SuperConference goes global p.6

By: Jim Rosenberg & Mark Fitzgerald NAA meeting reflects increasing influence of world technologies, markets, customers

While SuperConference '99 was in Orlando last week, Mickey Mouse's Florida home had the feel of a European technical conference.
Operations executive from across America crowded into conference rooms to hear directors of Unisys Italia and the Danish front-end system vendor SAXoTECH opine about the future of the prepress business.
The peppered Matti Kuusisto with questions about the virtual reality discs VTT Information Technology is developing in Finland to train packaging center employees. They listened intensely as an executive from The Record explained why the Hackensack, N.J.paper became the first North American newspaper to buy into the Enterprise Resource Planning concept of networked computing that is sweeping European newspapers.
Europeans were not at SuperConference '99 only to talk. They attended
in big numbers-indluding 22 executives from Sweden alone.
Ever since the Newspaper Association of America consolidated its operations conferences four years ago, the annual event has offered a look at new technologies and improved practices for every discipline.
Among the 600-plus who gathered last week in Orlando were the expected representatives from national, major metro, and large regional dailies; newspaper groups large and small; and some independently owned dailies of modest circulation. Also registered, however, were managers from a Midwest group of weeklies, The Navajo Times, colleagues from Canada and Latin America, and the Swedish contigent.
More than 100 vendors attended, turning this SuperConference into kind of a preview of Nexpo. For the first time, for instace, two big post-press vendors used the occasion to announce new technology in the United States. Both reflected industry interest in dealing with the growing avalanche of preprinted inserts. Both combine separate mailroom processes and save floor space.
GMA gave newspapers the first look at the Bundler, a single device that combines bundling, counting, and strapping. ""It's an all-encompassing device that is at complete replacement for yout tie line process,"" says Darrell E. Pav, GMA's director of technology.
The other mailroom machine-a combination palletizer and cart loader-comes from the Danish company Schur Packaging Systems and will be shown for the first time in the United States in the summer's Nexpo.
One of the hottest subjects of discussion at the SuperConference was the protection and expansion of the lucrative classified advertising franchise. Houston Chronicle vice president Jack Stanley unveiled his task force's first stab at a standard for the schange of classified ads from any source to any destination across multiple media. The ADEX standard facilitates Web searches of aggregated, rationally organized ads from any number of sources, and is equally applicable to print and voice products (see story, p..29).
SuperConference highlighted big changes in technology at the front end of the newspaper as well. With the year 2000 problem mostly fixed at big papers, interest is turning instead to systems that can give managers meaningful data and that can increase newsroom productivity.
It was the Y2K program that led the Record, Bergen County, N.J. to the Enterprise Resource Planning system offered by the German company SAP.
"We were running our business on some 49 software systems, many of them legacy systems,"" says Rick Ruffino, the paper's vice president of technology.
"We wanted moer democratic information to do more decision making at lower levels. We wanted to improve the computer literacy of the work force and develop a structure to get best practices actually put into practice. ERP meshes all the departments so finance is now linked to human resources and human resources is linked to production, production is linked to advertising and advertising is linked to circulation.""
Another big priority is pagination, says Bill Givens, president of the imaging systems maker ECRM.
""As an output device supplier, our business ? will be tied to real, full-blown, honest-to-God pagination, not to electronic pasteup. I still hear stories of newspapers outputting to photo-sensitive paper. That strikes me as not a direction we want to go.""
Vendor presentations and pagination preoccupations coincided when Quark Inc.'s new chief operating officer outlined his company's future plans and Adobe Systems managers previewed two new major software packages under condition of nondisclosure. (A formal announcement is expected at the March Seybold conference in Boston.)
Outlining the mission of the newly formed Quark Marketing Inc. to directly sell, integrate, service, and support Quark products, Chuck Bland reaffirmed his company's commitment to the newspaper industry and to Macintosh as the platform of choice for the majority of his customers.
Bland promises more discipline in engineering, with new versions of XPress appearing 20 to 30 months apart. And 90% of the feature set is already ""locked in"" for release of 5.0, he says.
Bland says 80% of the customer base runs Quark products on Apple's machines and two-thirds of its sales are for Mac-based software. Still, it is moving to Windows and Unix compatibility in the Quark Publishing System, which now counts over 500 worldwide installations, with approximately 40% of them at newspapers.
Quark has put $1.2 million into new computer facilities and boosted staff by 20%, particularly in customer support, which now must sign off on all new products. Through work with other firms, the separate Quark Marketing subsidiary will offer Visionware products for display ad management, page planning, and ad dummying; production tracking; and Web site production and management by editors, not techies.
XPress, often with the Quark Digital Media System, will constitute the core software for new vertical product packages that utilize appropriate third-party software.
Bland says Quark will also address the cumbersome procedures related to licensing additional QPS seats.
The pagination session itself opened on a decidedly different note, however, when Austin (Texas) American-Statesman prepress production manager Paul Mowry recalled asking staffers to give up QuarkXPress ? ""that excellent system"" ? and begin using something ""a little less excellent"" that also happened to offer other components designed specifically for newspapers.
Mowry's paper and the entire Cox chain converted to Digital Technology International's software. Mowry says the system conversion and move to full-page output to negative met return-on-investment expectations through work force reductions that incurred no layoffs and only two early retirements from the composing room.
The system was installed in three months and rolled out in groups over 10 weeks.
In contrast to running proprietary software using a standard client-server architecture, London-based Associated Newspapers Ltd. (2.4 million-circulation Daily Mail, Sunday Mail, and 470,000-circulation Evening Standard) relies heavily on XPress ? within its Quark Publishing System ? with links to its old System Integrators front end and to the new front end it developed using Lotus Notes groupware on a newsroom intranet.
""The aim was not to become dependent on individual suppliers,"" says ANL group technology director Allan Marshall.
ANL is now about two-thirds of the way into rolling out its 700-seat system. Initially, says Marshall, there were ""serious problems, particularly of scalability"" ? maintaining stability and performance.
A Notes upgrade is slated for spring. For now, ANL relies on six interfaces among the three systems. Its new Notes-based front-end mimics the workflow of the system from SII, which has licensed ANL's work in order to offer a future Notes-based system of its own as an alternative to its Tandem-based System/77 with Windows-based clients.
For Thomson newspapers, the aim of pagination was to increase customer satisfaction, simplify processes, increase revenues, and reduce operating expenses, according to technology vice president Steven B. Strout. Unlike Cox, Thomson settled on no single vendor. All systems, however, aim to be able to exploit the Portable Document Format, wide area networking, and computer-to-plate output as the new, though not yet perfected, standard technologies, says Strout.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher, January 16, 1999) [Caption]


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