Choosing and using Typefi at LSBF

The London School of Business and Finance uses Typefi to produce textbooks for professional education, particularly on the subjects of accountancy and law.

In this case study from the 2018 Typefi User Conference, Publishing Director Clive Bullen shares insights into the process of choosing Typefi, the challenges involved, and the outcomes of implementing an automated publishing process.

Slide Deck (PDF)

Transcript

Clive Bullen
Clive Bullen presenting at the 2018 Typefi User Conference.

CLIVE BULLEN: What I’m going to do, and you can see mostly on this slide, is to take you through quite briefly who I work for, what I do, and my background, so you can understand that.

Most of it is to do with the choosing and using of Typefi, so partly how we got there in the first place and then what we do today.

If you want to ask questions at any point, feel free, as I don’t mind at all.

Obviously, what I’d like for you is to get something out of this session. There’s always a danger with case studies is that somebody chats away at the front and you think ‘that’s really interesting for them, but I’m not actually sure what I could do with that’.

So anything you get out of it would be good, even if it’s just a sort of sense of superiority, or something like that, that would be fantastic. Anything that you get would be good.

Who I work for is London School of Business and Finance. I joined five years or so ago. You probably haven’t heard of them, but if you’re based in the UK, there’s every chance that you’ve heard of one of the parts of the group that we’ve got, which is the University of Law.

Something like 70-80% of lawyers, solicitors and so on in the UK go to the University of Law. Used to be even higher than that at one point, but we’ve got some competition.

We’re all under a group called GUS, Global University Systems, which you can see up at the top left of the screen. That’s the whole company, every chance that you haven’t ever heard of those at all.

My name is Clive Bullen. I’m Publishing Director there. My background is accountant. I trained as an accountant at KPMG, decided I didn’t want to become an accountant as in a sort of every day accountant.

So, I decided to go into teaching at a place called BPP, which you may have heard of, which is to do with professional education.

I was lucky to join at the point that I did, because it was pretty small and went pretty well over that time, it was a well-run business.

What I did was quite a lot of standing up and teaching, so I had 20-odd years of standing in front of a class. But also what I did, the reason I stayed there, ’cause I wasn’t that keen on teaching, was to do lots of innovation, and particularly innovation with technology.

If anybody remembers things like floppy disks, my first product was a series of multiple choice questions on a floppy disk, which dates me, obviously, quite badly.

We then had things like success tapes, which cost us 50 grand and paid back in five days, seven days, or something like that. So, if you ever had a Walkman, then they’re very useful for studying.

Also went through into stuff on the Internet. I set up the first, what we call, the virtual campus at BPP, which had a lot of online testing, lots of stuff, which you had to interact with in order to do. Which is, I’d say, very good at the time.

So, it’s basically been innovation and technology that’s kept me there, and innovation from the start to the end, so actually starting off and deciding, okay, this is a good thing to do.

And I’ve always felt the need to follow it through right to the end in order to be able to make sure that it actually works, because it’s very easy to have innovation and say, “Oh, we’ll just do this and pass it over to the team, and they can sort it out.” That doesn’t necessarily actually get you solutions.

Current challenges

Now where we are in terms of current challenges. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the ACCA, but it’s the biggest accountancy qualification in the world. It’s spread through the whole of the world. We produce books for those.

Unfortunately, which is a one-in-every-10-year situation, they produce a new syllabus. So we’ve gotta produce lots of material for them.

We’ve got some new clients, which is good. PwC, one of the major accountancy firms within the UK has come over, one of the major accountancy firms in the world. We’re supplying them throughout Europe, and also what we traditionally called East Europe, that side of Europe.

Then also in the Middle East, and supplying some material for KPMG as well, which is another big accountancy firm.

So we’re doing pretty well, and that’s partly because of what we do with Typefi, and that what we’ve got is a system which allows us to be very consistent in terms of the output that we produce.

And that’s consistent in terms of a series of PDFs, which obviously go off and get printed, but also on my phone, I think I’ve got something like 300 e-books or so there, so students can study at any point in time.

