CUP deploys SAP IS-Media to underpin global reorganisation

Cambridge University Press is reorganising globally to support its digital strategy, using SAP IS-Media

Cambridge University Press, founded in 1584, is reorganising globally to support its digital strategy, using SAP IS-Media.

John Rimell, chief architect at Cambridge University Press (CUP), says the publisher’s deepening move into digital publishing is aligned with a global reorganisation. “We are moving to global organisational structures, with global heads of sales and marketing, global financial arrangements, and so on, rather than organising these things on a local, national basis,” he says. 

There is also a global shared service on the IT side, with the SAP tool enabling this at a practical level. Rimell presented on the change programme at the recent SAP UK and Ireland user group conference.

A major objective was to get a better understanding of product profitability, and to do that on a global basis. The press’s business, comprising academic books and journals, English language teaching, and education, “takes us to many far-flung corners of the world”, he says. “We had different finance systems in every country, from New York through Saudi Arabia to Sydney, with each territory running its own balance sheet.”

The imperative to get better at digital publishing, common across the media industry, adds another layer of complexity. 

“Selling our content in the digital world means a new range of sales models. As well as selling individual books, you have 12-month subscriptions to websites. You can buy a subscription to a series of content, or have a 24-hour rental of a piece of content," he says. "Our financial systems were based around selling a book or a journal as an individual piece of content. We needed a back-office solution that would open up a range of opportunities to the sales people.” 

CUP chose the IS-Media system from SAP, which was originally built for newspapers, but has been extended to support more general publishing content.

At the same time, says Rimell, Cambridge’s core focus is on quality. "All our books are still reviewed by the syndics of the university. It's a badge of honour to be a CUP author. Our mission is to be the publisher of the best quality books,” he says. 

Peer publisher Oxford University Press, which is two years younger, also uses SAP's IS-Media system, he says, “and we talk to OUP”.

Migrating to SAP IS-Media

CUP bought the SAP software in 2011, the project began towards the end of that year, and the entire system went live in January 2013. The press now has a data structure, within IS-Media, that “can attribute costs at different levels – pre-press costs, individual book costs with specific formats, including ebooks. That gives us a much better understanding of profitability”.

As chief architect, Rimell led the team that handled the interface between CUP’s legacy editorial systems and migrating the data to SAP. This was a master data sub-project vital to the overall project.

“On the interface side, we had a choice about how we embedded SAP into the existing infrastructure. Either do away with legacy editorial systems, moving everything to SAP; or keep the legacy systems but build data transformations at the middleware layer; or, finally, restructure the insides of our legacy systems so that they used the SAP data model, so that when it came to interfacing everything worked as a pass-through message, needing no transformation,” he says.

CUP went for the third option. “We wanted to preserve the industry knowledge in our customised legacy systems, and we wanted to disrupt users the least,” says Rimell. CUP has a good internal software development capability for this work, he says, with 100 or so developers in Manila, in the Philippines.

We wanted to preserve the industry knowledge in our customised legacy systems, and we wanted to disrupt users the least

John Rimell, Cambridge University Press

The sub-project went live two to three months before the entire SAP go-live. It involved migrating 48 data objects, with around 1,600 data quality checks, with most of that being done by people in the business – editorial staff, finance staff, production staff.

“It was a lot of work; and not just for the technical staff,” he says. Rimell recommends “project planning for duration not for work effort, since these [business people] are constrained resources”, meaning a 30-minute task has to be fitted into a day job.

And while the sub-project team started off keeping track of the data loading using Excel, they soon shifted to [Altassian’s] Jira to produce tickets per task within the workflow. The “dashboard worked really well for checking project progress”.

Rimell reports benefits “on the cost side” so far. Sales and distribution will be added next year. CUP now has a better idea of the “true profitability of products”, and can invest the surplus not due to the University of Cambridge into the publisher’s digital efforts.

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