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My Inside Story: Head of Publishing Solutions

Peter didn’t expect to find a successful career in IT when he worked as a bookseller at Waterstones. It just goes to show that you often end up where you least expect and highlights the importance of making the most of the opportunities that come your way and knowing your strengths.

A career in IT was not something I had considered when I started out in the book trade. I’ve always had a love of books, but I wouldn’t describe myself as being particularly technically minded.

After completing an English degree, I became a bookseller at Waterstone’s in Bath and then an assistant manager at Ottakar’s in Darlington. I loved recommending books and found searching for books that customers would ask for to be particularly satisfying.

After three years working in bookshops, I transferred to the Ottakar’s head office in Salisbury. I initially analysed sales for the group and then managed the new intranet buying system that was introduced to improve the group’s new title purchasing from publishers. This involved developing processes, implementing and then overseeing the use of the system at the same time as rating new titles to support the individual branch buying decisions. The role involved considerable communication with publishers as I liaised with sales teams to review new publications and technical staff to manage the feeds of title data.

Waterstone’s purchased the Ottakar’s chain in 2009, at a point when I was looking to develop my career in the book industry. I decided to leave bookselling after ten years and was fortunate to have an opportunity to move into publishing with Hodder & Stoughton. My role as Commercial Operations Director encompassed a great deal of variety, including responsibility for the stock control team, managing promotional spend and improving profit margin. It also involved acting as the business liaison with the Bookpoint distribution centre and the group’s IT team to help manage any system support or changes. Communication was at the centre of the role, as I needed to explain various operational subjects in a way that my more creative colleagues in publishing could understand.

In 2009, I led an initiative to implement a new system to manage stock deliveries direct from the printer to customers. This was in addition to my day job at Hodder and it gave me experience of a working on a group-wide project, rolling out a common process to the publishing divisions. The system delivered cost and time savings and won the ‘Innovation in the Publishing Supply Chain’ award at the British Book Industry Awards in 2010.

This experience led me to take on a group-wide role in late 2010 when Hachette decided to replace the disparate publishing systems within each of the divisions and replace them with a single system. We chose Biblio3, a system widely used in the industry that covered processes for setting up and distributing title data, maintaining contract agreements, costing and specifying production details for printers and managing the sales of rights.

At the time, the Biblio3 implementation was the largest IT project that the group had taken on and the roll-out took place over a three-year period. My role involved leading a number of workstreams on the project; business process, business change management, training and communications. The project was fast-paced, intense and ultimately very rewarding as we transitioned each division from their old ways of working to new processes that were shared across the group. A number of staff on the project similarly came from a publishing background. Our knowledge of the industry and the ability to communicate effectively with publishers were a key ingredient to delivering change in business practices on this large scale.

Once the UK-based divisions of the group had moved on to Biblio3, I took on the project management of the final roll-out to the Hachette offices in Australia and New Zealand which completed in early 2014. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet staff overseas and review their business practices, also helping to strengthen the link between the UK and ANZ IT teams.

Following the roll-out, I took on responsibility for our Digital Asset Management system (ADAM) as well as ongoing ownership of improvements to Biblio3. I worked with representatives from the business and process experts in the IT team to take stock of the recently introduced publishing processes and assess where improvements could be made. This was a satisfying exercise as it allowed us to make the most of the systems we had invested in and deliver changes that were well-received by the business.

My current role as Head of Publishing Solutions positions me as the key liaison point with the publishing divisions for their use Biblio3 and ADAM. I run a range of user-groups that allow us to continually assess and improve our practices. While the Hachette divisions have a different identity in the market place under our federal structure, our common systems enable us to discuss and share operational best-practice across the group.

I have huge variety in my role and now also work part-time as Communications Lead on Project Eden, a project to build a new group distribution centre and implement new distribution systems. This initiative dwarfs the scale of all previous group projects and my brief includes overseeing the project’s communications plan and writing a monthly newsletter update for all staff in the group.

Within Hachette’s group functions, there are many fascinating and fulfilling roles that do not require a technical background but where good analytical or communication skills are an advantage. There are, of course, numerous roles that would also satisfy the more technically minded, including systems architects, infrastructure analysts and developers. The IT team has proved to be an exciting place to work as we interact with staff across the group and are at the forefront of changes to the business.