“Differentiation is the key to grow in this competitive market”
Says Sriram Subramanya, managing director & CEO, Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd, Pondicherry, in conversation with All About Book Publishing.
Integra Software Services Pvt Ltd is one of the leading digital content services company providing content enrichment and transformation services to publishers. Founded 23 years ago, Integra is truly an end-to-end publishing services provider offering the whole gamut of services from development editing to digital products for global publishers. Here, Sriram Subramanya, managing director & CEO, Integra Software Services Pvt Ltd, talks on the role of digital in publishing sector and how it is transforming the way people read.
ABP: Do you think India is riding high on digital revolution?
Sriram: Though India has made significant progress in digital, it has a long way to go. The slow pace of improvements across basic infrastructure and penetration of quality internet access has hampered our growth. Making the internet accessible, open and safe for all is an urgent priority. Internet usage and online transactions are still at infancy. It requires basic education and informing the users of its benefit. The Government has come up with its vision of Digital India. This is a good initiative to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. There is the need to accelerate these initiatives further to realize the benefits earlier.
ABP: With digital gradually making inroads in publishing sector, what have been the pros and cons for the industry as such?
Sriram: The publishing industry is no longer sticking to print. Digital is playing a key role in the transformation that is affecting this industry. Digital gadgets such as eReaders, Smartphones, Tablets, etc. have had a great impact on people, leading to rapid adoption of these devices and hence the digital transformation in the industry.
The benefits of digital are immense, which include:
- Helps reach readers all over the world simultaneously.
- Offers multiple revenue streams for publishers and makes it easier to reach lot more customers than before.
- Able to repurpose old content of rare and antique value and take it to customers while preservation of such materials is also possible.
- Content gets chunked to granular level. Hence content can be monetized even at chapter level.
- Understand the preferences of readers.
- Lower cost due to a shorter and simpler supply chain and the elimination of printing costs.
- New marketing and distribution opportunities.
- The environmental benefits – less of printing (can save trees!) and transport (can save fuel!).
- Speed of publication in reaching the readers.
While, the disadvantages include:
- Publishers have found that making their online presence felt and attracting customers directly can be difficult.
- Digital marketing is also changing the way publishers will reach their target audience.
- Self-publishing is a serious threat.
- The plethora of different e-book formats and reading devices creates about which one to choose.
- Lack of standards in pricing.
- The revenue from digital products is still way below what print products have delivered.
- Digital rights management and IP issues is a challenge.
ABP: How have publishers taken up the digital change?
Sriram: Large international publishers have needed to adapt quickly, while smaller publishers have grasped the opportunity to make inroads to a competitive market. Publishers are re-inventing their business as well as their production workflow models to accommodate the change to digital. They are experimenting with new products, marketing methods and exploring new geographies for newer revenue opportunities. The emergence of new reading devices is altering the way content is consumed. Technology is being leveraged by publishers to make reading/learning interactive and immersive. This is the only way publishers will create long-term value with end consumers.
This is because reading habit is shrinking. Publishers have to provide interactive and immersive content to get back the interest. The new age content consumers are digital natives. Hence offering content in digital formats compatible with the current gadgets and devices becomes a necessity.
Higher education publishers are facing huge revenue loss due to two reasons: piracy in print and renting and re-use of books.
ABP: How can publishers ensure that their books are discovered in the online environment where shelf space is infinite and titles huge?
Sriram: Publishers are leveraging the power of online portals and distribution companies like Amazon, Google, Apple for showcasing their books. But discoverability of these books is not easy. Publishers and authors need to understand how search works in these environments. Their own web presence needs to be optimized for easy search and discoverability. Book metadata optimization is the key. Metadata needs to be as accurate and complete as possible. This is a powerful discoverability tool. Taxonomy is becoming useful for educational and trade publishers for their distribution and discovery. Journal publishers are assigning a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) to every journal as a unique identifier that provides a permanent link to any research making it easily findable and citable.
ABP: What solutions is Integra offering to its customers?
Sriram: For over two decades, Integra has been offering a full range of high-end content services for various publishers and corporate entities around the world. Our unique and customized workflow provides comprehensive content solutions to our customers. Integra proposes to meet challenges our customers face by providing specific or complete range of print and digital eLearning services meeting every requirement.
