challenge. It had to find a way to make information available across its 50 key markets without jeopardizing the independence of its publishers. The company needed to incorporate millions of spec sheets, catalogs, press releases and white papers that exist in its various data repositories. While that information has been a trusted source for many years, Reed also needed to accommodate an estimated 500 million independent B2B web pages, news sites, and blogs.

In order to maintain its market leadership position, the company had to move quickly to provide a high quality service that involved the creation of a global taxonomy, a program to acquire and aggregate content, and a branding architecture that featured ease of use and a high degree of precision.

The company turned to PeopleForce to help make the vision a reality. Reed consulted PeopleForce at each stage throughout the development process, including strategic direction-setting, technology vendor evaluation, prototype development, quality benchmarking and taxonomy management services.

Jeroen Kuerble, Project Manager and Publisher of Kelly Search-UK, explains the vision: “We were looking for a company that could help us to quickly develop and realize our plans for Zibb Search services. We built a team of the brightest people drawn from internal and external sources. The goal of our partnership with PeopleForce is to capture significant revenue streams through accelerated development of our global taxonomy.” Critical success factors include setting up an environment that facilitates rapid learning, locating and coordinating skilled personnel to act on the insights and leveraging leading-edge tools for taxonomy management, content sourcing and aggregation and search engine deployment.


Reed based its new search platform on the Fast search engine. To manage the development and deployment of its global taxonomy, the company chose to use tools from Teragram. PeopleForce provided consulting services during the requirements planning stage, helped to identify potential vendors, and helped to customize the toolset in order to meet Reed’s requirements. As part of the start up process, PeopleForce also provided acceptance testing and documented how the development workflow would operate.

During the deployment phase, PeopleForce provided skilled technical resources including project managers, information architects, quality reviewers, and engineers. Teams of workers met daily with taxonomists from Reed in London, the Netherlands, Boston and Los Angeles to track progress and solve operational issues as they arose. During deployment PeopleForce wrote grammatical rules for hundreds of taxonomy nodes, developed custom techniques for sampling articles and measuring quality precision, and developed a scalable workflow for managing collaboration.

PeopleForce used its patented WorkCenter™ technology to develop and execute project plans. The platform utilizes customized Microsoft Project templates to break complex tasks into small, standard modules that can be distributed to a large number of participants simultaneously and in a parallel, non-dependent order. The templates are loaded into workflow applications which can be retrieved securely as batches of work by independent workers at any time. Qualified workers are then recruited, trained, and instructed to complete the work tasks using a combination of proprietary tools, such as Teragram’s applications, or standard browsers and return the completed batches for evaluation. Once a particular step in a process has been completed the work flows to the next step - again handled simultaneously and in parallel to other steps. WorkCenter™ incorporates continuous performance measurement and control. If additional work is required to ensure quality or precision, the PeopleForce technology supports the reassignment of work and the development of additional article samples. The parallel work process enables us to provide leverage and flexibility whilst maintaining quality and affordability.

Careful project controls are maintained throughout the process. The ability to track work at each step lets PeopleForce measure value according to a technique known as Earned Value Management. At any given point in the project, workers could gauge their progress and project managers were able to accommodate new feature introductions and changes in specifications. Reed was able to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the project at any stage.

Throughout the project, the teams from Reed and PeopleForce utilized collaboration tools in order to capture knowledge and share it between team members. WorkCenter™ keeps running web logs that enable team members to document tips, enhancements and critical problems when they arise. The teams also utilize instant messengers, voice-over-internet phone services, chat services, knowledge bases, trouble tickets and bulletin boards to facilitate collaborative communications where appropriate. The resulting information helped to improve the speed and reduce the costs of subsequent projects.

PeopleForce Solution

PeopleForce applied a three-element solution to manage the development of Reed’s global taxonomy.

  1. Agile and transparent workflow. Projects are managed using Internet based tools, and information assets are distributed using databases and XML based services. Events were defined and interconnected according to information loops designed jointly by PeopleForce and Reed. Because each information loop is designed with transparency in mind, it’s easy to pick out bottlenecks and other constraints. The result was a project that demonstrated performance improvement of more than 60%. Turn around time frames and cost per unit of work improved by more than 60% during the deployment.
  2. Advanced know-how and tools for organizing, managing, and communicating effectively. PeopleForce incorporated Teragram command-line programs into WorkCenter™ to speed the testing of the taxonomy rules for accuracy. In addition, whenever possible, we developed automated services for moving information throughout the system and scoring the results of particular steps. We developed custom algorithms to filter and score articles, for example, which helped to focus on relevant issues and to identify content-related problems. The result was predictably high quality. Total precision was consistently measured at 95%.
  3. Talent on tap. PeopleForce recruited, trained, tested and managed people for this project. Our community was able to work around the clock in order to produce results in mere days for each market sector that we worked on. In addition to staffing the process, we continually met and worked with Taxonomists from Reed to ensure that the result was up to expectation. The result was that Reed maintained complete control throughout the process, yet was able to bring a larger number of people to work on this project than would otherwise have been possible in this timeframe. The approach of using outsourced, distributed workers to accomplish this project also kept the cost per unit of work well below the internal cost of similar services. Finally, no Reed taxonomists were harmed in the making of this project.


The Zibb Search service was launched and provides access to hundreds of millions of web pages, millions of Reed articles, including its archive, millions of competitor articles, company profiles, and blogs. The single search box for all B2B content is being deployed across 900 Reed web sites and has provided the means to interlink its publishers without impacting their independence. The publishers are sharing web traffic and are building new advertising revenue.

© 2007 Knowledge Management Ventures, Inc.

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