Migrating app providers can be a daunting project, but Südwestdeutsche Medienholding (SWMH) shows us that it doesn’t always have to be. Having led SWMH’s migration of several apps to the Twipe platform within just over 12 months, Gregor Zoller, SWMH’s Director of IT, is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of large-scale ePaper migrations. In our latest webinar, Zoller shared five tips to successfully manage an ePaper migration.
Südwestdeutsche Medienholding in numbers:
- 3 publishing groups in Southwest Germany
- 17 newspaper brands
- 300k+ print circulation
- 170k+ digital subscribers
Peace of mind was essential for us: having a partner on whom we could rely not just for operational support but also for product development and future progress. This partnership required a clear understanding of the product’s future developments, roadmap, and steps to achieve a better product in the long term.Gregor Zoller – Director of IT, SWMH
1. Consider the app migration and feature developments as separate projects.
Zoller emphasised the importance of considering migration and product development as separate projects. This strategic separation allowed the team to focus on the project’s scope, preventing the conflation of immediate migration tasks with long-term product development goals.
2. Over-communicate changes to your readers.
Zoller recommends proactively over-communicating changes with to ease their transition into the new apps. “The ePaper audience is even more change adverse than you would think”, he notes. As such, this typically older demographic can initially struggle with a different look and feel to their app. To mitigate this, the SWMH team started a communication campaign both through print and digital mediums to inform readers of the new apps and their functionalities. Despite this, the customer support center still received a number of calls. Hence, why Zoller suggests an earlier communication campaign and a well-trained support center as essential to the transition period.
The communication campaign also brought about positive impacts on their subscription numbers. Indeed, “the marketing campaign brought in a lot of new subscribers” whereas the loss of subscribers from the transition “was nothing more than usual”. Overall, Zoller notes that “the results [of the communication campaign] far outweigh the loss of customers”.
3. Make a detailed list of app functionalities and requirements before starting.
Outlining the app’s desired functionalities and requirements in detail was a worthwhile thought exercise and time investment, according to Zoller: “It really pays off to have that deep dive, to really understand what the app should do – even to the level of small functional details”. Indeed, it was crucial to know how to meet user requirements and make informed decisions about whether to keep, modify or discard features.
A notable strategy employed by SWMH was the development of a ‘blueprint app’ as a foundational step. This initial phase, focused on integrating all essential details and functionalities, laid the groundwork for a more efficient rollout of subsequent apps.
4. Involve customer support early on.
Involving the customer support team earlier was identified as a key learning from the process: “They are the first line in [customer] discussions, so they get the direct feedback [from readers]”. Their direct interaction with customers can provide valuable insights into user challenges and preferences, which could have informed the migration process more effectively if included earlier. Even before migrating, the customer support team knows where the pain points are for readers and can provide insights on how to improve the app.
5. Platform solutions offer a way to scale your apps easily.
A significant takeaway was the adherence to a platform strategy to avoid custom, one-off solutions that are hard to maintain for a provider with several apps. The advantage of a platform solution was that it could ensure scalability and consistency across multiple apps.
“For us, a key strategy was sticking to the platform approach, especially if you’re managing, say, more than five apps. We focused on avoiding custom integrations and solutions, ensuring our platform was scalable and adaptable. It’s about integrating solutions in a way that maintains the platform’s core logic, which is crucial for long-term scalability.”Gregor Zoller – Director of IT, SWMH
Why change app providers?
In a poll launched during the webinar, over 50% of respondents from various news publishers across Europe and the US saw internal resources as the main challenge in migrating apps. Zoller acknowledged this: “Changing vendors takes a lot of effort, a lot of money, and a lot of internal resources. But, in the end, we did come up with a decision that we need to take this step”.
Through an RFP process, Twipe was selected as the vendor that could best suit their needs. Namely, Twipe offered:
- Peace of mind: Having a reliable partner was a key requirement, particularly considering the substantial internal resources and effort required for such a migration.
- Flexibility of how to display content: SWMH was particularly looking for a solution that offered customisable ways of displaying content. Namely, they wanted to maintain their ‘modern view’, or as it is known at Twipe, NextGen – an advanced way of displaying digital editions that resonated well with their audience, especially a younger demographic. They also wanted the possibility to integrate their live news app into their ePaper app to create a unified app.
- A clear product vision: Twipe’s commitment to a user-centric approach and a clear product development roadmap resonated with SWMH’s need to know how the product would evolve moving forward.
- Operational efficiency: In terms of product, the platform solution reduced the complexities of managing multiple digital products. In terms of project management, the regular meetings between the Twipe and SWMH throughout the processed helped ensure clear communication.
The challenges of app migrations and how to face them
Throughout the migration process, Zoller and his team faced several operational challenges. One significant hurdle was managing ongoing developments in their existing apps while transitioning to Twipe. This required careful balancing, especially when legal or technical necessities demanded updates to the old system.
Managing dependencies across various systems and ensuring smooth integration with existing SSO systems and consent management tools were crucial operational challenges. The project scope also evolved, with changes in integrations and strategy. This complexity necessitated frequent and detailed communication between SWMH and Twipe, including bi-weekly standups to address emerging issues and coordinate efforts effectively.
Additionally, Zoller highlighted the importance of internal communication, particularly with centralised production teams managing diverse titles. He mentioned the value of post-go-live feedback and the necessity of aligning various internal stakeholder groups through focus groups for smoother project governance. This collaborative approach was vital in navigating the complexities of the migration and setting the stage for future enhancements.
Zoller emphasised the importance of internal communication, particularly with centralised production teams handling numerous titles. This aspect was crucial to prevent confusion and ensure consistency across the migration process.
A large-scale migration is worth the effort
The journey of SWMH’s migration to Twipe, guided by Gregor Zoller offers a view of the challenges and opportunities in digital news publishing today. Their experiences and insights present a realistic picture of adapting and thriving in the news industry. This narrative is valuable for other media entities looking to navigate similar paths, emphasising the need for strategic foresight, user-focused innovation, and adaptability.