Focus on digital: Integra has built the capability to handle all aspects of digital publishing, including project planning and management in customer’s time zone, software development and hosting, content conversion or writing from scratch, the creation of illustrations and rich media assets (including animations, audio and video) and rights clearance. These principles and practices underlie Integra’s work to make what we do as cost-effective as possible:
- Instructional designers ensure the user experience of all of our products is well researched, intuitive and feels ‘right.’
- Wherever appropriate, we use ‘agnostic’ formats (like HTML5 and SCORM) so there is no need to reinvent the wheel for each unique device or platform.
- We plan maintenance into all of our products, making sure that they stay fully compatible throughout their life cycle.
- Classic designs make content look great on every size of screen and don’t go out of date.
Focus on products: Integra over the years has begun transforming the organizational knowledge into products and solutions (IPs – Intellectual Property). It is only natural to grow up in the value chain as the industry transforms to digital products.
Integra intends to focus on two specific areas of product development. One is on the B2B area focusing on solutions for our Publishing customers (IPs built over two decades) and the other is on the B2C area focusing on educational learning products for schools.
B2B – products for offering world-class solutions to our publishing customers include:
- iPubSuite– It is a comprehensive suite for content publishing right from authoring till distribution. It has multiple components seamlessly integrated such as authoring, smart editing, author proofing, auto-pagination and distribution. Simultaneously it can also deliver digital formats like EPUB, Mobi or publisher specific XML outputs. The whole process is tightly controlled by a workflow management system. This suite can be customized for specific customer requirements as it is highly configurable for both Journals and Books.
- iPMS– This is a web-based project management tool that helps in planning and scheduling with effective communication for timely execution. This tool helps overcome constraints and view detailed reports on progress with cloud capabilities for sharing and collaboration.
- iCorrectProof– This is a cloud-based online proofing solution for publishers and authors. This forms a part of iPubSuite which can take XML from a standard DTD or custom DTD and render as HTML5 for author or publisher to review. Revised proofs can be reviewed on the fly.
- iAM– Integra’s web-based image review and permissions management system for effective review and selection of images. This user-friendly platform helps seamless image review, approval and reporting.
- iRights– Integra’s permission management system facilitates hassle-free permission tracking and management, which helps licensing within budgets and tight deadlines.
- iLMS– This is a cloud-based learning management system to enhance online learning experience of users in an educational environment. This system allows institutions to create and deliver their content to students while simultaneously monitoring participation and assessing performance.
- iLancer– Customised to help publishers manage freelancers across many services including Translation, Localization, Design and Illustration, Project Management, Copy Editing and many more.
While, B2C – Educational learning products for PreK-12 includes:
Integra offers interactive content solutions for PreK-12 markets in India in line with their syllabus requirements (CBSE). Each course is designed and developed keeping the learner in mind and delivered using superior instructional design strategy, making a significant impact on the learning outcome.
Besides, to make human anatomy learning more interactive and engaging, Integra has designed the Human Anatomy Explorer app for classes 7 to 12. This is a quick reference app that contains information about the eleven different biological systems present in the human body. With the help of visuals, it explains the structure and functions of the Respiratory system, Circulatory system, Digestive system, Nervous system, Skeletal system, Muscular system, Urinary system, Reproductive system, Integumentary system, Endocrine system and Lymphatic system.
ABP: How do you ensure quality of your products/services?
Sriram: Integra’s approach to quality is proactive and rigorous. As part of enforcing proactive quality, Integra has a robust Quality Management System wherein all processes and relevant work instructions are defined and controlled. The quality team focuses on implementing initiatives like first time right for reducing cost due to poor quality; Quality circle initiatives for employees to identify and sort issues proactively; and FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis), Six Sigma and DMAIC approach for continual improvement.
ABP: How does Integra keeps itself abreast with technology enhancements?
Sriram: Integra earmarks approximately 4% of annual revenues to develop technology expertise and to acquire new technologies. The team comprises 120+ highly skilled technical professionals and researchers with a proven track record of delivering innovative solutions. Their focus includes constantly evaluating emerging technologies; process improvement and automation; and developing breakthrough products/solutions through innovation.
