On Sept. 30, 2013, Manuel (Manny) Guzman became the new president of the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) division, which provides scientists and information professionals access to the world’s largest collection of molecular substances, reactions, and related content. Guzman sat down with C&EN Editor-in-Chief Bibiana Campos Seijo to discuss the profound transformation the division is undergoing.
C&EN: You’ve now been president of CAS for more than 18 months. How has CAS changed in that time?
CAS launches three solutions in Q1 2015
While the CAS innovation pipeline is filling up, CAS has already introduced three new solutions this year.
Chemicals are increasingly disclosed for the first time in the patent literature rather than in journal publications. CAS’s PatentPak, available in SciFinder, provides scientists with the ability to access the chemistry in the full text of patents unearthed in their SciFinder searches. But patent documents can be thousands of pages long. PatentPak directs users to the points in the patent document where the chemistry is indexed so they can find relevant mention of specific chemicals easily and quickly. Researchers say the product will save about half the time they currently spend evaluating literature.
NCI Global is a Web product designed for regulatory professionals. It is aimed at people who are involved in either manufacturing, shipping, or packaging materials and who need to refer to and comply with national or regional regulations that affect the commercial movement of these substances.
Chemcats is a catalog database containing information about commercially available chemicals and their worldwide suppliers. This service informs purchasing decisions of the hundreds of thousands of scientists using SciFinder around the world. These scientists can directly access supplier sites or send preferences to purchasing groups to purchase chemicals to be used in the lab.
Guzman: CAS is transforming. Traditionally, CAS has been an aggregator and a publisher of chemistry-related information. The first 80 years or so that information was in print. The past 20 years it has been mainly in digital format. But CAS can’t remain solely a publisher. It has to gravitate more toward being an information solutions provider. The fundamental reason is that the value of a lot of the information we publish today, although it will continue to be in high demand, will diminish over time because of competitive forces, whether those are open source or for-profit businesses that are aggregating similar information.
So if we want to continue to serve researchers around the globe as effectively as possible while providing the society with steady growth in financial contribution, we have to be able to provide other value-added services to expedite scientific discoveries. The transformation moves CAS away from a pure publisher, whether in print or digital format, to become a full-service information solutions provider, which includes content as well as workflow solutions or tools that managers can use to make informed decisions.
C&EN: So what are the main areas for growth?
Guzman: We are targeting a few areas. One is to see if we can enhance our value to our existing customer base. We’ll do this by expanding our databases and related products, but at the same time, we’ll add services such as consultancy services or analytical support services.
We are also going to expand the domains we cover. We are incredibly strong, proficient, and comprehensive in chemistry. But we are going to broaden our perspective of science a bit, and we are beginning to aggregate information in other disciplines.
Added to that, we are also going to grow our customer base by doing a better job of penetrating international markets. Traditionally, we have been successful in North America, Japan, and parts of Europe, and we’d like to get an appropriate level of market penetration in other areas where historically we haven’t promoted our services as aggressively. Specifically, that would include China and Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America.
C&EN: Is this international expansion being supported by an increase in the CAS workforce?
Guzman: We have doubled the size of our business development staff in the past 12 months or so. Our performance internationally has been somewhat limited by the level of investment in staff, so we are resolving that issue by scaling up the international resources dedicated to selling CAS products and services.
C&EN: What are the main hurdles or challenges that CAS faces to achieve your growth objectives?
Guzman: The only inhibitor is our own ability to execute. We are challenging the organization to think differently, more strategically, about how to build, deliver, and sell solutions. We are challenging folks to think outside the box in terms of product models and the types of resources, investment, and talent that it takes to achieve those product visions. And this is part of the transformation as well.
From a market perspective, we are fortunate that many of the areas where we see opportunities are highly fragmented in terms of the competition. So there are not necessarily dominant players today, and we are able to leverage the strong reputation of CAS and our brands in the chemical information space to venture into these other markets.
C&EN: You’ve mentioned competitive forces. Who are they?
Guzman: In recent years, technologies have evolved, accelerating the ability for folks to interact with content in new and different ways. And in some cases, our technology platforms haven’t kept up to date with some of the innovation around “ease of use.” We are reconciling this as we begin to release and launch new technology platforms for our primary products. In addition, the availability of information in the open-source community has created a scenario where “free” information is now a starting point for many.
But having been in the information business since 1907, CAS is well positioned to adapt to address these competitive forces. The CAS Registry, a database that contains nearly 100 million unique organic and inorganic chemical substances, is the gold standard for chemical information. That positions us really well to be able to build on our existing collections. We’ve had competitive pressures from both commercial and free services, and we continue to be in a sustainable position because of the quality and amount of content that we have. That’s the foundation for everything that we are doing. And that also challenges us to really do more, to continue to add value and develop new solutions so people think, “I need that for my research!”
C&EN: So what is your vision for the next few years?
Guzman: It’s pretty straightforward: evolving from pure publisher to information solutions provider. We are on the path now of launching a series of solutions, and our plan is to launch two to three per year. Our aim is to begin to diversify our portfolio and introduce some customers to CAS while at the same time continuing to evolve our primary products—research discovery applications SciFinder and STN—by adding more content and revitalized functionality.
C&EN: How do you drive innovation at CAS?
Guzman: This is part of the evolution of the past 18 months. Within the existing structure, we have added resources such as project management, and we are in the process of adding infrastructure to support innovation. We are finding individuals and applying resources and funding committed to long-range planning and innovative technology.
C&EN: How does CAS fit in with ACS?
Guzman: We aggressively look for ways to extend the benefits that the CAS division can provide to the society.
We participate in ACS on Campus—an initiative dedicated to helping students, postdocs, and faculty members advance in their careers—and have a shared presence at events around the globe like ACS national meetings. The CAS management team and everybody in and around our headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, understand that our primary charter is to create opportunities for the society to achieve its mission. The more successful we are, the more value we can bring to our customers and ACS membership, the greater the opportunity for us to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.