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Guinness World Records goes digital

Guinness World Records has been around since 1955. Over the past 20 years, it has transformed from book publishing to consultancy and digital content creation, most recently marshalling NetSuite

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Digital dedication – the transformation of Guinness World Records

Record Breakers was a staple of British children’s television in the 1970s, with Roy Castle presenting alongside the twin McWhirter brothers, Norris and Ross. Altogether the show ran for almost three decades, only being cancelled in 2001. The brothers cofounded the Guinness Book of Records in 1955, known as Guinness World Records (GWR) since 2000.

Italian television now plays host to Lo Show dei Record, in collaboration with Guinness World Records, on Canale 5.

In between, the publishing company behind the reference book, which is still a top Christmas present in the UK, has undergone a business transformation. It has gone from publishing one book every year to having consultancy and digital content businesses.

Andy Wood, finance director at Guinness World Records, spoke to Computer Weekly recently at Oracle NetSuite’s SuiteConnect event about how the company has changed its business using, in part, software-as-a-service (SaaS) enterprise resource planning (ERP), in its finance function.

Wood joined the company in 2014, from Sainsbury’s, where he was a financial analyst. He recalls getting his first edition of the Guinness Book of Records in 1995, remembering it as featuring the Welsh and Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs.

What does it mean for the famous reference book to be a consultancy and a digital content creator? For one thing, it means more offices. Not just London and New York, but Beijing, Tokyo and Dubai. It is a small company, employing around 190 people worldwide.

Wood says the fundamental change made by the business was not so much about survival as expansion: “The publishing industry was going through tough times [around 2000]. We don’t sell as much as we used to with the book, but it has always held up quite well. So, it wasn’t a case of changing to survive, but the business would have shrunk if we hadn’t diversified.”

The company offers consultancy to brands that are trying to market themselves using a record. GWR will help them to understand if what they think is a record is a record – if not, potential clients will have to go elsewhere; if yes, then their in-house creative agency will work with the clients.

One example Wood gives is a MasterCard campaign for the 2022 World Cup, where Portuguese former footballer Luis Figo participated in a zero-gravity game of football on an aeroplane – the highest game of football ever played at an altitude of 20,230 ft. Another deal was with Jaguar, which did the biggest loop the loop ever done by a commercial vehicle, in 2015.

More recently, a Portuguese dog called Bobi was hailed as not just the oldest living dog, but as the oldest dog ever. It is not clear if that record has involved a commercial deal, but it did get a lot of media pick up, which shows the potential of the GWR brand.

The digital content side of the business is more recent than the consultancy, and there are novel developments there, says Wood: “There is the digital content based on the [Italian] TV show, but we also have very big social media followings. So, we’re constantly ramping up the amount of content that we create to service those audiences. And then the next step in this journey is having just launched our own production house called GWR Studios. We know how to make great content around records that grabs people’s attention.”

The move into consultancy emerged in large part to the organisation’s traditional adjudication process. The company employs adjudicators who will travel to a record attempt to verify it. They wear special adjudicator suits and great care is taken to ensure their identities remain occluded while travelling.

Where does NetSuite’s software fit in to this record breaking? Wood says: “NetSuite fits in because we needed that significant system change. The system we were on before was built for when we were a publishing company. All of a sudden, we’d gone from selling a couple of products a year to the same retailers every year in the same kind of locations to a complex organisation with new teams, new organisational structures, closing hundreds of deals a year with hundreds of different customers.

“We needed a system was flexible. We were finding that as we were learning about this new part of our business, we needed to look at it in different ways. And we didn’t have the flexibility to be able to do that every time. Our leadership team would want the P&L [profit and loss] to be structured slightly differently. Whenever they came to us asking for that, it was a massive undertaking. It takes a month to change 100 spreadsheets.

“Now NetSuite lets us do that much more easily. It’s much more flexible, making changes to our account structure or business unit hierarchy. If there’s a new area of the business, introducing a new revenue stream, we can do that.”

Woods recalls that they had also looked at SageIntacct and Financial Force, with the latter seeming particularly apt because they are already a Salesforce customer, and FinancialForce is built on Salesforce’s software architecture.

“Financial Force was an interesting one because we were already on Salesforce. And so those two systems were close. But NetSuite was more specialised in the finance arena for our requirements,” says Wood.

Celigo was the cloud integration platform-as-a-service NetSuite partner that GWR worked with on the project, joining NetSuite to Salesforce in 2020. GWR is still a Salesforce customer for customer resource management (CRM) and salesforce automation.

The next stage on the company’s roadmap is to do more analytics on its data, but it is early days for that, says Wood.

“We use the information from Salesforce for NetSuite, but much of our analysis and many of our insights are built in Excel. It’s becoming more challenging, because we want to understand more about our business, and as the volume of data increases from all our different data sources, it becomes more challenging to be able to create what you need with Excel and to service your stakeholders with the analysis and insights that they need.”

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