Tamedia is one of the largest Swiss news publishers. As in any business, information technology (IT) systems age and need to be upgraded or replaced in time to maintain a competitive advantage. The legacy IT systems along Tamedia's publishing value chain for composing and delivering content for multiple digital news products—Bernerzeitung, Tages-Anzeiger, Der Bund, Basler Zeitung and several more—had already been in use for over a decade. Simultaneously, digital technologies have developed at a rapid pace. The legacy systems were prone to bugs, the usability of the editor's content management system (CMS) was out of date, and the online content's google page rank was not satisfying. But most important, the legacy system landscape slowed down innovations, because any attempted change bore the risk of breakdowns.
From a solution architecture perspective the modernization itself and the size and complexity of the overall system raises many challenges. The overall system consists of many subsystems, such as CMS, ad server, customer and access management system, a web app for each news product, a native mobile app for each news product, commenting system, file system, image management system, video management system and many more. Although all these subsystems are managed by different product owners and development teams, they must all interact and harmonize. If they don't, the product quality suffers. Overcoming the challenges of modernizing such complex IT systems requires highly skilled digital solution developers and experts who understand both the business and technology side, and are able to capture the system holistically. These experts are scarce on the labour market.
In order to successfully manage complex modernization projects, it is essential to clearly define the technical interfaces between the individual subsystems. This is particularly important when solution requirements affect more than one subsystem. In agile development, solution requirements—so called user stories—should be solution neutral and only driven by the business processes and the user. This works well when the entire solution is developed by one team. But when multiple teams work on multiple subsystems, you need requirement engineers who keep an eye on the overall architecture and requirements which also include a technical solution design, especially for the interfaces between the subsystems. At EMBRIO, we consider both the technical design and the business needs when working on requirements to ensure implementable digital solutions.
To guarantee implementable solution requirements we also build technical prototypes in parallel to writing the requirements. These "pre"-implementations validate the technical design and later allow for a quicker realization of the final implementation. In that way, the overall development efficiency can be increased. To increase the development efficiency in general, we believe it is crucial also for large and complex projects to start implementing components as quickly and early as possible. Not too much time should be spent on designing the full solution architecture and on specifying the minutest detail of each requirement. A hands-on, iterative and learning oriented approach guarantees tangible and sustainable results, without losing sight of the big picture. In general, we prefer acting over planning and progress over perfection. In agile development, design decisions and implemented components can always be changed based on the learnings from a previous iteration. All of this contributes to a better solution quality and accelerates digital innovation.
The successful launch of the new CMS and the news web apps for twelve paid media products was the result of a true team effort. The success was made possible thanks to the effort of internal employees and external partners such as EMBRIO. A good mix of internal and external resources is the recipe for progress and accelerated digital innovation. EMBRIO has been a major contributor to advancing issues and challenges that have been on Tamedia's development roadmap for a long time, but have not progressed due to uncertainty, complexity and lack of internal ownership. For example, EMBRIO contributed significantly to the architecture of the new server-side paywall, avoiding that users can bypass the paywall and access premium content without paying for it. Furthermore, EMBRIO helped with the design and implementation of the article commenting solution. This solution allows for more customer interactions and the ability to share comments between the different media products. Such a solution was not available on the market as a standard component. With precisely formulated requirements, EMBRIO made sure that the interfaces between different IT systems were defined and implemented correctly. When designing the architecture of solution components, the use of state of the art technology was promoted. Whenever the need arose, EMBRIO also took over programming work to relieve the internal developers of time-critical or complex tasks. In sum, through the work of EMBRIO, Tamedia benefited from a versatile set of digital competencies.