Publishing heavyweight joins tech innovator

When you consider that between five and 10% of a publisher’s sales revenue is spent on freight, it’s clear that any system able to provide transparency and drive efficiency in this critical function will offer significant returns.

The opportunity to be involved in the development of such a system, and with the serial innovator driving it, proved irresistible to Maureen Connors, one of publishing’s leading lights.

Her career has spanned decades, with executive responsibility for distribution at publishers including Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, and Wolters Kluwer Health, the $350m publisher and e-learning company, steering these businesses through some of their most challenging times. But like many who can look back on a long career in publishing, Maureen was a chance entrant, starting out in catalogue fulfilment before moving to the logistics side of the business.

“Logistics – I can’t remember when it became a term,” she reflects, in a chat from her home office in Maryland, the US base of Steve Walker Global. An exchange early in her career was instructive: “I was working for Jed Lyons,” now President and CEO of Rowman & Littlefield. “He said ‘publishing is so special – we use ISBNs’.” Maureen pointed out that an ISBN is “just a number.

It doesn’t matter what you’re picking – a coffee cup, a T-shirt, a book. If your systems are set up properly they will work.”

Maureen soon moved on to direct the implementation of the earliest order-to-ship fulfilment and logistics systems. Introducing key performance indicators that provided the highest levels of control, she led the way with the development of parcel-tracking software and a virtual warehouse system that follows products from print order to distribution point, anywhere in the world. The move provided Walters Kluwer with annual savings of $250m in shipping and handling costs.

It was at WK that Maureen first worked with Steve Walker, founder of SBS Worldwide, the internationally award-winning logistics and global transportation group. Under Steve’s leadership, SBS Worldwide had developed a unique supply chain system which was designed to integrate with publisher systems, so enabling real-time global tracking of print orders and printed book inventory, wherever and however they were moved.

“That meant we could follow a book from print order to receipt. If there was a natural disaster, or a problem at a customs point, it was captured by the system,” Maureen explains. “And we could push out the information to everyone in the company.”

The solutions were ground-breaking and innovative yet Maureen, ever the perfectionist, felt that still more could be done to simplify processes, control freight costs and enable everyone in a publishing house – from post room to executive office – to see and understand freight movement and spend, whether on small parcels or vast container-loads.

Enter once more Steve Walker and his new enterprise SWG, a next-generation software solutions provider. Maureen, now out of publishing and looking for a new challenge, seized the opportunity to join forces to help create the perfect supply chain solution.

SWG’s custom-designed freight audit technology provides a holistic view of what’s going on in a company, how much it costs – and how much might be saved. For the first time, freight tenders can be compared on a like-for-like basis. Invoices are checked and processed electronically.

“Track and trace shows you when the package for which you paid express delivery has arrived four hours late and it enables you to get a refund,” Maureen explains. “Up to 25% of invoices are incorrect – yet traditionally publishers pay them.” The savings quickly mount up – and the systems pay for themselves.

“Any time you can reduce costs in a business is a win because it releases money to reinvest,” Maureen continues. The shipper also saves money: no need for calls and emails to resolve a publisher enquiry about that load heading to San Diego – at the click of a mouse everyone can see its progress

She talks with relish about distribution staff who can be released from the tedium of checking paperwork to dealing with their customers. “It’s just so exciting for me to help someone do their job better and use their gifts better. No matter where I sit in the supply chain, keeping good people and using them to their utmost is very important.” It also reduces staff churn, often as high as 10% in the warehouse, and that in turn reduces the training budget.

“Who doesn’t want to save money – maybe 20 -30% on freight,” Maureen continues. “We do the analysis and then provide you with all the information you need to make the right decisions. We can look at your busy times, see the impact on your staff, and we look at the results in a granular way. Do you want ten trucks a day for three weeks or twenty for one week? You can make decisions based on data and knowledge. And all these moves are self-funded – your savings pay for the consulting services.”

“I love the back end of the business,” Maureen concludes, her enthusiasm palpable. “It makes a huge difference. Back office is the unsexy part of publishing but for the business to work everyone needs to work together. Information is power only when you can share it.

“Trite as it sounds, if you can walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins it really helps to see how it all comes together.”