APC Payment Management: In Practice and Good Practice

Wednesday November 18th 2015
Brunel Boardroom, Engine Shed, Temple Meads, Bristol


10.00 Coffee and registration
10:15 Welcome, housekeeping and outline of the day Kara Jones (University of Bath)
10:20 Introduction Frank Manista (Jisc) and Kara Jones (University of Bath)
10.30 University APC payment perspectives Isobel Stark (University of Southampton)
11:00 University APC payment perspectives Kathryn Smith (University of Bristol)
11.30 Summary and review Kara Jones (University of Bath)
12:00 Jisc Monitor Frank Manista (Jisc )
12:30 Offsetting and APC reporting Anna Vernon (Jisc Collections)
13:00 Lunch
14:00 APC payments: a publisher perspective Mark Purvis (IOP)
14:30 APC payments: a publisher perspective Raegel De Guzman (BMJ)
15:00 Final summary and review Kara Jones (University of Bath)
15:30 Close with thanks

Summary report on the workshop supplementing the presentations.


Pre-payments and the development of the APC market

This survey of the literature describing benefits and disadvantages of pre-payment deals is an attempt to pull together the issues surrounding pre-payment models and the development of the APC market to inform further discussion.

A survey of the published literature on the potential wider market effects of pre-payments on the development of the APC payments market

The survey is an output of our Jisc Good Practice Pathfinder project, any feedback, comments or issues please tell us!

Open Access Good Practice Project: GW4 Offset Implementation Review

This review of current offsetting deals focusses on the practical issues of implementing the available deals and briefly compares the deals with the Jisc Principles for Offset Agreements.

Open Access Good Practice Project: GW4 Offset Implementation Review

This document has been updated in November 2015 to reflect an error in the data collection.
The review is an output of our Jisc Good Practice Pathfinder project, any feedback, comments or issues please tell us!

Finlay Jones
University of Exeter

Managing APC payments using Access and Excel: a comparison

Managing APC payments for Wellcome Trust and particularly RCUK requires the collection of a lot of data for each payment. Finding a way to record all the necessary information in an efficient way is a significant challenge.

The most common method for collecting this data is an Excel spreadsheet, with a few institutions opting for an Access database. Two of the GW4 Pathfinder institutions, Bristol and Exeter, have just transferred their data between these two systems in opposite directions. The following details their reasons and experiences.

Excel to Access
At Bristol we have been grappling with a large and unwieldy spreadsheet of APC data. This happened gradually as new demands were made on the data for reporting internally and externally, and over time, more and more columns were added to the spreadsheet. By the time the number of columns had gone round to the beginning of the alphabet again, it seemed like time to change the system.

Although unwieldy, the spreadsheet was functioning adequately but was dependent on a number of formula and data validation methods to automate the data entry as much as possible. This was not too much of a problem until the expanding team meant that the fragility of the system was revealed. The formulas were easy to override by simply accidentally typing in the wrong cell and not all members of the team had the Excel knowledge to fix problems that occurred. The spreadsheet had simply become too complex and was leading to mistakes that were time consuming to fix. Add to that the inefficiency of simply scrolling through the many columns and the problems caused by the fact that only one member of the team could use the spreadsheet at the same time, and it meant that the spreadsheet was becoming extremely problematic.

The solution was an Access database. This was not a quick fix, it involved considerable preparatory work to clean up the Excel data, plan the structure of the tables and determine the relationships between them. We decided to put in the time in this preparatory phase in order to maximise the benefits of transferring to Access.

We have now transferred from Access to Excel, but we are still learning. We have not yet determined how to do all of the tasks that we could previously do in Excel. Monitoring the spending, particularly the totals for individual prepayment accounts, has still not been completely resolved. Despite this, we are already seeing the benefits in the data entry. The ability to use queries and forms means that it is easier to concentrate on the required part of the workflow, and data entry is quicker and more accurate.

