Integrating Disparate Systems Is Publishers’ Goal

Follow by Email
Visit Us

By: Meg Campbell

A growing number of newspapers are taking on ambitious projects relying on integration and common platforms to get better data faster, and ultimately to identify and generate new sources of revenue.

Editorial systems at Cox Newspapers Inc.’s 17 dailies and its Washington bureau are integrated on Digital Technology International systems, and smooth operations at the front end have prompted executives to tackle the final frontier of odds-and-ends systems. Cox has just unveiled a pilot project with SAP America at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News to fully integrate advertising, circulation, financials, human resources, and payroll. If all goes well, Cox may well decide to implement the SAP system throughout the group.

Knight Ridder execs recently announced that the group will use Data Sciences Inc. (DSI), Laurel, Md., for circulation and Mactive for advertising for the entire enterprise, with plans to integrate the two systems down the line. The project will give Knight Ridder a standard application that will make information exchange easier and let it manage technology in a more consistent manner. The News-Sentinel, the group’s daily in Fort Wayne, Ind., completed implementing the Mactive system, and work has moved to the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

To the north, Canada’s Southam Publications said it will install Media Command’s circulation solution at its 27 dailies. Again, the group’s execs cite the prospect of “consolidated presentation of comprehensive demographic data” as a key reason for taking on the project.

And industry veteran Neasi-Weber International (NWI) is still very much a competitor, recently announcing that The Toronto Star will license CCI Europe’s AdDesk System. It consists of CCI’s ad production and tracking system, NWI’s accounts-receivable system, and the multimedia ad sales and management system developed jointly by NWI. The contract makes the Star the first North American paper to replace NWI’s Admarc with AdDesk, according to Michael Brier, NWI senior sales and marketing vice president.

Such projects are major undertakings for newspapers and their groups. The investments are substantial, and the implementation can wreak havoc with day-to-day operations. “It’s a huge learning curve,” says John Beirne, circulation information systems project manager for Media General Inc.’s publishing division, which also chose DSI to centralize circulation for its 26 dailies and 100 weeklies. “Before, we had 11 different systems, and we are going from mainframe legacies to a robust system that greatly broadens our capabilities, but also challenges the users.”

Nevertheless, users agree that the changes are necessary if papers hope to continue to trim staff while leveraging data to create new market opportunities. For example, although Cox initially suffered sticker shock when it began negotiations with SAP, “when we number-crunched, we realized we get one place to grow from, and, over time, that will save us money,” says Jenny Trautman, Cox Newspapers’ information and technology director.

New Tech=New Opportunities

Papers that have taken the plunge are enthusiastic about the possibilities the new systems offer. There are a host of features that allow newspapers to do reporting, analysis, planning, and customer-relationship management (CRM). They also can be integrated more easily, often because of a shared platform — DSI and Mactive, for example, which use Oracle. In the case of Mactive, the company completely rewrote its system, integrating features and functionality directly into the programming, rather than with add-on modules, says Steve Hannah, technology vice president for Knight Ridder.

“The new systems will streamline reporting to the corporate entity, making it much easier to define reporting and to analyze information across Knight Ridder,” says Jeff Berger, applications director for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. Explains Cox’s Trautman, “We want to be able to print and deliver what we sell, and with everything in one database, everyone in the operation has the same view of the same data. There’s just one truth.”

The key is not having the same system, Hannah maintains, but “having the same metadatabase across the enterprise.” In planning its migration to DSI and Mactive systems, the company created metrics to help understand advertising and circulation better across the group, and it’s making sure that the systems are the same (no individual tailoring at a newspaper) so that the data will be compatible and comparable.

The Final Frontier

Many users are working toward joining their advertising and circulation information in a single database.

“In a single phone call, a customer rep can take a classified ad, and check if the advertiser is a subscriber. If he isn’t, the rep can offer him a subscription, take the order, and charge the customer,” says David Kraai, president of Advanced Publishing Technology. “It’s about revenues ultimately, but it’s also about better customer service and customer relationships.” APT is “chest-deep” in the integration of Lee Enterprise Inc.’s circulation system, which it acquired late last year. “It’s where we wanted to be from the very beginning,” Kraai says.

“A huge bugaboo in data processing has been reporting,” says DSI Sales Manager Dean Parkhurst. “When you had a mainframe program, you had to write a program every time you needed a report. Today, we have 120 standardized reports. They are facilitated by the hardware and software, but they are enhanced by integrated systems that let you get the data from all sides.” Customer reps have access to the full account, and thus can do things such as check on outstanding bills, start subscriptions, listen to complaints, and sell ads.

“In the past, it was hard to pay attention to data because there was no clean way to pull it out and deliver it to everyone’s desktop,” says Cox’s Trautman. “We wanted a way to present all the information we collect and get it back out to the people doing the work, so they can see the trends. “Things that get measured get changed.”

Integration improves data integrity by eliminating redundant entries. “How clean and standardized your data is is very important,” says Knight Ridder’s Hannah, adding that the chain has incorporated Group 1 Software’s data-cleansing application across the organization to ensure that addresses are postal-standardized.

For a group, moving to a common platform and integrating advertising and circulation can mean better regional and national advertising products — and can allow it to centralize systems in one location, which can offer savings and better information-technology management.

At Brown Publishing Co. in Ohio, its 59 papers will share one database and will automatically interface publishing systems with financial applications from Publishing Business Solutions. When the implementation is completed, it should have a single view of all of its business relationships and be able to cross sell into any of its publications.

Getting To Know You, Via CRM

At a Florida daily, a customer rep takes a call for a new subscription. After the rep has the needed information, he asks a final question: “Would you like to place an ad for a garage sale?”

Why? Because data mining revealed that many new subscribers are newcomers migrating south and moving into smaller homes, often with no basements. They therefore need to sell a bunch of stuff when they move in.

“Knowledge is money,” agrees DSI’s Parkhurst.

The new systems allow papers to know their customers better, and let them develop the most effective ways of selling products, says SAP America’s Darryl Tjaden. “The trend is to utilize any technology to better know your market and increase your revenues,” adds Tjaden, co-founder of former publishing systems vendor CText Inc. “Business systems will cease to be order entry, and will be deliberately enriched with as much customer knowledge as possible,” adds David Frenkel, chief operating officer of Media Command. Frenkel believes that much of classified advertising will be transacted over the Web, freeing up reps.

Time starvation is a big factor for customer reps, and systems have to be more efficient to maximize the time a rep spends with the client, says Brainworks President John Barry. Brainworks began as an ad-management software company, but last year acquired Freedom System Integrators for its classified, editorial, and run-of-press ad-layout systems.

“The key to CRM in terms of technology is, once we understand the customer, we have to provide front-line people with something smart,” explains Chuck Farraj, marketing information manager for the Tribune Co.’s Orlando Sentinel Communications. Farraj has been using predictive data mining at the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel to determine ways in which subscribers and nonsubscribers may be similar, with the aim of targeting in subscription campaigns those nonsubscribers whose demographics most resemble those of subscribers. Says Farraj, “The value is the long-term equity you get from treating customers well.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *