HarperCollins SVP Offers Advice on Transitioning from Legacy to Digital Workflow
“This is the book cover of today,” said Michael McGinnis, senior vice president of publishing services at HarperCollins, as he held aloft an ereader at the 2014 RSuite User Conference. “More importantly,” he added, “This is the storefront of today.”
McGinnis perfectly encapsulated, in front of an audience of publishers and RSuite CMS users, the challenge the book industry faces today. In a world of digital content—invisible to all but the reader of that content—how are books found? And what do publishers need to do to ensure that discovery?
McGinnis, who presented a CMS case study at the RSuite Conference, explained that HarperCollins wanted a content development solution that would allow not only for simultaneous EPUB and print production but would drive better merchandising and marketing collateral. The goal was to incorporate a solution essentially company-wide with both HarperCollins general books and HarperCollins Christian Publishing adopting the new RSuite CMS.
Although McGinnis mentioned some attractive features like multichannel delivery, tagged content that can help create marketing material, and easier interaction among different workforces, the focus of his talk was on transition—a seemingly perpetual state for publishers. How should publishers move from ingrained, legacy tools to a more efficient end-to-end solution? For McGinnis and HarperCollins the answer lay in an agile approach that allowed for quick development and thoughtful collaboration.
McGinnis provided these pieces of advice:
- Form a strong team. McGinnis was very deliberate in assembling the team responsible for developing and deploying the new CMS. He said it took months of preparation, making sure that members understood their roles -- be they the project owner or part of an advisory team -- deliverables and timetables.
- Allow for debate. Although the HarperCollins CMS team adopted an agile approach—an approach that implements rapid, iterative and incremental development—the process did allow for rigorous debate on the best way forward. McGinnis called this “pseudo-agile.” He argued that it was crucial for team members to have confidence in the CMS, which only came about in debating differences. “You shouldn’t try to redo the old system,” said McGinnis, “But if there is something valuable in the old system, don’t dismiss that argument. The team needs to come to an agreement on what is important.”
- But make firm, final decisions. Ultimately the “storming” phase as McGinnis described it—the phase in which the boundaries of a given project are tested and questioned—needs to come to an end. “We made the product owner stop the debates and focus on a solution. Everyone has been heard and now we have to decide, and not everyone is going to get their way.”
- Get the simple products right first. Finally McGinnis encouraged his team to tackle simple books first. The more complex products, like a digital Bible, were attempted after low to mid-difficulty projects were perfected. In an agile approach, said McGinnis, this was a more effective and efficient use of the team’s time.
For more information on HarperCollins latest CMS transition or more about RSuite solutions, be sure to attend Book Business’ upcoming webinar “The Reality of Digital Publishing Transformation Projects.” In this webinar Michael McGinnis will discuss the pros and cons of transformation projects, lessons learned from executing cross-organization and cross-functional projects, and best practices for meeting aggressive timelines. Click here to learn more.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.