It’s sort of the same sort of principle as having a success tape, something that you could put on your Walkman, which you’ve got it there right away. So, I’m travelling home on the tube at 11 o’clock after going to the pub or something, I think I might do a bit of studying, and it’s there. I can study away on the subjects that I want.

We’re starting to use it in other parts of the group. About the University of Law, we had a project last year where we produced some of their, what they call the GDL Manuals, which is one of the law qualifications, or part of the law qualifications. And we produced those as PDF.

We’ve also produced them as EPUB, although they’re slightly slow in terms of taking those up.

We’ve got a small team. There’s three of us and that includes me. So what we have is somebody that’s based now in India at the time, lives in India, part of the team. You often wake up to a whole stream of emails in the mornings, ’cause she’s done all of those.

But it’s three of us, so there’s a small team actually producing things.

Choosing Typefi

In terms of choosing Typefi. So, I had a fairly bumpy road, which came out of working at BPP. What we had there was an XML-based system to publish, which was a new project.

And I put there very circumspectly, it wasn’t me that chose it, as in the bloke who chose it left before the implementation process went through. I should’ve realised that it wasn’t such a good idea to step in and take over the project.

But I thought, okay, it sounds fun, in that what they were promising was that you’d have everything in an XML-based system. What it would produce is almost everything.

So what you’d have, it would be in this database. It would then produce stuff, which would go on into a book, or an e-book, or online learning. It would be fantastic. And on the face of it, It’s a very good marketing company. I think it still exists.

So, if you ever hear of a company like this, then feel free to get in touch with me. I’ll give you my email at the end. But it sounded fantastic at the time.

It had a proprietary front end and proprietary back end. And what I mean by that is it was their front end. So, if you had an author, they had to use their system in order to put in the subject.

Also, it had a proprietary back end, in that they produced the templates, which then produced the final product. So it was them doing the work at both ends. And you can contrast that to what you do.

And if you’re, for example, using Word as the front end or InDesign as the back end, that’s something like 250 grand later and 18 months worth of time, and it didn’t work. It was close, but not quite, and there was lots of things that could’ve been a lot better.

So after that I moved on, I’d learned my lessons. But in some ways that’s useful, because what it does is to say, “Well, look around and start to think about what might actually work in this situation.” Sometimes you get that sort of knock back, and you learn a lot from it.

I joined LSBF late on in 2012. I was actually searching through my files just recently to see my Typefi folder, and the first file that I had saved in there was the day after I joined. So I’d obviously been doing a bit of research before, or actually on the day that I joined, in order to get that file.

What I did was a lot of due diligence. And you can see some of the people that I did there. Also Apa Publications, which is down by London Bridge, I actually went and visited. So they’re Insight Guides and Berlitz, I think it was. I went to chat to them.

And in touch with a lot of other people. Particularly, CFA was very useful to be in touch with because they are producing things like textbooks. They’re also, if you’re familiar with the CFA, they’re into financial stuff, and so they have things like equations. And if they could cope with Typefi and have equations and so on, then we’ve got all that sort of stuff as well.

So I did a lot of research into it in the first place. International Standards Organization, obviously a very good client to have in terms of if you can meet that, that sounds so great.

Will it be cheaper and easier? This is probably something which isn’t so useful for most of you in the room. In terms of if you’re a new client, for example, or thinking about Typefi, it’s some of the things that you find out, and you’ve probably found these out already.

So having a front end being, for example, Word. Everybody likes Word. Or everybody can use Word, at least, even if they don’t like it. At least they can use it.

InDesign templates, being able to change an InDesign template, change everything straight away, is fantastic.

We do or have done some stuff on white labelling—we had a client that didn’t want a particular logo in there. So, what you can do is to change the material such that you’ve got a condition in there, which means that you don’t have to have that in there on the particular jobs that you run.

We’ve got an Indian outsource company. And so you’ll have my email at the end if you’re needing an outsource company that’s good and does a lot of styling, and so on, for us, saves a lot of time and is good value, then I say they’re good.

We used it (Typefi) for other parts of the group, won clients.

So it’s quite a lot of things that have helped us in terms of the choosing.

Using Typefi

In terms of the using, then the setup cost in the first place, trying to sort everything out takes some time.

What we have there is a lot of features or different features that came up with people like the University of Law. They wanted indexes at the start of each chapter and so on.

