E-commerce solution for music publishing Universal Edition

Music publisher Universal Edition operates on the market since 1901, so that makes them our oldest client. Read about how we worked (and work to this day) on modernization and digitalization of a typical “offline” company.

Starting point

Austrian company Universal Edition (UE) publishes classical sheet music since 1901, so you could say that they are our “oldest” client. The company that used to operate within Austrian market has become one of the most important global players in this industry worldwide. Universal Edition offers printed scores for end customers by means of their online shopping, but their main source of income is leasing of rights in musical works to symphonic orchestras, operas or theaters.

The company currently represents important leaders of modern classical music such as Gustav Mahler, Pierre Boulez, Arvo Pärt, Luciano Berio, Alban Berg or Béla Bartók. They offer tens of thousands of works from hundreds of composers in their database. Universal Edition (UE) is currently trying to transform from a “traditional” publishing house to a modern player with a strong digital background, which involves several planned cutting edge digital services. Based on their good experience and reference from previous projects they have specifically commissioned Altamira for this transformation.

Universal Edition offers printed scores for end customers by means of their online shopping, but their main source of income is leasing of rights in musical works to symphonic orchestras, operas or theaters.

Reasons for a new solutions

Cooperation of Altamira with Universal Edition started in 2016 by contracting the first phase of the project: decreasing the number of used technologies in e-commerce website and also deploying the new universal design. While the online shopping of the website ran on the German e-commerce platform Shopware (version 4), presentation part of the website was managed by the content management system Contao. Other parts of the web were divided into various services (e.g. PDF viewer for previewing scores through Flip PDF service).

At the beginning of our cooperation with Universal Edition, we were commissioned to reduce the number of used technologies in e-commerce ecosystem, and also to deploy a new universal design of the whole solution.

In the long term, this technical solution was unsustainable, thus the new management of digital services in UE decided to completely rebuild the architecture using a single platform for the whole website. The second phase was influenced by the desire and need to simplify and standardize the data structure which was due to historical reasons relatively inconsistent, and also to build a brand new basis for all future digital projects resulting from the client’s vision of the transition from a traditional publishing to a modern company with a strong digital background.

Client’s requirements for the new solution 

For the purposes of the first project phase – unification of technological background into a single platform – the management of UE has chosen previously used German e-commerce system Shopware. Backbone of the original website – e-shop – was already significantly customized for this solution with an existing history and database of thousands of orders and customers. For this objective the company created a very detailed manual documenting existing processes on one hand, and requirements for new processes with the aim to preserve continuity while bringing modern attitude to the new website on the other.

In the first project phase we established trust with the customer mostly thanks to our proactive and client oriented attitude, which resulted in follow-up assignments that we have started to carry out within the 2nd phase of UE development.

Throughout the first project phase Universal Edition gradually started to trust solutions that are proactively designed in Altamira based on existing knowledge of needs and functioning of business. In the second project phase – unification of data structure and building technological basis for all future digital platforms – it resulted in an absolute freedom and trust in proposed technical solutions. Preserving Shopware platform as the core of e-commerce however still played a key role in the whole process.

In the first project phase we established trust with the customer mostly thanks to our proactive and client oriented attitude, which resulted in follow-up assignments that we have started to carry out within the 2nd phase of UE development.

Our proposal of solution

Therefore, in the first project phase we identified all used technologies and examined existing data structure. The result was a proposal of completely new database models to which it was possible to logically organize tens of thousands of entries about composers, their works, historical information on performances, hundreds of blog articles, as well as tens of content pages from Contao system. The whole structure was later transfered into Shopware system architecture while upgrading from several years outdated version 4 to a modern and slightly more flexible version 5. It is a system build on Symphony framework which uses Doctrine for working with database layer. During development we have encountered several limitations and rigidity of Shopware system, mainly with regards to flexibility and ability to optimize and expand front-end possibilities of website. While providing solid basis and methodology in e-commerce, in the field of providing other content (CMS websites and various proprietary modules) is Shopware from our perspective needlessly limited.

Unrestrained development of the original solution resulted in combining many of used technologies, non-cooperating between each other, inconsistent, and long-term sustainable at a price of costly development. We have therefore designed a solution for the client that is efficient, and sustainable from the long-term perspective, keeping costs at a reasonable level (TCO – Total cost of ownership).

Thus in the second phase we have designed a brand new solution for the client keeping Shopware system as its core for e-commerce functionality, but with the collection of front- and back-end tools assuming control over everything else. We have built universal Rest API based on CakePHP framework for the communication between front-end and all data sources. So, the process of registration, changing user settings, all shopping processes, and working with all types of content runs on proprietary API methods. Our API also provides communication between the SOLR search core for delivering a split-second search results in tens of thousands entries based on a search string or tens of filters. We have gained a complete control over the work with data by this change in technology. Whole front-end could be thereafter transfered from obsolete and inflexible Shopware themes into our own solution built on javascript Angular framework using server-side rendering through Angular Universal running on Node.js server monitored and managed by pm2 tool.

How did we help the customer?

The new API, as well as the new front-end solution has laid foundation for all future projects allowing to share the whole codebase throughout the whole portfolio. We have paved ground for a new chapter in the history of the publisher Universal Edition by designing a complex, and at the same time elegant, and efficiently scalable technological solution, and thus helped to transform services of the company to the needs of digital age.

We believe that the work on the project cannot end by its launching, and therefore we invest lots of time and resources to constant education in order to optimize performance, speed up the website even more, write less code, granularize components even more, or how to be more DRY (don’t repeat yourself). By means of acquired knowledge we improve existing code thereafter, while always asking whether what is done cannot be carried out in the following iteration better, and we try to think in the whole process in a way that would be satisfactory not only to the client, but more importantly to their customers.

“The team completed the project seamlessly and delivered it on time. The revamped site received 25% more visitation, and the length of each visit increased as well. Altamira Softworks attends to each minute detail of their projects to ensure customers receive the best service possible.”

What does the client say?

In Altamira we strive to get a true and honest feedback to our work from clients, because that is the only way how to progress. Projects and customers are therefore interviewed by independent consultants of the American company, and the feedback which we are getting back is extremely valuable for us. This also applies to the cooperation with UE.

“They were astonishing. If we had time issues, it was on our side. They were really responsive to our deadlines. There are often a lot of internal processes that have to happen before we can react to our quotas, which accounted for the delays on our end.”

We will be glad if you could read the whole review, as well as reviews from other clients at our profile here: Trusted and complex reviews should be essential in decision-making when selecting provider of software, application or website development.

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