Meet the Aries Team: Tony Alves, Director of Product Management

Want to get to know some of the Aries team? Us too! In an effort to learn more about our colleagues and the important work they do, we’ve decided to sit down with some of our staff members to interview them about their roles at Aries, what led them to scholarly publishing, and what they like to do in their free time. Read our interview below with Tony Alves, Director of Product Management, who has been with Aries for 18 years. Check back next month to see which Aries staff member we speak to next!

Tell us about yourself – how long have you been working for Aries? What did you do before joining Aries? What have your roles at Aries been?

I’ve been at Aries for 18 years. I’ve been working in science publishing since 1990, when I started as an Editorial Assistant. After that, I went to work as an Assistant Managing Editor at the American Heart Association’s journal called Circulation Research–so basically, doing what people do in our system [Editorial Manager], except that there was no system! We would actually have to call the Reviewer, fax over pages; every manuscript came in by mail. Then I went to work for a software company called Silver Platter Education, which was building multimedia educational programs for physicians. Initially, I worked as an Acquisitions Editor, working with physician-authors to design the educational materials,  and then became the Publisher. From there, I came to Aries as Product Manager for Editorial Manager in May 2001.

Editorial Manager was based on a desktop system that existed at the time called Editorial Assistant, but we were designing the platform to be an online submission and peer review tracking system. I was working with the creator of Editorial Assistant. As we were developing the product, we realized we needed to formalize the process, so we brought on our first Business Systems Analyst. I was also working on sales and marketing, so I would write marketing copy and attend conferences and all of that. I also wrote all of the training materials and protocols then – I was even taking customer service calls. It was a very small operation. So even though I was Product Manager, being with Aries from the early stages I was able to have a wide range of experience in many departments.

Can you tell us more about your role as Director of Product Management?

It really is about defining what the future of the product will be–at a high level, that’s what I do. Figuring out what new functionality we need to build, how we can expand our product to address other markets, and coming up with new ancillary products. I also manage a team of Systems Analysts, who write the specifications that are given to the engineers who then code the new features. So, my main responsibility is working with all the departments to determine what new features need to be built into the system and how best to build those features. Our philosophy of a single-code base means that anything that we build gets used by every customer–nobody has a bespoke part of the system. And that’s an important part of our process and our product, so we don’t have multiple instances of our software, and if there’s a bug in one, we don’t have to try to fix it across all instances.

How do you collaborate with other departments within Aries?

I spend time going to a lot of conferences, and it’s a great opportunity to work with the Sales team. I accompany them on sales calls when necessary, and I talk with Sales and Marketing to find out what people are asking for on the prospective level. I work with our Client Services team often in multiple ways – getting feedback from them on how customers are using the system, or what new features customers want, for example. And we get either requests for paid development, or what we call the “wish list” items (functionality that people would like to see but they’re not necessarily going to pay for). I’ll attend client meetings to show new features and functions that are coming on the roadmap and have discussions about the customer’s overall business strategy and brainstorm solutions. Also, my team works with Client Services to ensure they know what’s coming in new releases and supplies them with as much documentation as possible to help them communicate with customers. Most of our collaboration is with the engineering team, involving them from the start to see if our ideas make sense from a technical perspective, and throughout development as they code the new features. We help them understand the functional requirements and they help us understand the technical opportunities and challenges. We also write the test cases used by QA.

After so many years of working on Editorial Manager and other Aries products, how do you continue to find new areas for development?

In terms of enhancements, the system itself is really crowd-sourced. The real improvements that actually change the way the system functions all come from the users themselves, as well as trends in the industry that we identify by attending conferences or visiting customers. So new initiatives like CRediT, ORCID, or even being part of an initiative like Manuscript Exchange Common Approach (MECA) – these are all things that we hear about because we are actively involved in the industry, and so we are able to bring them back to our team and address them with customers. The struggle sometimes is trying to redirect customers who use the system every day, like the journal staff and editors, to think about the Reviewer or Author experience within the system. It is understandable that the journal staff can be very focused on their own workflows as they are the primary users of EM and PM, but it’s also important to think about how other users interact with EM and PM and to be sure the Author and Reviewer have a good experience.

Describe your typical work day.

I usually take from 9am-10am as an hour to check and respond to emails, and then I head off to various meetings. Pretty much that’s my typical workday – going to meetings and going to my office and checking email (or checking email in the meetings!). But probably a better way to answer that–the thing that I am most responsible for is making sure that my team is supported and being available to answer all of the questions that they have. So, I’ve never written a specification, I am not a Business Systems Analyst, but I explain the high-level strategy, I describe what the needs of the users are, what the workflows are, and my team interprets that. My staff comes to me throughout the day with questions like, “I have these three choices, which one should I go with?”, and I will make those types of decisions where they’re not sure.

How do you stay involved in the industry and in touch with user needs?

Certainly belonging to and taking an active part in organizations like the Council of Science Editors (CSE), where I’m treasurer and on the program committee. I’m also involved in ISMTE, where I’m on the Industry Advisory board and on the Asian conference planning committee. I find that attending conferences, going to sessions, and sitting at the Aries booth are all a great way to stay up-to-date on user needs. Of course, I also read the Scholarly Kitchen and other various industry blogs and newsletters. And Twitter! I often enjoy live tweeting at conferences, because it’s fun and helps me remember the content later, kind of like taking notes.

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

One of my favorite podcasts is The History of English. Another one I like is Lexicon Valley, which is all about language and linguistics. I like a lot of political podcasts, so every day I get my news from the NPR’s Up First podcast, the New York Times’ The Daily, and then the BBC’s World Service– those are nice because they’re all 10-15 minutes long. When I’m looking for comedy I like Comedy Bang Bang, things from Earwolf–off-the wall stuff.

Tell us some of your hobbies and interests outside of work.

I play Dungeons and Dragons. I play original edition, so AD&D. We play maybe twice a month. I’ve been playing since I was a teenager, and I started playing with my kids when they were old enough to read and do math on their own and figure things out. So that’s one thing I like to do. Actually, Dungeons and Dragons was a great introduction to software design, particularly functional design. There are rule sets, and multiple decision points, and lots of tables underlying and driving the business logic. Creating a dungeon is like design a workflow, there is an entry point, there are decision trees that must be fully thought through, there are tasks and encounters that the players will need to address that lead to more decision trees, and then at the end they all get a report evaluating their performance and progress. It’s just like using Editorial Manager.  I like to drink beer –last weekend I went to a Bend and Brew with my wife Michele at a brewery in Milford to do yoga and drink a local IPA. I also run, ski and cycle, since so much of my work has me sitting at a desk or conference table.