We are really pleased we made the change; getting data in is already significantly improved, and we’re confident that this will be true for getting data out soon.

Access to Excel
The change from Access to Excel was largely prompted by staff turnover. Both members of the OA team who had been involved with setting up the Access database, as well as two other Access experienced members of staff within the library, left the University.

Inputting data into Access was extremely easy. All the required fields were displayed on one form, which was completely visible on one screen. This meant all data for each request was immediately visible on one screen, and made searching for data easy. However, a lot of the data generation for reporting was not entirely straightforward and we also felt that we did not use Access as expansively as we could have.

We used Access as it had been left for several months, before a change in our OA payment practice prompted the change to Excel: We needed to edit the data input form on Access but no one within the library had the expertise to do so.

When we first made the change we spent some time ensuring the fields were correct for both our data input and reporting needs, and working on pivot tables for reporting. This has now made it simpler to get quick snapshots of where we are with our spending. It also gave us a good opportunity to liaise with our colleagues from Research Accounting, who were using Excel to gather data for the Wellcome Trust reports. Now we have a unified spreadsheet which both departments use, which has reduced duplication in the University, as there is no need for us to pass information back and forth.

The fact the RCUK recommended JISC APC data template that has come from the JISC Monitor project is an Excel spreadsheet also means we can now integrate the institutional specific data gathering with the data for the RCUK report. The nature of formulas and tables within this template means that the additional fields we needed to add to the spreadsheet had to be added to the end otherwise they corrupt the formulas present on the template and the auto-complete fields are not filled in. While this causes the order of some of the data fields to be slightly illogical, it does not create huge problems. All the extra fields we need to fill in are together, but simply at the end of the spreadsheet instead of at the beginning. The size of the spreadsheet also introduces some risk of error as you scroll across the numerous columns.

It is hard to answer whether or not it would have been preferable to stay on Access, if staff expertise were different. Data input is easier in Access, but we believe that Excel is overall easier to use and more accessible for new staff. It also helps us be more efficient and work more closely with our colleagues, as well as tying in directly with RCUK’s recommended data collection template.

Kathryn Smith University of Bristol
Finlay Jones University of Exeter

Key Fields for APC Internal Institutional Reporting

Following publication of the Open Access Reporting Checklist, identifying the data required for RCUK and HEFCE OA/APC reporting, we wondered if it might also be useful to investigate the data used in institutional internal APC reporting across the four GW4 collaborators to determine if any data fields are common and what, if any, overlap there might be with the data fields required for external RCUK and HEFCE reports.

The investigation revealed that internal reports provide summaries or overviews of APC activity focusing on one of two main areas; expenditure of the RCUK grant and the extent of APC practice within the institution. These measures appear to be the main criteria GW4 institutions use to evaluate APC activity but no institution reports on both. At least one summary report is produced by each institution but multiple summary reports are also produced for different internal bodies. Only one institution provides detailed data on individual APC articles to other departments or services. Recipients of the summary reports were OA steering groups, research committees, research management and scholarly communications groups. One institution provides an annual report to the Vice Chancellors group.

Data collection has been simplified, in some instances, by re-using the data template from the Jisc RCUK report for internal reports or by using the same data fields, or a subset, for multiple reports.

Analysis of the data elements within the reports revealed no data element was used by all four GW4 institutions in internal reports. Report objectives appear to be the determining factor influencing data content; institutions who focus their reports on similar areas may use the same data element. Common data fields with external Jisc and HEFCE reports only occur if the Jisc template has been intentionally selected to simplify report production or if internal institutional and external report objectives are similar. Even within reports with similar objectives the levels of detail required created diverse data requirements.

It is difficult therefore to identify data fields which are key to internal reporting as the selection and use of fields is dependent on the report objectives and detail required by each institution.

