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EUROMAX SOLD AND INSTALLED more than 50 newspaper systems between 1987 and 1992. Since 1992, it has spent most of its resources in the development of a new generation of its newspaper system, based mainly on the specifications provided by the Belgian publishing group Vlaamse Uitgeversmaatschappij (VUM). This new-generation system has been sold and installed at five newspaper sites, including one that was an upgrade of an existing system (see customer list on p. 30).
Vlaamse Uitgeversmaatschappij (VUM) is a Flemish publishing group based in Brussels, Belgium. It publishes four morning newspapers-De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, De Gentenaar and Het Volk-with a combined circulation of 470,000 copies (80,000, 240,000, 20,000 and 130,000 respectively). The group also produces three weekly magazines-Intermediair, Intermediaire Francais and De Standaard Magazine-although only the last of them is produced using the Euromax system.
VUM competes with four other Dutch-language newspapers, but VUM is the dominant one. It recorded a turnover last year of $222 million for the publishing group, excluding Het Volk. The net profit was approximately $20 million.
The group employs a total of about 730 people. It has two editorial departments and 700 reporters to produce 14 different editions of Het Nieuwsblad (one of which is De Gentenaar) and two editions of De Standaard every day. On average, those three titles comprise between 100 and 200 pages daily. (Het Volk is produced in seven editions in a separate environment in Ghent.) These pages contain around 200 pictures, of which about 50 are reproduced in color, in most cases four-color.
The different products include approximately 10,000 new ads each month, for a total of about 160,000 per year. The advertising department cross- sells both ROP and classified ads for all newspapers. VUM also produces a special type of advertising, which it calls merchandising, that appears as a separate, special edition of the newspaper. It has the normal title but is sold exclusively as an ad. For example, when Windows 95 was introduced, there was a special Windows 95 version of Het Nieuwsblad.
Other figures regarding the advertising volumes (excluding Het Volk) are as follows:
Number of orders handled every year (for all publications)140,000
Number of new orders every day1,200
Number of contracts6,000
Number of customers in the system100,000
Number of active customers35,000
Number of invoices per month4,000
Ads produced internally at VUM (%)70
Ads received ready to print (%)30
The search begins
VUM is not new to the newspaper system business. It claims to have been the second newspaper in Europe to install an Atex system, which it did in 1978. But by the '90s, VUM had several reasons to start looking for a change:
Productivity. A management requirement to increase productivity and sharpen the business focus throughout the organization.
Functionality. Pressure by users for additional functionality, which was impossible on the Atex system, since it was more than 12 years old.
Atex's status. The changing state of affairs at Atex at that time, which gave many customers a cause for concern about upgrades, ongoing support and so on.
Sales tool. A desire in the advertising department to get an active sales tool with the proper instruments to achieve maximum customer service.
System size. The need to accommodate an increase in the number of editorial users, which had been done by connecting a Novell network to the Atex system. But this resulted in a split editorial department, which was a serious hindrance for editorial operations.
Early phase. To manage the process of defining and implementing electronic page production, the management set up a project team, which would be given full responsibility for the results. It consisted of the editor of Het Nieuwsblad, senior consultants with years of experience in advertising and the managers of the information technology and the prepress operations.
To get all team members on the same level, it was determined that the publishing house would spend time and money training the team members. This would give them a better understanding of the project and goal.
The project team took an engineering approach that focused on how the newspaper would be produced in the future. It defined the production flow and what kind of functional tools it would require. Part of the work was defining the capacities needed to meet deadlines. Another key was planning the organizational needs of the effort.
Once the board agreed, the project continued along two tracks, one defining and selecting the system and the other considering the organization. In this phase more than 70 staff members from different parts of the company contributed their experience and energy to fine-tune the requirements and scrutinize organizational options.
The result was a detailed description of the workflow and a low-level functional specification list. The latter was the basis for the review of more than 30 systems and vendors in 1992, including Atex, GB Techniques, CCI Europe, Crosfield, Mediasystemen, Hyphen, PCS, QED, Sema Group and System Integrators.
This evaluation was done with reference to an extensive checklist and involved discussion sessions, meetings, product presentations and focused workshops. Finally, a five-day custom demonstration was organized for the three vendors on the short list: Euromax, Atex and SII. VUM's key users were given hands-on exposure to these systems.
Vital criteria for the final decision were functionality, flexibility, robustness and fault tolerance, cost of investment, IT experience, system manageability and overall productivity.
At that time, VUM hoped to find an existing system that would satisfy all requirements, perhaps through integration with third-party products, but with one vendor taking final responsibility. However, none of the short- listed systems was at that stage. So, after careful consideration and some risk assessment, at the end of 1992 an agreement was signed and finalized with Euromax.
When the project started, one of the goals was to have the new system installed and in production by December 31, 1993. Another goal, as mentioned above, was to increase the page production rate. In conjunction with these objectives, management wanted to keep in mind a long-term goal of evolving toward significant decreases in costs, both in staff level and resource use.
Advertising. For the advertising system, VUM had several important objectives: to provide better services to its advertising customers; to integrate classified and ROP ads, which Atex's IAS system didn't do; to have a closer link between editorial and advertising production than the Atex system offered; to accommodate online booking of ads in real time; to support active sales; and to provide fast changes of advertising products and commercial offers, thus better responding to an ever more competitive market.
Editorial. One of the key issues was support for what VUM called an "open news house"-an editorial environment where each reporter could choose what to write about. In making that possible, the system not only had to support and manage the news gathering process, but also had to provide a fully electronic page production flow. There also was a need to enable the reuse of editorial material in other publications, including electronic publications. (The VUM group has experience with videotex, audiotex and radio.)
Both advertising and editorial departments also needed a system that supported publication of multiple editions (with zoning), with regard to article creation, ad handling and page makeup.
Other goals included enabling reductions in the number of production steps, the amount of manual work and the use of consumables. Less obvious, but quite important, was the need to tackle the …