Practicing What They Preach
It also addresses common concerns with custom developed software, such as support, compatibility, and extensibility. By driving the application's workflow through data tables that can be managed and updated by the publisher, publishers avoid ongoing custom programming at high hourly rates.
"When people hear 'custom', they think work in existing systems will have to be scrapped," says Howard Stevens, Pragmatix's VP of software development.
"The core of [our] application remains relatively the same. It's customized using a data-driven approach. It's not the [program] code that is being customized, but the underlying data. That means that the customer can easily customize and modify it at will."
This is in stark contrast with pre-fab approaches, and yet another reason BusinessWeek opted out of a canned product strategy. "With an off-the-shelf product, there is typically significant time shoe-horning it into existing systems," Stevens says. "With this custom [Pragmatix] system, those compromises are unnecessary."
Indeed, it was this blend of ready-made yet fully customizable software that sold BW's Masterson on Pragmatix's approach. "My general theory is that I would rather not be in the custom software business, but Pragmatix proved themselves to be the exception," Masterson says.
The Pragmatix consulting team spent about six weeks at BusinessWeek's New York headquarters to study the workflow. They watched orders come in and get processed. They met with multiple production managers. They examined the guts of interrelated systems. All the while, they were developing a model for the new approach.
Once they defined the workflow requirements and prepared implementation recommendations, the Pragmatix team had to sell their proposed approach to virtually all interested constituencies in the far-flung BusinessWeek universe.
This includes their six magazine printers and two fulfillment houses, along with editors, advertising, manufacturing, distribution, and other departments. It wasn't an easy sale.
"The hardest part was getting the users to agree to the specs," Masterson says. "Each of the four major departments has its own needs. Everyone complained about the manual system, but nobody wanted to change."