It would be interesting to hear of other institutions experiences with internal reports; how they decided the focus of their reporting, whether they had clear objectives for their reports and how this influenced the data they collect and monitor. It would also be interesting to know how many different reports are produced by institutions and if reporting was simplified and by what means.

The Ultimate Prepayment Account

The University of Bristol has taken on a number of prepayment accounts to manage RCUK APC payments. We have these in part to take advantage of discounts but also to reduce administrative costs.

Some of our accounts do save administrative time for a combination of the author, the Library and the Finance department (a couple even save time for all three), but sometimes signing up for a prepayment can lead to a level of work far above that of paying individual invoices.

No two publisher prepayment systems operate in the same way, which causes inefficiencies for libraries and authors in itself, but it does allow us to view many different features and see what works for us and what doesn’t.

Here is our wish list for the ultimate prepayment account.

1. Process activated at the point of acceptance rather than submission.
2. Easy and intuitive system for authors with clear information about who is eligible to use the account.
3. Information for library staff about what the author will see as they go through the process.
4. Licence choice restricted to CC-BY.
5. Approval process that does not involve an extra step for the author. Codes or vouchers do not work well for us.
6. Ability to view proofs and check acknowledgements as part of the approval process.
7. Easy mechanism for managing RCUK and Wellcome Trust payments separately.
8. Ability to view online reports to monitor spending in real time.
9. Spending reported in GBP (or at least the same currency as the invoice for the original deposit).
10. Named point of contact to help when things go wrong.

Kathryn Smith
University of Bristol

FAQs for publishers

These ‘FAQs for publishers’ are intended to assist publishers in processing APC payments for Gold Open Access on behalf of authors and their institutions. We hope they will provide answers to commonly recurring questions, explain issues and promote understanding between all parties involved in APC payments.

FAQs for publishers

The FAQs are an output of our Jisc Good Practice Pathfinder project, any feedback, comments or issues please tell us! We’ll update the FAQs if appropriate.

Review of APC Intermediary Services

At the beginning of this pathfinder project I was tasked with examining intermediaries for APC payments, specifically in regards to reducing the administrative burden placed on HEI’s by Open Access, but it quickly became clear there was a problem – the rapidly changing Open Access environment we all deal with everyday had already moved past APC intermediaries.

Off the back of the JISC/OAK Pilot I spoke to CCC, EBSCO, Swets and Turpin Distribution. At first there seemed to be some interest in establishing intermediaries. But after initial positive responses, and some development work, the responses cooled down.

Turpin Distribution had presented at UKSG 2014 and mentioned the possibility of an interface for institutions in 2015. Now this has been delayed until a review in early 2016. EBSCO had plans in place but development has since been shelved. CCC still has potential given the services they supply for publishers, but it seems that any Institutional interface, if it comes at all, will still be a while away.

Instead of focusing on APC Intermediaries to enable administrative savings, these will instead have to come from Good Practice and further “bedding in” of Open Access processes and workflows into the operational life of institutions.

At the same time as the interest in Intermediaries was dwindling, the community had turned towards offsetting deals. When I started working on the project there was already information on offsetting in theory, and IOP had launched their offsetting pilot. We are now well and truly stuck into offsetting in practice, with several other publishers now offering offset deals following the work JISC has done establishing these deals and providing guidance.

The focus on savings has thus shifted. Any savings that we as a community might make now come from lowering, or controlling, the total cost of publication, rather than directly from removing administrative burden as was thought a little over a year ago at the commencement of the project.

My next blog post will examine these offsetting deals, the pros and cons of the different models that have been adopted, and how these deals are being embedded in practice, looking at the main pain points of implementation as well as things we would potentially change.

Finlay Jones
University of Exeter

Baselining workshop

The first step in looking at administrative workflows and activities has been a workshop finding similarities and differences in OA payment processes and workflows between the four GW4 universities – Cardiff, Exeter, Bristol and Bath.  The workshop, held on 29/07/2014, was facilited by a colleague with Lean SixSigma experience.

