XML-first workflow and optimized production with PLOS

Case Study

How PLOS Transformed Their Production Process to Outpace the Competition and Improve ROIMolecules on a scientific background=


The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is one of the premiere publishers of open access scientific journals – and one of the largest. Thousands of articles pass through the PLOS production “gate” monthly, with each one requiring the same attention to detail and thoughtful handling.

In 2014, PLOS leadership determined that its existing production process could no longer keep up with the volume of articles in its pipeline without risking the introduction of errors, increasing costs, and slowing speed to market. Articles flowing through the PLOS system needed to be converted, edited, formatted, reviewed, and approved, moving from author to editor to production staff and back again.

This required numerous transferals of content across multiple stakeholders and geographic locations. And with hundreds of articles being published each week, PLOS management had very low visibility into the production stream, making it hard to determine where bottlenecks were occurring or where deadlines were being missed.

PLOS needed a partner to review its workflow and offer the kind of upgrades that would enable it to sustain or even increase velocity of production, while at the same time improving ROI and maintaining the same high standards of accuracy.


To address these challenges, Apex introduced industry-leading technology and workflow innovations, including ProTrak, a cloud-based, XML-first production workflow management tool. Here’s how it works:

A user uploads his or her source files into ProTrak’s web-based portal. This initiates the content’s “forced march” through the system. The next person in the production chain is notified and receives a prioritized list of actions and deadlines. Once the user completes those tasks, the software alerts the next person in the queue automatically, repeating the process until the content exits the queue at the other end.

ProTrak provides both high-level and granular visibility into the entire production process, generating detailed reports that call out potential problems as they are developing, as well as highlighting the progress being made on each project.

ProTrak is also configurable to operate within any workflow. This allows any publisher to add quality controls to its existing process, while optimizing efficiency and improving both speed to market and ROI.


PLOS started using ProTrak in January 2015. There are now more than 2,000 articles in its production stream at any one time, with production volume now exceeding more than 20,000 scientific articles published annually.

Deploying Apex’s proprietary ProTrak technology enabled PLOS to:

  • Reduce its publication time on every journal article by up to 30 days.
  • Reduce per-article production costs by 25%.
  • Increase first-proof acceptance rate to 85%, well ahead of the competition.

“The first thing I open up every day is ProTrak. I can see how many articles are ready for our quality control check, who’s doing those checks, whether there’s a backlog… you name it. We track everything on the production side of the house through ProTrak.”

– Production Manager Mike Fisher, PLOS

The partnership between Apex CoVantage and PLOS is ongoing today, as the sides continue to strive to streamline production processes, speed products to market, and reduce costs.

Learn more about publishing workflow innovation with ProTrak. Contact Apex.

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