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The Advantage Users Group meeting hit a couple of highs this year. Las Vegas reached a record high of 74 degrees in February and the networking between Advantage users set an all-time high as well.

Exciting Advantage Product News

The meeting began with Chief-of-all-things-marketing-and product-planning-related, (aka Dan Heffernan), summarizing the last 365 days of activity at AdvantageCS. Dan’s presentation covered product news, strategy initiatives and the future direction of Advantage. He had plenty to report, starting with the launch of Continuous Updates and Cider in 2015---two key initiatives offering significant efficiency and streamlining capabilities to clients on the 2015 base revision. Dan went on to talk about Contact Center, which also debuted this past year, plus Project Central (an end to batch posting as we know it) which is being tested at client sites. 

Last, but not least, is the complete rebuild of Membership, which is in development. It will have rich new functionality including web membership applications, directories, full member self-service, and integration with conference & events registration.  Membership will also include national and local organization structures, continuing education credit tracking, member services, and much, much more, offering publishing associations an all-in-one solution. Membership will get its official new name when it is rolled out later this year.

Dan also told attendees that they can expect to see more of the Business Development team working with them and their account manager.  “This is part of a new strategy to keep clients better informed of the new features,” explained Dan, “and to make more resources available to discuss projects and business strategy, or simply to bounce ideas around.” Time to call for a brainstorming meeting!

Client Profile: Keynote Speaker Alan Hess

The keynote speaker of the conference was Alan Hess of Wolters Kluwer Health (WKH). WKH is a 200-year-old, $1.1B company which became an Advantage client in 1989.  Since 2005, Alan has served as Vice President across three different areas at WKH, including Operations.  Alan walked us through the rich history of the company that started in 1792, including the evolution of JB Lippincott (fun fact: Lippincott published the first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960), partnering with Advantage in 1989 and the following 27 years of partnership as WKH has navigated through mergers, acquisitions, successes, and challenges.  Like most publishers today, Alan described challenges such as declining print sales, going digital and what it means to have giants like Amazon as your biggest customer.  WKH sees a not-so-dim future for print and Alan summed up the future of publishing in two great quotes: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future” (Yogi Berra) and “The best way to predict your future is to create it” (Peter F. Drucker).

Client Presentations Inform and Advise

Salesforce continues to be a prominent application for most of the attending clients, and defining how to approach the integration with Advantage is key.  Mark Fung-a-Fat from the Massachusetts Medical Society and Mike Gilbert from Crain Communications presented how each of their organizations is using, or planning to use, Salesforce as it interfaces with Advantage.  Some clients intend on using the Advantage Scribe Connector to have Advantage and Salesforce communicate in the cloud, while others have built their own interfaces using third-party vendors such as Alternetics.  This subject sparked an energetic discussion among clients, many huddling on the sides during breaks to share ideas.  Kip Smith, the CEO of Alternetics, gave the vendor presentation this year and discussed how they have assisted MMS in their Salesforce integration.

Time to Unwind

A beautiful evening on the Wedding Chapel terrace of the Tropicana Hotel was the scene for the meet and greet Wednesday night, hosted by Alternetics.  Evening activities were many and varied; classic rock lovers caught the show “Raiding the Rock Vault”, some chose to take in the lovely evening walking the Strip, and others sought an evening Ash Wednesday Mass.

Presenting: Advantage Contact Center

The next day saw discussion around the presentation of the new Contact Center, a project which provides a single view of all core customer activities for customer service at 2015.8. The panel discussions gave the audience a chance to learn more about continuous updates and how it has been working at client sites, and how uploads and prospects are handled across different publishers.  

Cider in Action

Tim Swietek and John Sheehy gave the final, and perhaps the most eagerly awaited, presentation of the day:  “Cider Live at Ogden, the Implementation and Result.”  Ogden was one of the early Cider adopters, and launched a multi-tenant/multi-server solution.  Ogden has eight separate brand sites sharing one Cider application running on four web servers using one SQL server.  Over a thousand of Ogden’s most popular products were part of the initial launch, and more are being added.  The five-month project integrated OPI’s Single Sign-On (SSO), a custom PayPal integration, and a few Cider modifications.  Key benefits: integration to Advantage, sale pricing, guest check-out, configurability, and marketing widget capability. Another major benefit mentioned is the availability of multiple landing-page templates. Different landing pages for subscribed vs non-subscribed products are next on the list at Ogden. 

Tim shared a before-and-after view of their site (see below or check out https://www.grit.com/store/ ).

Everyone was eager to hear from Tim Swietek of Ogden Publications, one of the early Cider adopters.  Tim, shared the business case they had at Ogden, looking for a eCommerce platform that was mobile-friendly, gave product reviews, ratings, quick check-outs, and offered marketers a platform to do merchandising, up and cross sell, and create landing pages among other things.  Though the landing pages have yet to go live, Ogden initially launched over 1,000 products across 8 brand sites - with more to go. Along with ACS’ implementation Project Manager John Sheehy, they talked about the project scope, implementation, challenges, benefits and the successful go live.  Showing this before (L) and after (R) of Grit, one of the 8 sites live on Cider.

    

Project Central Explained

“Simplified one-step posting” with “multiple queues” and “invocation options” were just a few of the terms thrown around by Dick Hile (VP, Product Engineering) when presenting Project Central, aka “the new way to post.”  Add in Infrastructure, QA, Customization, and Web enhancements such as clustering, automated-testing, more REST services and UI scripting, Single Sign-On (SSO) and a web-based UI---and you have the perfect formula for a full house at 8:30 Friday morning, even after a long last night in Vegas and only hours away from being homeward-bound.  Good going, Dick!

Riveting Roundtables

Three roundtables over two days hosted six different discussions.   Break-out groups huddled together and active discussion immediately ensued.  I sat in on the promotion set-up discussion and witnessed that instant activity first-hand.  Clients jumped right into discussing their business-use cases, sharing what works well, what challenges they face, and what they hope to see in the future.  Right away, another client would jump in with a suggestion, a solution or an addition to the wish-list, which made for a great discussion, and better yet, valuable take-aways. 

European Input

CDS Global and Egmont represented the global Advantage community, and gave the group an update during the International Panel. Multi-currency and payment methods were the focus of the update, which was of interest to many US clients.  NOTE: The European AUG (EAUG) will take place in April.

Election Season

As the New Hampshire primary voters were electing Trump and Bernie, AUG voters elected April Starzman and Joe Wixted to the Steering Committee.  April and Joe, from WKH and the AMA respectively, are filling two spots left open by the dedicated duo of Kevin Quinn and Sue Sherrill, who have each served the maximum two-term appointment.  The group gave a big thank-you to Kevin (WKH) and Sue (AMA) for the time, effort and energy they have put in serving on the Steering Committee.  Along with the current seven serving members, April and Joe join re-elected, Mark Fung-a-Fat (MMS), Lesley Jones (DUP) and Dennis Biswell (OPI). Congratulations to all!

Busy Back Home

Upon our return, we have been busy answering questions, doing demonstrations, and working with clients on things they learned at AUG. Most importantly, though, we are hearing from clients that they are keeping in touch with the other users they met, and it’s been tremendously helpful. What networked in Vegas, most definitely did not stay in Vegas---just like we had hoped (for AUG anyway). 

Hope to see you all next year! (Destination TBD.)

Click here for more photos.



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