Introduction to project

The overview of the day was to look at what we do at the moment (as-is process); think about who our customers are, and what do they want; where is the waste or non value-adding activity; and what should the process look like (to-be process).   The framework for our discussions uses a Lean approach to maximise value and eliminate waste, based on 5 Principles:

  1. Define value-add and non value-add (according to the customer)
  2. Map the value stream, eliminate waste
  3. Establish process flow
  4. Shift from push to pull systems
  5. Strive for perfection

Realistically we probably won’t achieve anywhere near principle #5  but we did do some aspirational thinking towards the end of the day in our ‘to-be process’ session.

As-is processes:

A representative from each institution gave an overview on their APC payment activities.

Prioritising the issues outlined by each representative, these are:

  1. Licencing – ie. CC-BY, checking by publishers would help; at least 50% of items have a problem with the licence
  2. Finance – lots of checking/double checking; double handling; setting up of vendors/payment schedules/ large invoice approvals.
  3. Publishers – many changes for business models; compliance and responsibility for authors?


Who are our customers (not ordered):

  • Funders
  • Authors/Academics
  • Publishers
  • Internal stakeholders (operational and management groups, university senior management and reporting line managers)
  • Finance or payment office (including purchasing/procurement)
  • IT people (ie. CRIS, rrepository, systems)
  • Research Office (pre and post award)
  • Admin support in departments/colleges (often devolved)
  • Subject Librarians (advocacy) and other Library staff/colleagues
  • Readers or the end users of the research / other researchers / businesses

What do our customers want?

  1. Authors want minimum administrative burden, maximum impact, high citations!
  2. Publishers want low admin; money(!); users with pre-pay accounts – licencing and money are contradictory issues for publishers.
  3. Funders want value for money, greater impact, many are finding increased accountability from the government, transparency agenda, they are looking for compliance with their policies.
  4. Internal reporting/management want us to be complaint with funders so as not to jeopardise future grants; quality measurement; watching involvement of women/ECRs; statistics to inform institutional policy and strategy.
  5. Finance office want to be compliant with audit requirements; new work should fit in with standard processes and have complete information; sometimes want to circumvent the library (ie invoice direct from author/publisher); not be overburdened when adapting to our systems.
  6. IT want specs in good time as they can’t always react quickly. They want to understand the processes to support us, and prefer a full unchanging specification on any systems developed.
  7. Research office want research information and statistics, tending towards broad brush strokes (versus ‘obsessed with detail’ [library!!]). They want funder compliance and need to provide mechanisms to help with reporting.
  8. Subject Librarians/library colleagues want a simple message, they want to feel supported for difficult issues and kept informed (dislike feeling that academics are communicated with outside of their channels).
  9. End users want easy free access to a broad range of information. The licencing should be clear and open, ideally information found on the publisher website, alternatively versioning made clear.

Our perceived most important customers are numbers 1,3 and 4 above.

What do the 80% care about?

Quote: ‘We are operating in a prestige economy not a cost economy’.

Funders – value for money is important to this customer

Internal management – information provided that demonstrates value for money

(Suggestion to log hours getting data together for reporting (gold/green/reporting time))


Discussion on the 8 wastes identified by the Lean Six Sigma methodology and examples:

  • Defects (rework, chasing between customers)
  • Overproduction (recording more information than is needed)
  • Waiting (waiting for next step ie. time between requisition and PO due to approvals)
  • Transportation (movement around the supply chain, ie. unnecessary movement of forms)
  • Inventory (amount of pre-payment, build up of forms before processing)

To-be process:

These are things to keep in mind when thinking about ‘to-be processes’:

  • What’s worthwhile doing? – ask our customers (ie. the authors/academics)
  • Aim for ‘one piece flow’ or small batches (not always achievable)
  • Parallel processing – avoiding single point of failure, removing bottlenecks
  • Work layout
  • Multi-skilling
  • Modular design – forms or systems, standardisation (typically reduces error)
  • Error-proofing – trying to ‘break’ potential ideal processes (poka yoke) – cheap, quick and visual / simple ie. checklist.

