People Behind the Product: Data as a Service
November 24, 2021 by Mark Dunn
“A client’s data and integration needs are always evolving,” says Viji Alagarsamy. And as the director of product management for DaaS at LexisNexis, she should know. In her role, she routinely collaborates with clients who aren’t looking for products; they’re looking for answers to problems created by increased business demands and the need to develop efficiencies.
In some ways, this makes Viji’s official title a bit of a misnomer. A better way to describe her might be “DaaS problem solver.” Fortunately, Viji loves solving problems—and she’s always up for a challenge.
Viji recently joined us for a sit-down interview. We discussed all things DaaS and the company’s differentiators that she believes makes LexisNexis a standout in the data services industry.
Q: How would you describe the value LexisNexis delivers to DaaS clients?
A: First and foremost, we take a very collaborative and consultative approach. We don’t just throw APIs at clients and say, “go fish,” because that would make us no different than a lot of the other DaaS providers out there.
After a client initiates contact with us, there’s an entire discovery phase during which we take the time to understand what business need they’re trying to solve for and what it is they’re trying to accomplish. What kinds of data do they need? What form does that data need to take for the client to get the most use out of it? And once we know what immediate problem the client is trying to figure out, we deliver a solution. But even then, we’re not pushing the API as a purchasable “product.” The API is really the mechanism that delivers the value we ultimately provide, which is our wealth of content and the proprietary enrichment process that we apply to it.
Q: Once you know the datasets the client needs and how they need to retrieve that content, what happens next?
A: The API we deliver is made available on a trial basis, so we can make sure that the API is meeting the client’s needs. During the trial period, most clients not only see immediate value from the API we provide them, they also realize that they can benefit from our other data services as well. So, while we start out helping a client integrate a data API, we usually end up working with them on data enrichments, search and retrieval functionality, and all the other things that LexisNexis does to make the data we provide as clean and as immediately useful as possible.
Q: Can you give us an example of a DaaS client looking beyond data APIs?
A: So, I can’t name names, but my team is currently working with a government entity that wants to become completely digitized. It will be the first government to do so, so it’s really trying to accomplish something unprecedented. We’re looking at ways to provide them a continuous data feed that supplies them with our own enriched data.
But going beyond that, we’re looking at what it will take to enable them to enrich their data and third-party data leveraging our fabrication process and applying our enrichments as well. They also want us to be the platform that hosts and maintains all this functionality and provide a single sign-on experience. It’s quite the undertaking, but definitely one I’m excited to take on.
Q: Can you discuss any challenges you’ve encountered with this project along the way?
A: Well, I think something that’s true with all the clients we work with is that there’s this double-edged sword of what I’d call endless possibility. In the example I just outlined, and in general with all of our DaaS clients, there is often so much we can do to help them not just get valuable data through an API or bulk delivery or even through a third party, but to also help them innovate certain processes or improve how data is managed or develop a new feature entirely.
This means we have to put guardrails in place whenever we take on a client project. We want to make sure we’re addressing the client’s most immediate and pressing need – while leaving room for other possibilities down the road.
Q: So how do you keep a project from going off the rails?
We collaborate with the DaaS client every step along the way, along with our own internal stakeholders. We work as one cohesive team to create a roadmap, so everyone knows what needs to be accomplished now and what goal or milestone comes next.
Also, iteration is critically important. We have to be willing to fail fast because that’s how you learn what’s working and what isn’t. I think, in fact, our ability to help the client achieve so much but to also have the discipline to prioritize what objectives to hit first and to co-develop alongside them every step of the way is what really sets us apart from other DaaS providers.
Q: What are some of the other differentiators of Lexis DaaS in your opinion?
Our core bread and butter is our ability to power a client’s solutions through our superior data and enrichments. Data is a commodity, and we want to enable analytics and informed decision making for our clients. So we work to stay ahead of evolving data and delivery needs by enhancing and, when required, developing new API and data analytic offerings and solutions. And, you might call me biased, but I believe that’s something we do better than anyone else.
Q: What DaaS innovation, feature, or benefit makes you proudest?
That would be Nexis Data Lab hands down! I’d even say it was a key innovation solution for the DaaS portfolio we released earlier this year. We built it in response to some big data research needs we identified in the academic field.
It’s an end-to-end text and data mining solution that really speeds up the user’s discovery and analysis process. So, imagine a data scientist being able to quickly curate a dataset and then just jump straight in and start manipulating the data in a notebook environment using Python. They can do in minutes what would otherwise take weeks or even months. There’s no more API to integrate with and normalize, no more worrying about the cost of storage or fretting over legal concerns. That’s all gone! Plus, the user gets access to a lot more datasets than they would through an API.
Q: What new DaaS innovations are you working on now?
Right now, we’re working on this enhanced developer portal that’ll result in faster integration of our APIs within a client’s workflow. Think about the possibilities of having a single portal that encompasses our entire API ecosystem, delivered as a self-service model. Talk about endless possibilities! It’s a project with so, much potential, in fact, that it’s really expanded in scope over the last several months. It started out as a minor project to try and improve the existing dev portal. Well, more opportunities kept presenting themselves and more stakeholders jumped into the fold, and now we have quite the undertaking. That being said, I’m predicting a huge return on the time and effort we’re putting into it.