Hubert Burda: One of Germany’s largest publishers is improving customer experience and transforming its digital offering by building a single view platform on MongoDB Atlas and AWS

All over the world traditional publishers are facing an existential threat: dwindling print circulation and massive competition for readers’ time from internet giants.

Recent circulation numbers for German newspapers highlight the drama. Europe’s largest tabloid, Bild, is down to selling a little over a million copies a day. At its height, Bild sold more than five million a day. With few exceptions, it’s the same story throughout the publishing world.

But for those media houses with courage, creative flair, and a deep understanding of their audience, there is a road back to growth.

Hubert Burda, one of Germany’s largest and most respected publishers, is on this journey. It’s shifting from a business reliant on print subscriptions to a diverse business model that mixes online advertising, subscriptions, events, and other digital offerings.

Hubert Burda employees
Image of Hubert Burda employees - via Hubert Burda

At the heart of this shift is a new single view platform where it gathers data from 54 million users across its national media brands. Putting the data in a central and manageable hub gives teams a granular understanding of how user's habits evolve. It also helps identify new business opportunities and to deliver a better experience to readers.

The platform was built by Hubert Burda’s in-house software firm, Valiton, using MongoDB Atlas on AWS. Here’s how they did it.

First, Understanding the Data

Those 54 million users create a lot of data. The first step was deciding how best to gather and manage it all. They needed a database that would allow them to ingest a huge variety and volume of data in formats and sizes which they couldn’t normalise or predict.

The document model was a no brainer for us,” explained Bastian Behrens, Head of Technology, Valiton. "If you look around the database market, MongoDB is simply the most scalable and well-developed product you could expect. And now they have combined that with outstanding stability."

Bastian Behrens and Dominik Kipar
Image of Bastian Behrens and Dominik Kipar, illustrated by Lyndon Hayes

So the Valiton team built their prototype on MongoDB’s community version in the AWS cloud. It worked. After just a few months they were ready to put an early model into testing with a subset of their publications.

The platform is not a place to just dump data. Its requirements are sophisticated and constantly being updated, not least of which is adhering to the GDPR data protection regulations.

Each brand is a separate legal entity. They have their own set of users, who each have different agreements in terms of data and ownership.

Within the database, this requires strict rules about where data is stored, how it’s accessed, deleted, and by whom. All the while still allowing for an appropriate level of integration and analysis.

For instance, the 360 platform helps Hubert Burda understand user preferences and complementary interests across its titles. This means they can offer better-tailored offers or services to those readers.

Valiton & MongoDB System Overview
Image of the Valiton & MongoDB System Overview - Via Valiton
Burda logo

With MongoDB Atlas, we can use the time we save for further development, new infrastructure and new features.

After six months the platform was live and already demonstrating value, but there was one small issue.

Editors and Developers

In the shift to digital transformation, developers have become just as important as their colleagues who create the content. Valiton’s mission was to enable great developers and give them the time and freedom they need to build excellent products for their customers.

However, as the size and importance of the platform had grown, too much of the small team’s time was taken up by managing the database. Nothing was broken, but they were spending their days managing upgrades, security, monitoring, and scaling the system, rather than helping the business identify new opportunities. They were trapped in the coping process.

Migrating to a Managed Service

Valiton loved the document model’s flexibility, but they needed help, so they turned to MongoDB Atlas, the global cloud database service. Atlas has all the management best practices built into the platform from security, right through to monitoring, and upgrades.

"With MongoDB Atlas, we can use the time we save for further development, new infrastructure, and new features," said Bastian Behrens. "What's more, MongoDB's support is simply first class. The service is available for every small request, and helps immediately".

After the introduction of MongoDB Atlas, response times have almost halved.

It’s also opened up new opportunities. Valiton stores much of the data they gather on AWS’s S3 buckets. Through MongoDB Atlas, the team is able to use the Atlas Data Lake product to quickly and simply query any format of data using the MongoDB Query Language. This is providing valuable insights back to the company’s analysts without having to extract the data or use a separate tool.

Almost immediately MongoDB Atlas was delivering new insights, better performance, and more of that most valuable of commodities: developer time. But the platform’s most powerful demonstration was yet to come.

Protecting the Reader

Early in 2019, Hubert Burda was targeted by hackers in a financially motivated heist. The hackers attempted to flood the server with login requests in what’s known as a denial-of-service attack.

But Valiton was ready. MongoDB Atlas automatically scaled up and provisioned more capacity to allow for the flood of requests. This gave the security team the vital moments they needed to respond to the attack and ensure the website stayed up. No data was stolen and customer experience was not affected.

Hubert Burda publications
Image of Hubert Burda publications - via Hubert Burda

The next edition

Behind the scenes, the 360 Single View Platform is already a success and it’s only in its early stages. More and more new features, offers, and opportunities are being rolled out to customers.

Giving developers a powerful platform, a huge data set and a mission to put the customer at the heart of the digital transformation process has proven a wise strategy for Hubert Burda.

As Dominik Kipar, Senior Project Manager at Hubert Burda Media states: “It’s easy to forget, but we are still in the early stages of this new digital content industry, but it’s already clear that there’s a route to success. Those companies that can combine their content and editorial excellence with powerful customer-first technology, can build outstanding businesses that turn those subscription numbers around."