FT turns to cloud to manage advertising bookings

Cloud Computing

FT turns to cloud to manage advertising bookings

Bill Goodwin

The Financial Times (FT) has rolled out cloud-based software that will allow its sales reps to book advertising campaigns when they are on the road.

The business newspaper has replaced its 20-year-old print booking system with software from CloudSense, making it easier for sales staff to share information on clients and advertising campaigns.

cloud-files-580w.jpg

The software will allow sales staff to perform administrative tasks without having to call in IT specialists, said Sean Caesar, director of advertising and customer relationship management (CRM) at the FT. This includes changing the position of advertisements.

"Now, if you want to change position details, it's simple. One of our administrators can do it in seconds," he said, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

Migrating from legacy software

The FT, published by Pearson, began looking for alternatives to its ageing order-management system, Atex, in 2011. The company had experienced difficulties finding IT specialists with the skills to maintain and upgrade its legacy software, said Caesar.

"The system was not really supported. If you needed anything changing, it could take six months, because the coding was not flexible," he said.

The company chose software from CloudSense because it could integrate with the paper's sales-management platform, Salesforce, a tool used by sales teams across the FT group.

"The CloudSense demo looked good and there was a good pricing model," he said. "At the time, there was nothing else like that available."

The FT's sales staff could only use the Atex system when they were in the office, but the new software allows sales teams to share information and make bookings from any location, said Caesar.

"We wanted a system where the reps could book ads any time, anywhere – something that was mighty flexible‚" he said.

CloudSense, which is now used by more than 200 FT staff, can be updated by any developer with knowledge of Salesforce software.

The FT has integrated CloudSense, with its Oracle-based finance system, allowing the paper to create in-depth financial and management reports.

Managers can analyse sales, for example, to determine how much revenue comes from a particular region, which clients are spending the most, or which sales reps are making the most sales.

Challenges of moving to the cloud

Moving data from the Atex system to CloudSense was one of the most challenging aspects of the project, Caesar explained.

The FT transferred more than two-and-a-half years worth of data – equivalent to 70,000 records – to CloudSense. This, is turn, generated 1.7 million data items in Salesforce.

Estimating the likely timeframe of transferring to CloudSense also proved difficult, as this was one of the first projects of its type.

"We heard of other publishers doing similar projects, but it was unknown how long it would take," said Caesar.

There were a limited number of developers on the project and the difficulty of finding developers with expertise in Atex made it difficult to complete the project quickly.

The IT team were ready to go live at the end of 2012, but delayed the project until early 2013, while the FT changed its financial system to Oracle.

Software used by the FT's ad-sales operation

Salesforce

Used by the FT's sales teams for applications, including licence management, contract renewal, conference attendees, support cases and reader management.

CloudSense

Print-order management system.

Google DSM

Used for managing online sales on the FT's digital publications.

Google DFP

The FT's ad-serving platform for digital devices.

The FT plans to build on the work by updating its digital-advertising booking systems, used by sales staff for placing advertisements on the FT's digital platforms. These include Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android and web.

Although no decisions have been made, there is a strong possibility that the FT may also move these systems over to CloudSense, said Ceasar.

Cloud means big change

Caesar, who describes himself as an evangelist for Salesforce, warned that moving from on-premise IT systems to the cloud can be a big jump.

"If you are moving from a legacy system to Salesforce, you need to be aware it operates differently on a cloud-based, multi-tenanted environment, than on your servers," he said. "But it provides a whole lot more benefits."

Caesar led a project in 2009 to roll out Salesforce across the FT group, replacing a range of incompatible sales-management systems, used by different sales teams, with a standard system.

The FT is migrating 250 databases to the Force.com platform, which belongs to Salesforce. This includes databases of print sizes, paper use, plate changes, special reports, room bookings and human resources (HR) applications.


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