We gathered last night, together with a large contingent of Oxford publishers, at the House Bar in central Oxford to network over a few drinks and to hear from Tim Oliver, Head of Macmillan Education’s Digital Publishing Unit.
Tim spoke enthusiastically about his interest in technology and his career in digital publishing over the last decade, and provided some interesting insights into changes in structuring digital departments during his time in the industry.
Tim runs a specialist digital publishing unit within Macmillan’s ELT business, which was set up to maximise efficiencies and cost saving with regard to producing digital products. The team started out with a similar structure to a print department, but has since evolved to focus heavily on project management, and the unit has developed set procedures which inform their everyday working practise. This is constantly updated as technology changes, and to accommodate new product formats, new workflows etc.
As with many other publishing companies, he has seen ‘digital’ initially separated from the rest of the company’s print publishing operation, but it is now clear that all departments must embrace the changes sweeping the industry. In effect, all departments must become digital departments. In the past, many skills were outsourced to specialist suppliers, but Tim highlighted a more recent trend towards ‘backsourcing’ – bringing certain job functions and skills back in-house – e.g. software development and website production.
Bringing skills in house may then lead on to additional training needs and anyone managing a digital department will need to bear these in mind. Fortunately there are many training opportunities online now, and staff can develop skills without time out of the office. Mentoring also plays a key role, especially in developing strong project management and Agile methodology understanding in digital teams.
One thing is clear – running a digital department is a challenging, busy and creative role. Tim described a typical day which could include anything from signing off new digital platform development, interviewing staff, discussing new product developments with senior management, reviewing project management procedure with the team, catching up with developers, problem solving technical glitches, etc!
Tim concluded with a reminder that we need to balance ‘evolution with revolution’. We need to be exploring new channels and business models, but need to balance this with revenue generation. While technological advancement offers huge potential for product development, most profit is still generated from print products.