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Advantage Ahead of the Trend

Dan HeffernanLast year, my family and I made our seventh move for Advantage Computing Systems. This was a move from beautiful, warm Alabama to beautiful, cold Michigan. Since Cecilia, my wife, was born and raised in a tropical country, you can imagine that this last move was met with something that could best be described as, well, "less-than-enthusiastic." Let's just leave it there.

After a 16-year absence from my home state, I'd forgotten how quickly winter becomes summer. Just two weeks ago as I write this it was snowing. Now, there are leaves on many of the trees and it's been in the 70s for several days. Of course, it will probably snow again tonight.

But this quick transition is good because summer is our family's favorite season for the aforementioned reason, and the sooner it's hot out the better.

This time of year usually forces some planning, as weekends begin to get filled up with graduations, weddings, visits for Mother's Day and Father's Day (you're welcome for the reminder) and family reunions, and we start to see that the summer is short and we'd better plan on a vacation or it simply won't happen.

At ACS, we force people to plan early so that we can stagger vacations to provide the appropriate amount of support to you, our clients. (Sometimes I think it would just be easier if we did what they do in many countries: all take the month of August off and head for the beach.)

This forward-looking exercise is something we're constantly doing for our product as well. We are finding that in order to be agile enough to keep up with the barrage of new ideas that come our way from you, our innovative clients, we need to consistently take a step back and make sure we're not only seeing the forest for the trees, but that we're in the right forest!

Let me provide an example. There have been clients who have accused us of being focused on print publishing, rather than digital. Our print-based functionality in our product has been cited as proof of this focus. Please indulge me in addressing this allegation.

Advantage has, for many years, provided solutions for publishers of digital content. When it became clear that the move toward digital publishing was not just a fad, we set about designing areas of functionality that would address the software requirements of publishers who wanted to sell digital content. (Digital, electronic, online?call it what you will, we're talking about the same thing here ? it's not on paper.) We met our clients' needs in this area by expanding on functionality already found in our software to cater to the unique requirements of digital publishing. But it wasn't long before we decided to create some new functionality specifically designed for digital content sales - Access Management & Billing, affectionately known as the AMB module.

In the last year or so, this area of our software is receiving major attention from many of you. As a result, it is going through further development and refinement and is turning into the hottest thing on our plate. We can hardly keep up with the demand for demonstrations!

But this all took the foresight of seeing the need and developing the specific functionality BEFORE any of you required it. Let's use the analogy of a house: we had to build the model so you could see the potential. Then once we had the spec house in place, you were able to choose the carpeting, paint, tiles and cabinets to prepare it for occupancy.

We have made digital publishing a focus of much of our efforts over the last several years. We have not removed print functionality (such as direct mail costs and providing customer service letters on the printed page), because most of our clients still need it. But in the digital world, as you know, the reader wants to subscribe for periods of time which are much more variable, such as 24 hours, or 3 weeks or 4 months, when they know they'll be done with a course they're taking, for example. Digital publishing does not nail the reader or publisher down to issues of a journal or magazine. Digital content is more fluid and can change constantly. It can be purchased under many models: straight time-based subscriptions, number of downloads, phonecard models, etc. More models are being thought up all the time. And the content itself can be made up of pieces of journals or magazines, chapters of books, charts, pictures and tables of contents that the reader might want to package all together and access at a nice package discount.

It takes the print publishing business model and turns it on its head.
Here's a quote (reprinted with permission) from industry guru Bob Sacks of Media Ideas, which focuses on magazine publishers, but underscores why we are doing what we're doing with Advantage:

"Magazines are not changing, how you read their content is. What is a magazine? We at Media-Ideas believe that for a magazine to be a magazine, it must be metered, edited and have designed content, as well as be delivered periodically to the reader in a format that is date-stamped and permanent. We accept that a digital magazine with those six attributes is a magazine. We further believe that over the next 15 years, digital magazines will grow to become 30 percent of the magazine market. Within 25 years, they will represent more than 75 percent of the market for periodicals?Publishers must create a specific road map today toward multiplatform magazine publishing and content distribution."

So as you are in the process of transforming your business away from paper, communicate with us and with our clients. There are probably Advantage users who have been through what you are facing and have used Advantage as the tool to drive that transformation.

For our part, we are looking at a number of areas where we'd like to expand functionality. Some of it we'll develop and for some of it we'll likely partner with other software developers. Please just be assured that I am pestering our engineers with ideas and impossible deadlines to make sure Advantage, both the product and the company, are ready to meet the latest requirements for your business.

Enjoy the Spring, and please pick up the phone and call whenever you want to talk about anything regarding Advantage ? new ideas or questions about what we can already do. I'd love to hear from you.

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