Boning up on tech transformation

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Richard Hollingsworth and Emma Vodden

Richard Hollingsworth and Emma Vodden explain how technology should be treated as a strategic asset in the world of academic publishing

Many companies treat technology choices as separate from their overall business strategy – upgrading or redeveloping specific aspects of their technology stack in standalone, siloed projects.

While this can make the process of developing technology feel more manageable, it can often make much more sense to treat technology as a strategic asset – something which needs to be continuously iterated to deliver a company’s longer-term goals, explain Richard Hollingsworth, Managing Director at The British Editorial Society of Bone & Joint Surgery, and Director of Publishing Emma Vodden.

Hollingsworth said: “The rapid change in scholarly publishing presents new opportunities to evolve the way we serve our community. Traditional publishing formats no longer satisfy the expectations of our users in how they consume and interact with our content. There are also pressures to develop long-term financially sustainable product offerings.

“Technology is a key component in delivering these strategies. It encompasses the workflow for journal and product development, the user experience for author, reviewer and reader, and the linking of internal systems to improve efficiency in how we engage with our users.”

Vodden added: “We recently built a new platform to host our journal content in order to join up our customer CRM with our website properly as well as improve our user experience. A digital platform should be a constant evolution and we felt that by partnering with 67 Bricks we could achieve that.

“From a business perspective, we now have more insight and control over our customer data and real-time updates which has made a huge difference to us operationally. Having a long-term technology partner puts us in a really strong position to develop at pace in an ever-changing publishing environment. We can continually develop and refine our offering as well as look at what strategic initiative we want to focus on next.”

"More of the same” not an option

It is important to work with a partner that understands the technology required as well as the long-term vision of the publisher, says Hollingsworth: “We recognise not all new initiatives will be successful, but it gives us the capacity to approach product development iteratively, and the ability to succeed or fail more quickly. We also benefit from specific expertise that would not be possible to recruit internally. A partnership of this nature enables the exchange of ideas and best practices, so we can work together on strategic challenges.”

“Close collaboration and communication with our trustees and editorial board has been essential. There is a strong understanding of the potential threats to established business models, the urgency for digital transformation, and the need to create new and compelling services. More of the same is not good enough if we are to remain relevant and prosper in the future.”

Continual development and greater control of content are key in this respect, said Vodden: “We are now able to make changes without going into a long development queue or more often having to shelve something due to significant one-off fees, and we are not tied to someone else’s roadmap or priorities.

“For us the bigger risk was doing nothing and ignoring the change that was needed. We are extremely lucky to have a very supportive and forward-looking board. They are able to see the vision we have for the Society and recognise the need to undergo significant digital transformation to better position us for the challenges ahead. One of the most successful strategies that we employed to ensure board buy-in was that we communicated as much as possible with full transparency, and have kept doing that all the way along. They have been fully present along every step of the journey.

A clear vision

Building consensus with all key stakeholders and mapping internal competencies using the technology partner’s expertise is crucial for other organisations planning a similar move, said Hollingsworth. He said: “Recognise the long-term nature of the relationship and budget accordingly – and keep an open mind and be positive. There will be successes, occasional setbacks, and new opportunities will constantly evolve.”

Vodden concluded: “Make sure you have a clear vision and know exactly why you are doing something. For us, we had disparate systems that did not properly integrate and a lot of what went on at the platform level was behind a curtain.

“We now know exactly how everything works, all our systems talk to each other and we are able to react to a changing environment. I think it all comes down to how you position yourself for the future and putting technology at the centre of that is crucial for long-term survival in my opinion.”

Richard Hollingsworth is Managing Director at Bone & Joint, Emma Vodden is Director of Publishing