Integra’s Content Innovation Lab (ICIL) is a new initiative being built with a strong focus on research, design and innovation in the content creation, delivery and analytics space. This involves leveraging contemporary thinking in the education and publishing space to address publisher’s challenges for content delivery and ease of access by consumers.
ABP: How do you empower your employees?
Sriram: We focus on diversity. It is not about hiring employees of various ethnic backgrounds but empowering minorities as well. We have a task force of women employees named ‘Sakthi Oli’ to equip, encourage and empower women employees to grow up in their career and meet business challenges. Moreover, 50% of the employees in Integra are women. We have performance-driven culture across the organization with quarterly reviews, instant feedback and yearly appraisals. Our employee engagement programme includes rewards and recognition programs; open door policy where every quarter CEO meets employees directly; and focusing on internal talent development.
ABP: What about community focus?
Sriram: The founders of Integra Software Services established Sriram Charitable Trust (a non-profit organization) with a strong personal urge for upliftment and contribution to the welfare of the society. The focus of the trust is on the following areas: Healthcare; Education; Social rehabilitation and rural upliftment; Women empowerment; Environment; and Supporting government to improve governance.
ABP: Any specific reason for your office in Pondicherry and Chennai and not north India?
Sriram: Chennai and Pondicherry have served as the publishing services hub of the world. This industry has grown significantly in this region with few major players and many unrecognized players. This region has emerged as a viable business destination, providing value for investment with a strong talent base, a well-developed infrastructure, a large and qualified talent pool, etc. This region is also considered as an educational hub with plenty of arts and science colleges. These colleges provide the resources required for this industry. This region also provides best work culture and quality of work life. Pondicherry in particular has captive population that speaks many European languages due to its French colonial roots. Besides these, the founders being from this region were passionate about providing employment in the region. Recently Integra has established its Centre of Excellence (CoE) for digital services delivery out of Chennai. Integra is open to expanding in the north and already plans are underway.
ABP: What are the challenges in this segment and how are you coping with them?
Sriram: As much as the print to digital transition is impacting publishers it is also impacting vendors who have to be in sync with the needs of the publishers. Traditional print-centric vendors will have to create competencies around the digital requirements and will need to relook at their business model.
The challenges are many. Competition from Asian countries like Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam etc. is on the rise. Many publishing services are highly commoditised resulting in cost wars between vendors. Consumers rapidly embrace new technologies, which mean content to be distributed across varied devices, platforms and formats. Constant innovation leads to disruptions in the industry. The low barriers to entry for offshore service providers in Asia have caused a huge increase in the number of providers.
Today’s publisher expects the vendor to provide end-to-end services at one roof; to act as solution providers rather than service providers; to come up with ideas and suggestions to improve their business; to be aware about changes happening in the marketplace; and customers are looking much beyond quality and service.
Differentiation is the key to grow in this competitive market. We differentiate ourselves by investing around $2 million in various products and platforms in the last 2 years for innovative solutions and leveraging product solutions for quality, scalability and on-time delivery. We are also investing in technology for process automation for efficiencies. Integra’s Content Innovation Lab (ICIL) is proactively addressing customer pain points and we are constantly investing on partnerships for providing futuristic services
ABP: What is your annual turnover and growth in this segment?
Sriram: Integra is targeting $20 million in 2016–17. This would mean a growth rate of not less than 30% compared to the previous year.
ABP: Who are your major clients and in which countries?
Sriram: Many of the top 20 global publishers are our customers. We are also focusing on the corporate sector with a large learning services need. Our customers are spread across the USA, Europe, India and Asia. Some of our key customers include Bloomsbury, Pearson Education, Taylor and Francis, Cengage Learning, Macmillan Education, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Springer and many more.
ABP: Any future plans you would like to share…
Sriram: We are looking at focusing on new publishing services such as Accessibility, Alt-Text and Assessments and aim to provide a whole range of digital services across digital content authoring and platforms. We are also looking at growing existing key services such as Rights and Permissions, Editorial content development across educational segments.
Focus on segments such as ELT, STM publishing to drive the next round of growth is also on the cards. We are also focusing on digital services for publishers, for which New Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Digital Solutions Delivery is setup in Chennai. We are also focusing on products across B2B (for publishing solutions) and B2C (for Education focused initially for schools). We have already chartered out Vision 2020 – a blueprint of the road to growth.