Oxford University Press - electronic rights

Oxford University Press (OUP) publishes a large number of dictionaries and reference works, covering many languages and subjects. OUP makes these works available in electronic form to third parties who wish to make use of them to deliver an electronic product e.g. a language game with a dictionary, a medical handbook for PDA, etc. The Licensing Data delivery team are responsible for liaising with the prospective customers and providing them with electronic files of the relevant OUP resource for the customer to use in the design, build and testing of the electronic product. Several samples may need to be provided until the final form of the data to be provided by OUP is agreed. OUP also have to test the product at various stages before giving final permission for the product to go live.


The Licensing Data Team kept track of their work in a large spreadsheet. There were several problems with this – it was not possible for more than one member of the team to access the spreadsheet at one time; it was difficult to keep track of the many samples produced; the spreadsheet did not provide a mechanism for reminding the team to take actions – for example after receiving a prototype they need to give feedback within a set period of time. Perhaps most important of all, there was no accurate way of measuring the time spent on supporting development of a particular product, from sample and full data supply through testing phases to approval.

OUP asked us to build them a database for the Electronic Rights Delivery process. The main requirements were:

  • Tracking all interactions with customers
  • Measuring progress against targets, e.g. contract signed due date
  • Displaying important background information such as internal cost centres and external revenues
  • Recording time spent on each customer product

One of the difficulties was that the prospective customers’ requirements were quite vague to begin with. They would typically begin by saying: “We would like to try using one of your Dictionaries on our web site”. Then they became more specific: “Having tried a sample we would like to go ahead with three different language versions.” The requirement was to develop a system that would cope with the existing complexity and provide flexibility to change the processes in future.

“Many thanks for all your hard work (and hard thinking!) on this project. I look forward to working with you again in future.”
Alex Williams
Oxford University Press

the solution

The solution was to build a database to track targets and actions. The challenge was to keep it flexible. Prospective customers might give up early on, try lots of data and then start all over again with something else or do everything correctly – except for forgetting to mention that they had gone live last week! The problem with flexibility is that it makes reporting extremely complex (one report has 15 different queries within it.)

Alberon worked closely with the Electronic Rights Delivery Team to design and develop a database application which met their needs. We began by studying the data structure and asking questions to achieve clarity, e.g. “Can one customer use the same resource in more than one of their products?” We built a prototype which provoked more discussion. More requirements emerged once OUP could try the working prototype. More fields and relationships were added to the database and final testing began. The final system is extremely flexible and meets most of OUP’s needs for processing and reporting.

technical notes

The application was developed in Microsoft Access 2003. Multiple users are supported.

Function Junction The Oxford Editors