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October 4, 2016

4 takeaways from PLOS’s production workflow renovation

In your current publishing production workflow, how many days does it take for an article to go from final acceptance to publication? We polled attendees during a recent webinar with Public Library of Science (PLOS) and the results weren’t that surprising: nearly 80% of respondents said it takes their organization upwards of 10 days.

Today, PLOS ONE articles take as little as four days to move through the production workflow, a significant decrease from the previous turnaround time of more than 28 days. We invited PLOS Digital Services Director, Helen Atkins, to share how PLOS was able to revamp its production systems and achieve some remarkable benchmarks in a recent webinar. For those of you who missed it, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Reimagining production workflows delivers outstanding results

The PLOS team began their transformation by opening themselves to innovative, outside-the-box ideas, adopting XML-first methodologies, re-evaluating vendors, and streamlining its production workflows. While change can be overwhelming, it’s worth the challenge. PLOS’s results speak for themselves:

•  Overall production time cut in half
•  Vendor first proof turnaround time reduced to under 2 days
•  Errors decreased overall with 80% of articles accepted at first proof
•  Direct cost per page reduced by 23%
•  Overall production costs reduced due to software automation, fewer errors at every stage, an improved handoff process, and collapsed QC steps

2. Don’t be afraid to break the status quo

The results above were only possible through PLOS’s willingness to innovate and go beyond the status quo. PLOS collapsed and rearranged steps in its process, changed vendors, and adopted new systems and technology to fix what was broken. The graphic below illustrates the drastic changes PLOS implemented to achieve exceptional production results:

Diagram of pre and post PLOS ONE production workflows.

3. Change takes time, but it’s worth it

For PLOS, it took about four months for the RFP and vendor selection process alone, another three months to prepare for the new vendor transition, and another month or two for the new vendor to settle in. Almost three years after the entire project began, PLOS is still seeing improvements in time and cost. As Helen commented on her decision to take on a complete overhaul of PLOS’s production workflow and systems, “The results were worth the effort.”

4. Publishing vendor selection is critical

“We wanted a partner. Not just a vendor,” Helen noted on the criteria PLOS used to select a new composition vendor. Above a basic ability to handle PLOS’s composition work and high journal volume, PLOS wanted a partner that would innovate with them and go beyond. It was also crucial for the vendor to be flexible and able to adapt as requirements changed. Taking 3-4 months in the very beginning of PLOS’s journey to select the right partner was critical for all of the accomplishments PLOS has achieved to date.

In a recording of the webinar available here, Helen reviews in much greater detail PLOS’s project goals; key components of the vendor RFP process; how the new vendor transition took place; results after the work was implemented; and the continuous improvement PLOS is experiencing to this day.

Helen’s detailed graphical representations of PLOS’s improvements are incredible to see, and this post only scratches the surface. Do any of these challenges sound familiar? Let us know. We’d love to discuss options for accelerating your production workflow process.

Click on the image to download the on-demand webinar.

About Greg Suprock

Greg is Head of Solutions Architecture at Apex. He has over 20 years of experience in XML workflows, content management, web application development, and prepress. Greg excels at collaborative efforts to achieve project and business goals. He has developed XML workflows for the Public Library of Science, HighWire Press, The Library of Congress, and many more.