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The Back-End of the Web

Web-based solutions help publishers manage all facets of their business.



By Jill Ambroz
07/01/2008

These days everyone is looking for back-end technology that handles all aspects of the business, from ad insertions to billing, with the look and feel of the most popular social media. If not a one-system-does-all solution, then something pretty close. Enterprise content management has grown to be a big business. In fact, it is now a $4 billion industry overall with more than 95 percent of all industries using some form of it, according to John Newton, chief technology officer for Alfresco Software, a leading open source alternative for enterprise content management, and founder of Documentum.

The industry at large is migrating toward Web-based platforms, either via open-source software or proprietary software that works through a Web browser. “Taking the Web and making it available for back-end functions was a big paradigm shift,” says Mark McCormick, president of The Magazine Manager, a browser-based CRM solution by Mirabel Technologies. “Most publishers had some kind of system, from a Rolodex or spreadsheet to more advanced desktop-based systems. Then it transitioned to Web-based. The benefits are becoming clear and all major software providers are heading to Web-based platforms.”

Publishers are looking for ways to consolidate and supercharge their databases, which can run from five databases up to 50 for a large publisher. The goal is to get everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively, with a relational database that integrates publishers’ entire workflows. Previous desktop systems didn’t allow for sharing and therefore were rife with redundancies of information. The classic example is a sales person interrupting the production staff to check on the status of an ad. But today’s systems work as a kind of broadband technology with applicability up and down the entire value chain of a company. In essence, these streamlined database systems work like a shared drive with more accessibility and much more functionality. The Magazine Manager estimates that it saves the typical client between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

Tiger Oak Publications, a Minneapolis-based publisher of 16 regional magazine titles and a sizable custom publishing outfit, uses The Magazine Manager from soup to nuts. “A number of our magazines are in remote locations and so it made a lot of sense to have a system that could be accessed over the Web, by sales people and editors,” says CFO Marcel Gyswyt. “We use [The Magazine Manager] to manage all of our ad sales, our prospecting, CRM, setting up our appointments and so forth. From an operational standpoint, we’ve kept the same number of people in accounting, accounts receivable, ad traffic, some production areas and it allows us to be very efficient that way.” He adds that the system also has reduced Tiger Oak’s training expenses. If a new sales person comes aboard, anyone in the organization could help them do an insertion order since everyone knows the system, he says. While Gyswyt couldn’t put an exact dollar on the overall savings derived from the system, he says it’s “significant.”

Dollars and Sense

The new Web-based solutions are a lot easier on publishers’ purses. A system that once cost between $50,000 and $100,000, now may run about $15,000 per year. Alfresco uses java-based open-source software, meaning it can be downloaded from the Web at a fraction of the cost of a proprietary solution. Alfresco charges its customers on a cost-per-unit basis. Newton says that cuts down on hidden costs. “The notion of charging per user means that you may not be able to anticipate the ultimate costs if you don’t know how many users are using the system,” he adds. Another area that can cause cost creep is operating systems. If a solution does not support a publisher’s operating systems and various types of models of developments, there can be a huge cost in compatible technology.

Another benefit of open-source solutions is the collaborative environment of the tech community. Users are constantly trouble-shooting and enhancing, and the results are shared with the community.

The Magazine Manager uses a different approach. The proprietary system is based on Microsoft SQL, one of the most common database programs around. The cost is based on the number of users, or number of seat licenses, and therefore is scalable to the size of the operation. The initial one-time start-up cost could run as low as $1,000. The software is in place so getting started simply requires migrating existing data and some Excel files into the system, McCormick says. There’s minimal initial training to get the client self-sufficient.

After start-up, The Magazine Manager could run as low as $144 per month per user in the system. With 10 users in the system, the cost would grow to about $500 a month and so forth. Systems like these also take away a piece of the IT department’s function, because it backs up data and cuts out some of the soft IT costs. “If every publishing company got a bill for every IT cost and soft cost it would be a huge bill, probably $40,000 to $50,000 for every million dollars of sales,” McCormick adds.

Beyond the Drive

Tiger Oak uses The Magazine Manager for all of its sales features, from setting up the prospects with advertisers down to generating the billings and managing the receivables and cash. When a salesperson puts in an insertion order or contract, it automatically generates a job jacket, which can be trafficked by the traffic person in production, Gyswyt says. Before, that was a separate process. “Even small things like the 90 seconds it takes to set up the job jacket or production folder are now captured electronically,” he adds. “That can save significant money.”

Alfresco works more like a shared drive. A user doesn’t need to load on any software, just put stuff into the s drive and it goes into a repository. But in the background, the Alfresco system is doing intelligent things like extracting information and sending messages that certain documents must be approved. Or it can put a contract in the contracts folder and someone can set up a rule that says all contracts in the folder need approval and a specified manager would receive an e-mail alerting them to their next step. For Web publishing, it converts text in the designated Web site folder into html after approval, so editors no longer have to worry about coding.

Taking a Page from Facebook

The next generation of these solutions will enhance usability with features like drag-and-drop capabilities. The providers are also looking to build their interfaces like iGoogle or Facebook so the Web-based views are relevant to the customers with some of those additional networking tools.

“There’s a perceived increase in efficiency based on how many times an individual has to touch the same document,” says Terry Barbounis, chief technology officer at Alfresco user The Christian Science Monitor. “You may have had the same piece of content go back to the same person multiple times before it went out the door. Now, you can have different editors and different content providers work on different parts in parallel and have it all come together without the content coming back around multiple times.

 

Systems At-A-Glance
Here’s a quick comparison of the specs and functionalities of two Web-based enterprise content management solutions: The Magazine Manager and Alfresco.


Product: Alfresco

Technology: java-based Open Source

Price*: Typical cost runs about $15,000 per year. Cost is based on CPU (cost per unit)

Functionality: Alfresco works like a shared drive that intelligently categorizes information and assigns tasks, such as sending a message to a manager when a contract needs to be approved. The enterprise-wide system can manage documents, records, Web pages, images and rich media.

Testimonial: “This solution has proven its value over and over again because of the combination of software and Alfresco’s willingness to look at what we’re doing. What’s huge for us is you can have different editors and different content providers work on different parts in parallel and have it all come together without the content coming back around multiple times.” – Terry Barbounis, chief technology officer, The Christian Science Monitor.


Product: The Magazine Manager

Technology: proprietary software based on Microsoft SQL

Price*: Based on cost per user and is a scalable solution. The typical price for one user starts at $144 per month and goes up from there as more users are added.

Functionality: The Web-based magazine management software integrates and streamlines contact management, ad/order entry, production management, and circulation management accessible from anywhere via the Internet. Reports are flexible and tailored to each client’s individual needs.

Testimonial: “It’s very significant and the savings have been significant. It’s allowed us to grow without having to add the overhead.” – Marcel Gyswyt, CFO, Tiger Oak Publications.

*Note: Set-up fees and training may vary.

By Jill Ambroz
07/01/2008







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