So, having to do all those and think those through just means you need intelligent people and to be able to think those through and to work ’em out.

Speed of server—we had some pains last year where you’d suddenly want to run a job and then you’d find out The University of Law was running a job and they would be taking their 20 minutes or whatever to run their job, or more to run some of their jobs.

But I think we’re now in a situation where we can have jobs running in parallel. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but we can.

Staff ability—bright and able people as possible. When you’ve got a very small team, you need people that are intelligent that can work things through.

Maybe sort of slightly biased by the other system that I had was they said, “Oh, we can choose apps out of this big database that we’ve got.” So you can have apps as well as print stuff, and so on. That’s something that we’re looking at and would be useful to have so that.

For example, we’ve got some exams which are computer-based—some of the ACCA exams are computer-based. What we’d like to do, is have an app that we could take the questions in Word and have them coming out in the app automatically. So I might be chatting to you if you’ve got anything like that, anybody using, that would be useful.

Page breaks are a bit of a pain, because sometimes you set them and then you have to change them all again, particularly when you’re setting up the material.

Logs are very useful, so missing images and so on, very handy to find out.

Because we’re more academic sort of publishers, then we particularly like the e-books that come out, EPUB 3s, we’ve got videos in them.

We’ve got delivery—if you’re in the situation you’re thinking about having delivery, then Vitalsource we’d recommend very heavily. They’re the biggest platform for books, particularly academic textbooks and so on, that you’ve got in the world, works very well.

You can have lots of things like your tutors being able to share notes with their students. So they can put notes and highlighting to their materials and say, “This is a good tip for the exam this time,” or something like that. Basically once they’ve put it in, all their students get it.

So that’s, as far as I’m concerned, great things to have, or leaving aside the fact that I’ve got my 300 books on my phone so I can study and do what I want at any point in time.

Things that have helped with using Typefi

This slide doesn’t tell you too much more so I’ll go through it relatively quickly. Almost the most useful thing is the top and the bottom.

So we’ve been helped a lot from Typefi at the start, in terms of setting up. We’ve had bright people on our side, they’ve got bright people on their side, so that helps quite considerably.

Down at the bottom, we’ve had good support as we’ve gone through. So quick responses—obviously they don’t want your business to slow down or not work as well as it did. So as we’ve been updating to new systems, or any problems, they’ve been back very quickly.

But you’ll see most of the stuff in the middle is largely just summarising what I’ve said in the first place.

So an overall summary, we’re happy. We’re winning clients, which is good, but having somebody like PwC as a client is fantastic. It’s money, for a start, which you’re not gonna turn down. But what it also does is to give us a sort of higher level to aim for.

If you’re providing accountancy books to one of the biggest accountancy firms in the world, then they’ve got lots of eyes looking at it and saying, “Oh, what about that bit?” or “Change it.” So I’d say it’s very good, in terms of it drags up pain in lots of ways, but in other ways it’s great fundamentally.

So we’ve got a lot of stuff that has gone on. And that’s been down to the help that we’ve had from Typefi and the output that we’ve had from Typefi. There’s three of us in the group, and doing pretty well, given that.

And that’s it, actually. Relatively quick. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take.

Q&A

Anybody got anything that they want to know in any way at all?

LAURENT GALICHET: How did your team take to the change?

CLIVE: The change?

LAURENT: Well, implementing Typefi in using your tools.

CLIVE: Oh, okay, that’s interesting, because I was in the very lucky position that I was setting up from scratch.

And I’d looked at other organisations and I knew that they had a big sort of publishing department there, which they had to really decimate and they had to decide who was gonna stay and who wasn’t gonna stay.

that was one of the big joys of what I was doing. And then I had some of the material, it was already there, largely in a PDF form, but what I was able to do was to employ people that I thought were gonna be good in the first place and take on.

So it wasn’t that I was 20 and came down to the three of us. It was, I went up to three, so it went in the other direction, so I was lucky.

But I understand the point entirely in terms of other organisations to sort of have to then think, well, we’re paying Typefi for our licence fees we only now need three people and we had 10 or whatever the numbers are. So, yeah, that’s more tricky.

