Case study: Development of new content creation, storage and enrichment capabilities at CABI


CABI is an inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to improve people's lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. It is a major publisher of scientific information including the CAB Thesaurus.

Business challenge:

CABI publishes a rich variety of content including books, compendia, abstracts databases and reports, each of which has its own editorial production system. The systems each worked well individually, but they had been created at different times using different technologies. Books were produced using an ‘XML last’ process. Index terms were captured manually. Over time, similar processes undertaken within different systems had resulted in duplication of editorial effort and other inefficiencies like manually transferring reference citations from one location to another. Crucially, this also meant it was difficult and slow for editors to develop and produce new publications and products by repurposing CABI content.

Whilst the publications were available online and linked at a fairly high level, CABI wanted to provide a more sophisticated level of coordination and integration between the publications to serve their customers better. This would release the wealth of knowledge within each publication, which was being underutilised.

CABI asked 67 Bricks to show what enhanced publications could offer readers by improving links to related CABI content and how new tools could be built to enable editorial production staff to produce them. More specifically, 67 Bricks were asked to demonstrate:

  • Online editing of content

  • How a Linked Data store could increase the reuse of content

  • How CABI’s content production and storage capabilities could be improved by taking advantage of XML and Linked Data technologies, automated tagging and enrichment

  • How the existing CAB Thesaurus could be used to link CABI’s data better

This work would also inform the information architecture that was being created to underpin this vision.

67 Bricks solution:

Initially, 67 Bricks created a prototype that showed how book content could be created and stored, and how it could be integrated with other CABI content. This included an editing interface that allowed encyclopaedia-style granular content to be added and edited in XML format and showed how changes made to the edited content could cause the relationships to other CABI content (in this case the Plantwise Knowledge Bank) to be updated in real-time. It therefore showed that it would be possible for one publishing team to semantically enrich content and create links with content managed by other publishing teams.

The approach was well-received and a second prototype extended the scope to include a workflow and the development of processes and tools for managing the CAB Thesaurus via Linked Data (a triple store for CABI metadata) and to test the integration of automatic tagging with the CABI content and workflows.


Figure: simple interface showing the other CABI content associated with the same topic as a book chapter, using the CAB Thesaurus

In a follow-up assignment CABI asked 67 Bricks to validate the information architecture to support the new way of working and this confirmed the technical approach. CABI are now taking this work forward to incorporate each of the main production systems into the new architecture, on an incremental basis

Business value:

The prototypes provided a focus for lively and stimulating discussions within CABI and gave them the insights and common understanding they needed in order to confidently proceed with the wholesale reengineering of their publishing systems. In particular:

  • There would be major benefits for the editorial teams in adopting the new systems because they could make fast and accurate reuse and repurposing of content for preparing new products a reality

  • There was a strong indication of the potential benefits to customers of presenting CABI content using semantically enriched linking between topics, and different content components

  • The architecture for the selected new technologies would actually work

“We engaged 67 Bricks to build a prototype for an editing and content management system to support a major new product. We knew that we wanted to use modern, flexible technology, but we wanted to understand the “art of the possible” before committing to a large-scale development project. 67 Bricks understood our requirements, having many years of experience of working with similar publishers, and were able to demonstrate the feasibility of working with XML databases and dynamic editing tools. We enjoyed working with them and appreciated their open approach to transferring their knowledge to our in-house team. We achieved our project objectives and formed a good relationship with 67 Bricks; in fact we then brought them in again for a completely different project because we were confident they could deliver what we needed.”

Andrea Powell, Executive Director, Publishing, CABI.