Thoughts from ‘to-be processes’ list:

  • An ideal process is where the Library receives the invoice first.
  • Pre-pay accounts have been questioned as the cash is with the vendor before the product has been received.
  • Publisher invoicing – batching by time or number of APCS as a way of introducing efficiency
  • Automatic systems where the publisher sends metadata and fulltext file
  • Validation of paper forms – would a checklist or colour-coding help? (training and guidelines)
  • Licencing – where is the power in the relationship? Authors, journal/publisher, payments?
  • Action: to exchange lists of publishers and numbers of APCs (RCUK reporting) – is there any mileage in a GW4 consortium?
  • Shared services – VAT efficiencies? GW4 coordination of APC payments?  Should we look at pre-pay accounts for this (to be discussed after the action above)?
  • More skills in Libraries to deal with finance. Improved access to finance systems and control over funds to make process more efficient.
  • Reporting – checking licensing is a very manual process. Publishers to report to say they’ve done what we’ve paid them to do?  We need to look at error proofing to stop problems to get this right.  We need to reduce re-work.
  • Reporting to different customers is time consuming (push and pull). Should we be doing bespoke reports to each or give total reports to all?  Desire for RCUK to notify of standardised core list for reporting data.


This brainstorming is reflected in the stream-of-consciousness capture below.

brainstorming at workshop July2014

Our next step is to look at capturing a baseline cost per article – more on this shortly.





The inaugural post

Welcome to the inaugural post of our blog for the Jisc funded Open Access Good Practice Pathfinder Project lead by the University of Bath Library.

Aims, objectives and final output(s) of the project:

The aim of this project is provide guidance to HEIs on strategies to reduce the administrative burden of OA implementation.

There is an expectation of increased costs, both financial and administrative, during the transition from journal subscriptions to Gold OA and APC payments.  HEIs will need to consider staffing costs, payment outsourcing options and sources of information for reporting on OA implementation, all of which contribute to the administrative burden on services that are often already stretched.

We wish to investigate efficiencies in the administrative overheads involved throughout the lifecycle of OA implementation, specifically:

a.  The use of pre-pay bundles and voucher / waiver codes to reduce workflows and finance transactions.
b. Streamlining administrative processes by providing guidance on reporting requirements for RCUK and HEFCE Open Access reporting, particularly mapping points of overlap between various submissions to funders.
c. Drawing on the work of the Jisc APC project, we’ll be investigating whether the use of payment intermediaries such as OAK/Jisc APC represents a significant reduction in the administrative burden on HEIs.

Wider benefits to the sector and achievements for the host institution

APC payments are relatively new on the scene for HEIs, and many of us find ourselves struggling with systems for dealing with these efficiently and effectively.  It makes for an interesting landscape, particularly when widened to include the strain of changes on publishers, authors and other stakeholders.

This is a rapidly evolving environment, and it is possible that solutions and recommendations from this project are overtaken by developments in APC charges, methods of payment, requirements from funders, etc.  We need to be agile in responding to these changes.  We also need to ensure that any guidance or solutions we develop is scalable so as to be relevant to as wide a community as possible

Project team relationships

All team members are from the GW4 University Libraries.

The project lead is Kara Jones, Head of Library Research Services at the University of Bath.
Representatives from Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff will introduce themselves and their roles in forthcoming blog posts.

Projected timeline

The project runs from June 2014 to June 2016.  We have a number of milestones along the way, and we’ll report on key areas such as:

  • Requirements gathering – methodologies and next steps
  • Options for APC payments (case studies and workflows)
  • Evaluation and possible extension of Jisc APC best practice guidelines
  • Development and pilot of research recommendations
  • Findings from the project