But I was in the very fortunate position I was going in the other direction.

CHRIS HAUSLER: Can you talk a little bit about the video and things like that, you’re putting in some there?

CLIVE: In terms of the organisation that we’ve got, we’re strong online. So we have studios, which people do sort of talking to the world, basically, to train them up for accountancy. And as part of that, we do videos.

So what we’ve done is a couple of things, which is that within the study manuals, what we have there is videos at the start of each chapter with somebody saying…

This is very similar to if I were teaching you accountancy, for example, then I would do sort of what I’d call an opening talk, which is ‘we’re gonna do this bit of accountancy, we’re gonna do cash flow statements’, or whatever it happens to be. Here’s the main things that you should be looking out for.

And that’s it in sort of two minutes, five minutes, something like that.

So, what we did was to get those videos produced so that once you get into the start of each chapter, the student could just click on it. We put them on YouTube as unlisted videos, so they’re not generally accessible. But anybody that does find them won’t find them that useful.

They may find them useful in terms of then thinking, “Okay, well, that’s interesting that somebody’s done that. And can I get the study manual?” Which is fine, but in terms of the actual video itself, it’s not gonna help ’em so much.

We did a separate project, which was called Project Blue internally, which was to produce a whole series of videos throughout the study manual. And that’s something which videos are good.

But in terms of the study manual, it almost makes it too heavy, because it’s the same sort of thing as if you’ve got explanation after explanation after explanation, it’s almost too much to handle.

So we’ve done that as project, but whether we’ll actually release it as a final product, I’m less sure of, because either the students gotta have sort of a huge device in order to have all the videos downloaded, or lots of bandwidth in order to download them individually at the point they’re going to do them. And sometimes it’s too much.

If you understand it just by reading a paragraph, you don’t need a video there then to explain. So I’m less keen on those.

But, at the moment, they’re just a video to get you into each chapter.

CHANDI PERERA: Just a quick question on the trends you’re seeing, working in the industry you do. Are you seeing a shift to, like, more digital and less kind of paginated stuff like PDF or print?

CLIVE: We have a policy internally that for our students, we provide them with e-books, full stop. So we don’t provide them with actual printed books anymore.

What happens within Vitalsource is that the student gets the e-book and can print out pages if they want to. There’s a bit of protection there for us in that it doesn’t come out as a lovely printed thing, it’s actually got their email address as part of it so that we know that they’ve done it.

So we’ve actually gone that radically to do that.

We do supply them with what we call class notes, which is if I was sitting teaching you, you’d have a printed set of relatively brief notes in front of you. But otherwise we’ve gone for e-books.

It depends, basically, as we’ve got people, like PwC, still want to print. And we’ll even have our own students that will say, “I have to have a printed book.”

I went to an Apple conference, about three years ago now. And what they were saying was that they had a major sort of change initially. People were saying, “Oh, I still need books.”

But once they’d gone through a term or so at a university, then all of a sudden they would say, “Actually, I can’t be bothered with a book.”

And there was one of the students that was there who was talking about their situation. He was saying, “Well, I had a book and if I went to a party on a Friday night, for example, and left the book there, it’d take me a long time to go back and get it. If I left my phone, I’d be back straight away on that evening to pick up my phone.”

So accessibility means they’re more likely to have e-books over time. And, personally, I’m a big fan because of the ease of using them.

At Vitalsource, you’ve even got a situation, which I can show any of you later, that it’ll actually read the book out for you. So it’s a computer voice, but it will read through that book for you so you can listen to it on your earplugs and so you can hear what they’re saying.

That’s not so useful for you if it’s not an academic textbook you’re producing, but I’m sure there must be other equivalents to Vitalsource.

So I’m a fan. I think generally people change over as they get more used to it, and the youngsters, for example, are far more used to stuff like that.


Clive Bullen, Publishing Director at the London School of Business and Finance

Clive Bullen

Publishing Director | London School of Business & Finance

Clive has taught, produced study material, and been a director in the professional education sector—particularly accountancy—for nearly 30 years. He has produced a series of successful innovations from scratch, especially involving technology. He specialises in the process of successful innovation, and the insights that the brain’s workings bring to help students pass exams.

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