The operative paradigm in almost all forms of publishing is to centralize information. At one end of the spectrum are companies like Factiva that aggregate thousands of data sources for their customers to access for all kinds of uses. At the other end of the spectrum are media such as newspapers that scan a specified body of information, then curate it, bringing to their readers only the information they feel is most important and relevant. Data publishers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, both aggregating and curating, with the added step of normalization.

What’s implicit in this centralization, however, is that the customer comes to the content in some central location. There are obvious advantages to this approach, the biggest of which is that all the content can be accessed via a single, consistent search interface.

But centralizing data isn’t always easy. This is particularly true with some types of product data. In some industries, manufacturers, for reasons good and bad, want broad distribution of their product data to qualified prospects but nobody else. Sometimes this is driven by regulation; sometimes it is driven by competitive fears. So how do you centralize data when the market doesn’t want it centralized?

One early innovator we liked was a company called Innovodex (now owned by Underwriters’ Laboratory). It worked with companies in the materials industries who wanted only qualified engineers and designers to have access to their new product data. Innovadex took on the job of screening and vetting new users, granting access to those meeting certain criteria. It was  effectively a giant extranet of product data from participating manufacturers.

Recently, we’ve seen another spin on this model. A new initiative in the pharmaceutical industry called Align Biopharma (sponsored by the always innovative Veeva Systems) wants to centralize login credentials for physicians. Much like LinkedIn and Facebook offer single-credential logins to third-party sites, Align Bipharma wants doctors and other healthcare professionals to be able to access any pharmaceutical company product information site with a single login.

Align Biopharma has other interesting data standards initiatives, but what jumped out to me was that in a fiercely competitive industry where manufacturers all want to do things their own way, it may make more sense to centralize the logins than to centralize the content.  And of course, the data gleaned from sitting in the middle is a worthy prize in itself.

Centralized users and distributed content. Sometimes great new ideas come not from thinking outside the box, but inverting the box.