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Does a Modern Publishing Business Really Need ERP or SAP? An Answer from High-Tech Publisher O’Reilly & Associates

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Editor’s Note: In an effort to discuss various software programs in use by publisher members, PMA is beginning a series of articles from publisher members on systems currently in use by them. If you would like to submit an article for this series, send it to pmaonline@aol.com with the subject line: PUBLISHER SYSTEMS.

Like every business, publishers must respond to a complex market, or perish. Creative approaches have been necessary over the last decade to survive and compete in a rapidly changing industry steeped in centuries of conservative tradition. As a result, publishers have diversified beyond books and other traditional print media into software, multimedia, and Web- and Net-based resources. Publishing isn’t just about books anymore.While this changing course has helped publishers expand old markets and open new ones, it’s also created a barrage of new products and services that don’t fit the old business model. Since a publishing business is no longer focused solely on books and pages, managing it has become a complicated and difficult juggling act.When you consider all of the business operations endemic to profitability in publishing¥from industry-specific tasks like royalty accounting to common necessities like inventory control, general ledger, order fulfillment, EDI, and customer service¥the need for integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions (mentioned in such places as Publishers Weekly) becomes quite clear.Often faced with the headache and expejôlóof operating multiple computing systems to handle different areas of the same business, publishers are increasingly looking to large ERP systems like those offered by SAP, rather than trying to build their own integrated enterprise information system from the ground up.
The problem is that business software systems from industry giants like SAP are decidedly general-purpose and by nature somewhat inflexible (not to mention expensive) and require businesses to adjust their methods for the system, rather than being tailored specifically for their individual needs. The key, it would seem, would be to find a publishing-specific package that offers the enterprise power and integration of a product like SAP’s without the compromises or the hefty price tag.Exemplifying the forward-thinking modern publisher, O’Reilly and Associates, a respected provider of computer technology and programming reference material, has ambitiously diversified over the last several years, adding software, CD-ROM multimedia, source code, seminars, and conferences to its well-established product line. As O’Reilly expanded into new markets, the task of tracking orders, inventory, author royalties, and other essential data grew in scope and complexity.”We were using publishing-specific software that we’d had in place since 1989,” explained Cathy Brennan, Director of Operations at O’Reilly, “but we had simply outgrown it. As we added formats and services, we found it more and more difficult to track our business, and subsequently harder to meet customer requirements. So we started looking for a more robust system, that would be flexible enough to fit into our existing operation and expand with it into the future.”In 1997, we began moving to a new information system package,” Brennan remarked, “but we ended up scrapping the process. As careful as we were about the initial decision, it was hard to gauge exactly what implementation would be like. We found getting that system up and running was like building a skyscraper, rather than just moving into one.”After examining available publishing and nonpublishing management systems a second time, O’Reilly decided on the CIS.PUB Open Publishing ERP system from Computing Information Services (CIS). CIS, a veteran solutions developer for the publishing industry, has provided its modular CIS.PUB Open system for publishers since Oryx Press installed the first version in 1977.”As a computer reference publisher, we’re in an interesting position,” Brennan pointed out. “Our customers see us as technically savvy. We need to be able to provide the kind of advanced service that they look for, whether it’s real-time Web sales and order updates, instant knowledge base access, or well-informed customer service information. The CIS software is going to support exactly that.”With a design based on open industry standards for programming and operation, the CIS.PUB Open ERP system is available on a variety of platforms, including Windows NT and a variety of Unix flavors. O’Reilly chose to implement its system on a Sun Solaris Unix system.”The package includes customizations that CIS would make to the base package to fit our individual system,” Brennan commented, “and that feature was particularly important, because no two environments are identical, even if you’re using software specifically designed for publishers.”We’re migrating a significant number of our information services to CIS.PUB,” Brennan continued. By the time the entire system is in place and online, O’Reilly will use it to handle accounting/financial, royalties, order fulfillment, customer service, distribution, and online sales all with a single integrated system spanning several physical sites, as well as multiple databases.”We want a single order entry in the system to be traceable through delivery, and any subsequent service. Faster access to information, especially when it’s integrated, ensures against errors and ultimately equals better customer service,” she said.O’Reilly plans to automate its order fulfillment operations with the CIS.PUB Open system. Since CIS.PUB can easily be integrated with the systems used by O’Reilly’s third-party distribution company, according to Brennan, “The data from the ordering system will be available to management and operations reporting, and will update the sales data to reflect delivery.”We’re also very interested in consolidating our information support services,” Brennan added. “Having a single system should mean less administrative overhead, less data entry and reentry, and a greater number of accurate reports for operations and management. We’ll be able to see more information about each activity, and further adjust efficiency from there.”Beyond the initial applications, O’Reilly intends to exploit the modular structure of CIS.PUB Open to make further customizations and add functionality as required. “One of the things we’re most excited about is CIS’s willingness to continually work with us to enhance the system and optimize it for each situation. As areas in our information handling process need occasional improvement, we know we can work with them to modify the components of the system.”The CIS.PUB publishing ERP system also supports real-time eCommerce functionality, enabling publishers to further streamline order processing via the Web, but Brennan focused on another feature when asked about customer service: the importance of integrated EDI functionality. “One of the major things publishers face today is the ability to meet EDI requirements from the chains and bookstores,” she emphasized.”We’ll be able to provide even faster, more accurate access to all forms of customer service¥things like a database for software support, order tracking, and order placement will be exposed to customers, or to our staff as they answer customers’ questions. That efficiency will mark every area of our business, since all the information will be in a single logical location, even between the different physical sites. We can save the time and money of building disparate infrastructures at each site,” she continued.”There are no one-stop solutions for everyone and every problem, but we look at CIS.PUB as a very important addition to our operations, a piece that fits well with the rest of our business and provides a genuinely integrated management solution.””We’re excited about getting the system in place. Any migration of this size takes time and a lot of preparation, but well-designed systems can ease the process a lot, especially when CIS is so cooperative, customizing the software to fit our needs,” concluded Brennan.For information about the CIS.PUB Open ERP system for publishers, write to Computing Information Services at 10000 North 31st Avenue, Suite D-201, Phoenix, AZ 85051; call 800/824-7782; fax 602/906-3510; e-mail sales@cisopen.com; or visit them on the World Wide Web at http://www.cisopen.com. Learn more about O’Reilly on the Web at http://www.oreilly.com.
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This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor December, 1998, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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