Meeting the Needs and Expectations of Digital Native Researchers

Research Publishing
By: Jeff Stonefield, Wed Apr 3 2024
Jeff Stonefield

Author: Jeff Stonefield

VP Digital

The publishing sector, it is said, has been through a digital transformation. Whilst it is true that academic publishers were early adopters of digitisation and content is available online, many of the platforms and processes that underpin ‘publishing’ remain unchanged. For example, much of the collaboration and coordination between research communities worldwide is still anchored in analogue instead of truly digital ways. So can we really say that we have been through a digital transformation? And at that, are the systems we have in place really providing the experience our community expects and wants, let alone being set up to meet the expectations of the upcoming generation of Gen Z,  digital native researchers? 

Think about our daily lives. How often do we check a bill and its status on our banking apps, order food online or check the status of our travel journeys via apps on our phone? This experience is all about putting the user at the centre, being as transparent as possible, providing you with the key information you need and keeping the user in the driving seat of the whole exchange. When we see that today, 60% of researchers expect to have  that same  digital-first experience when it comes to publishing their research with us, we have a problem. As an industry we’re too often restrained by processes stuck in the past, more traditional and analogue publishing experiences. This is because the industry has rightly safeguarded quality and integrity, but in doing so there is little incentive around the researchers’ experience - until now. Expectations have changed, and if we are to continue to provide a valuable and trusted experience, researchers need to be firmly at the centre of product and system development.

Academic publishing relies on many people, be it authors, editors, or reviewers, from all over the world to come together and collaborate. Each of these people have their own goals, methods and challenges. Our challenge, as publishers that pride themselves on advancing trusted research and creating researcher-centric environments, is to meet researchers’ demands for more digital services and reducing any challenges they may face in producing research of the highest quality. 

Technology is playing a crucial role in helping us digitalise the collaboration experience for researchers, through forums, networks, early-sharing and cooperation on protocols, data and code. Through technology we’re able to personalise research experiences, for example by making content recommendations, helping researchers identify the most suitable peers to collaborate with and identifying the best journals to submit their research to. Arguably the more analogue systems of the past are no longer the most suitable. As a community we need systems that can scale up to changes in publishing models such as  open access  the speed and increase in content published, can make open research practices easier for authors, can be integrated with new technologies to make full use of their value for the community, systems that can provide a more  transparent research experiences for our research communities and systems that, with the influx of new technologies, are equipped to tackle the increasingly intelligent ways to produce fraudulent research and challenges integrity.

As publishers, I would argue we are in a unique position to be able to work collaboratively to build systems, workflows, and products that are able to respond to the future of publishing. We have been thinking about this a lot at Springer Nature and four years ago we set ourselves the challenge to reimagine some of our systems and see what we could come up with - enter Snapp - Springer Nature’s Article Processing Platform. Creating Snapp from scratch has meant that we have been free from building  onto restrictive systems but can instead embed new technologies and produce a truly digital author experience from the beginning. 

From our earliest conversations with authors, their number one priority was speeding up the publishing process,  whilst maintaining and ensuring the quality and integrity of research the community demands. So whilst a key focus on Snapp has been to look at the process and speed of publishing, reducing turnaround times, we have also focused on making our customer service ever better. To help authors find the best journal in our portfolio for their research, Snapp includes a one-click transfer function, saving time. By connecting to and incorporating many of our other tools and systems, authors can see if they’re eligible for open access funding or discounts, and easily make payment. Technology embedded in Snapp is helping our people uphold the trustworthiness and quality of our published research. Aided by AI and machine learning, we’re able to find the best peer reviewers and editors for a paper. The technology also powers faster and deeper checks on manuscripts for quality and integrity, detecting things such as conflicts of interest, plagiarism, language quality, image manipulation, reference detection and machine-generated content. 

As a result, researchers no longer have to focus on admin-heavy tasks and instead can focus their time where they want - on the research. Since its introduction in 2019, Snapp has supported over 5.6 million authors, 55,000 editors and over half a million reviewers. Authors and reviewers have been great fans of the platform, with satisfaction scores of +54 and +48 respectively * - scores that leading tech companies would be proud of. In December 2023 Snapp reached the milestone of 1 million submissions, 75% of which were open access. Over a third of Springer Nature journals and nearly half of our open access journals are now live on Snapp, with the rest of the portfolio set to join soon.

To revolutionise the entire publishing experience, we need to put editors, authors and reviewers firmly at the centre, to better understand the way they need systems to work and provide a more agile response suited to the future of publishing. The key is to provide the services that our research communities need in order to publish high-quality research quickly and to enhance the publishing experience as a whole and making it a simple and rewarding process that ensures that authors, editors and reviewers continue coming back time and time again. 

Moving forward, publishers still have a lot to learn from each other and improve in order to transform publishing into a digital-first experience. The key will be to continue investing in the technology needed to transform our systems, to unlock the potential of AI and automation to help scale-up these systems, and to apply user feedback throughout the process to meet the needs and expectations of today’s digital native researchers. 

A version of this article origianlly appeared on Research Information March 2024. Re-published here with permission. 

* Satisfaction scores are based on the net promoter score (NPS), which refers to the likelihood to recommend Snapp to others based on their experience.

Jeff Stonefield

Author: Jeff Stonefield

VP Digital

Jeff Stonefield is VP Digital at Springer Nature.