In-house software developers save UBM time and money

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Publishers have long been dependent on cookie-cutter, off-the-shelf software programs that can be customized but rarely meet their needs exactly. In early 2009, UBM Electronics began creating a team of software developers to build in-house software programs to address any need that arose. Its first hire came in March of that year, and the San Francisco-based team currently consists of seven developers.

Including the developers, anywhere from 12 to 20 people are directly involved in the software-development process at UBM Electronics, according to Brent Pearson, the unit's CIO. The development team has created such in-house software applications as a content management system, an analytics and reporting application, a survey tool and reader forms, among others.

“The overall goal is to create a single platform that integrates all of the assorted pieces of the business, which include content creation, conferences/events and data analysis,” Pearson said.

Establishing a common framework, rather than trying to integrate numerous different solutions, has helped UBM save time and money. “The ROI analysis on the core CMS was the initial driver to build in-house vs. buy,” Pearson said, noting that any effort to take a CMS on the market and reconfigure it to fit the company's complex business work flow would have required too much employee time. “Once the investment in the initial CMS was taken, the decision to build versus buy is skewed toward building because of the infrastructure that has been developed.”

Pearson said, that each new product and tool, however, is subject to its own ROI analysis. Developing in-house tends to be less expensive, he added.

Pearson said that anybody choosing to develop programs in-house versus buying something off the shelf or acquiring an outsourced solution must be committed to software engineering as a whole. “Software development is not the same as building a website or making a Web page,” he said. “It requires engineers, architects, program management, project management and business involvement to be successful. Investing in trained, skilled professionals is the only way to deliver high quality, successful software projects.”

UBM Electronics is not alone in creating an in-house software development team. Michael Esposito, VP-operations and digital systems for Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., has a group that has created a number of software applications in the last several years.

“In my opinion, media companies can attain the best-case scenario by assigning a team consisting of consultants working alongside an in-house team who will eventually ‘own' the system,” Esposito said. “This option will ensure that external knowledge is made available to the internal teams, and it also keeps the internal teams close to the development, which can be useful during future maintenance phases.”

He advised publishers to consider carefully what their core competencies are, then decide how to best utilize resources to exploit competitive advantages. Esposito also said that no matter if software development is done in-house or externally, it needs an in-house champion to manage the details.

“The champion must understand the technical issues and also be experienced enough to step back from the day-to-day details to evaluate issues, resolve conflicts and set priorities,” he said. “This will help ensure that the project remains on schedule and within the agreed-upon budgetary parameters.”

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