Description

The Journal of Neurosurgery is the pre-eminent journal in its class, continuously published since 1944. SciMed Solutions provided the Journal with a new subscription management system that streamlined their established work flows while greatly improving reliability, flexibility, and reporting.

Challenges

In 2008, the Journal's leadership determined that they needed a new subscription management system. Over the course of many years, their subscription management software had unintentionally evolved into a cobbled-together system that could be described as idiosyncratic, at best. It was no longer acceptable to deal with problems like these:

  • Routine monthly functions were both difficult and time-consuming, often requiring manual, piecemeal efforts that gave inconsistent results.
  • Structural instabilities meant that modifying any single part of the software invariably led to problems in other parts of the software.
  • The software lacked custom reporting functionality to generate many necessary reports; what reporting capabilities existed were unreliable and generated untrustworthy results.

The Solution

SciMed Solutions created a subscription management system to precisely meet the Journal's needs. Today:

  • The Journal requires much less time to manage each month's routine subscription processes. In addition, the system generates many fewer errors, and each error is easier to fix.
  • Journal staff can update pricing and subscriber data much more quickly.
  • The system generates reports of subscribers, mailings, account histories, and many other areas of interest. These reports are used internally and automatically submitted to fulfillment and website access partners.
  • Veteran staff have seamlessly adopted the new software, and new staff learn the system quickly.

Project Details

In 2008, new management at the Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group saw the clear need to replace its old subscription management system. SciMed Solutions took on the task and created a new system that not only repaired old problems but also created new capabilities. Patrick Keady, Director of Information Systems, sums up the project from need to solution:

Our mission-critical task is to make sure our subscribers get their journal every month. Without that, we're not running a business. But with numerous classes of subscribers, each with its own level of access and each with its own billing structure, it was very hard to keep our ~9,000 subscriptions in order without error. Processing each month's subscriptions was extremely time-consuming, and managing complaints was a huge pain. Our new software from SciMed has streamlined that process beyond measure.

For example, under the old system, I needed to do a weekly manual upload of subscription data to our online fulfillment provider. Now we create that report automatically, within the system. The system has relieved a great deal of pressure from our normal business operations, and I spend a lot less time worrying about this system than I used to.

The steps to create a new system included several business and technical challenges. First among them, SciMed needed to understand the Journal's existing data workflows—to identify which processes were essential, which processes were non-essential but preferable, and which processes were ready to modify or even eliminate. Keady continues:

When SciMed signed on with us, they did not set out to just create a more stable version of our existing application. Instead, they created something new that had enough familiar landmarks for us to make it comfortable, lessening potentially expensive learning curves. Their approach gave us a very low cost of adoption.

Another complex challenge was that the system needed to integrate with data from external organizations, including the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (the Journal's parent society, representing more than half of the subscriber base) and other sales agents, each with its own system. In addition, the system needed to integrate with the Journal's printing and mailing house and its online-only subscription and payment processor. Through a careful process of client interviews, analysis, and design, SciMed was able to meet the Journal's needs with a powerful, cost-effective solution that has much more functionality than the old software. As Keady describes it:

Beyond the streamlining, the most important thing we have now is a robust and accurate reporting system. Before, we had no real way of creating any user-modifiable report. Now we can access all the data. If we want to track subscriptions by geographical region, or date ranges, or a single subscription's history, we can mine our data any number of different ways.

Furthermore, our staff can now dig into the system and modify things that, before, only the software developer could touch. For example-our subscription rates change every year, and we used to have to contact the developer to update the system. Now we can change rates on our own, and we can even create new subscription classes or rate structures-all within the functionality of our new system. Our old system couldn't do that. No off-the-shelf system could have done that for us, either.

In one last example: a very important tool for proper subscription revenue accounting is the deferred revenue report. Under the old system, the report was a source of considerable consternation and frustration during our annual audit. Our director of finance explained to SciMed what was needed and how we expected it to work. We now have a deferred revenue report that can be trusted. In our most recent audit there was no complaint or uncertainty about the reported figures for the first time in many years. That was a significant improvement.

By almost every measure of subscription management, the Journal is winning: reliability, client service, complaint reduction, data security, and ease of use, etc. Says Keady: "All have shown a marked increase. Our confidence in the system and the data itself is now much higher."

Testimonial

I'm not a software developer but I know the difference between good professionals and bad ones. From the very first meetings with SciMed it was quite clear that we were working with an organization that really knew what they were doing and was going to do their utmost to make our system as robust as it needed to be.

They are very good at asking questions, but are also adept listeners. We were able to answer their questions in ways that helped them give us what we needed. Also, they have been remarkably flexible and willing to accommodate feature requests that we discovered late in the game but really wanted, even after the "feature-request" phase of the project had technically closed. This speaks to their attitude about customer service, which has been superlative both during and after development.

How does SciMed compare to other developers? There's an old expression - if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b.s. I've seen other developers try that before, many times. But I've never seen it with SciMed.

Patrick Keady, Director of Information Systems, Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group