Salzburger Nachrichten successfully completes ambitious system project with multicom
Salzburger Nachrichten Verlagsgesellschaft is a medium-sized, family-owned publishing company in Salzburg, the main city of the Austrian state of the same name. The main edition of the newspaper is published daily in the Berlin format in a print run of 84,000 to 131,000 copies, depending on the day of the week. The local section of the Salzburg edition is printed as a tabloid product in the semi-Berlin format. Also published in tabloid are the weekly editions of the Salzburger Woche, which are delivered in the corresponding local districts together with the Salzburger Nachrichten (SN).
With a view to media convergence and cross-media publishing as well as the rapid development in networks, storage media, servers and databases, investments in IT systems rank among the strategic decisions of a media house. That applies for publishing houses of all sizes and equally for local, regional and national publications. For this reason, together with IBM Austria and Oracle as responsible partners, the entire IT infrastructure was newly created with a Storage Area Network (SAN) offering a high level of availability, located on the company site and with server clusters about 400 m apart.
Salzburger Nachrichten took an investment decision that could justifiably be described as courageous. Roman Minimayr, head of EDP, reports about the background to the project.
newspaper techniques: Salzburger Nachrichten has remained loyal to its systems supplier System Integrators (SII, now net-linx) for a very long time. Can you tell us the reasons for this?
Roman Minimayr: It is undoubtedly unusual for a system to be used in production for 17 years. Of course, there were many updates during this long period -- in both the software and hardware areas. In this way it was possible to ensure that, up to about six years ago, the system was up to the latest standard obtainable from (then) SII. Our IT division added many own developments to the system in order to try and make available the services required for our organisation. Our improvisation was successful in most cases -- something that speaks in favour of the openness and modularity of the “old” core was system. This was true for production, editorial, and advertising, up to the online portal salzburg.com. Economic considerations -- it remains to be seen how the advertising market, the trend in the online area, in-house organisation and strategic market requirements develop -- were among the reasons for retaining our existing systems environment. Naturally, the system presentations at various trade fairs and exhibitions were not exactly bursting at the seams with “got to have” solutions. Our move into the new publishing building and the year 2000 were also contributing factors.
nt: Then you decided in favour of the multicom NGen -- what was it that the competition could not offer you?
R. Minimayr: Our demands on the “new tool” for the Salzburger Nachrichten publishing house were and are very exacting. After all, we wanted as far as possible to supply, manage, upkeep, book and invoice all business processes, customer relations and production basics – from production techniques via layout, up to CMS and CRM functionalities with integrated DMS (Document Management System) as well as all information related to customers, orders, activities, logos, online bookings, etc.– from the system for print, online, etc., in a media-neutral way. The four-strong project group, drawn from the newsroom, production, advertising and IT, was aware that these are very exacting demands, but also that they constitute an essential basis for a medium-sized publishing operation with branch offices, regional editions, daily and weekly newspapers, an online service and a future-oriented policy.
Many of these modules and functions were obtainable from other suppliers to a lesser or greater degree. Everything together AND the possibility to adapt, develop and “conceive” these elements and functions was, in the opinion of the project group, could be realised only with the Ngen system.
nt: Everyone – including Ifra – advocates XML-based media-neutral data storage for effective cross-media publishing. To what extent are these conditions satisfied?
R. Minimayr: Naturally, standards are important and logical today, and without these no print or online production will function really efficiently. XML is certainly one of the most important, but again only one of these bases. Media-neutral data storage is quite simply THE basis, likewise the consequential transfer of data storage to a harmonised multimedia database. These databases must contain all elements that are of relevance to the company, from articles and ads, images, customer base, and the page. This is the only way to guarantee that the information is consistent, and that it is only the viewing and slant on the stored information that can be different. This makes the data volume and structure transparent and reduces multiple storage to the necessary minimum, i.e. once. These conditions are achieved by the latest internal link technology and realised in the Ngen system.
nt: Will the new editorial system help you to offer readers new products at a low cost – something that was perhaps not possible before? Can you already tell us something about it?
R. Minimayr: Like nearly every publishing house in these difficult times, Salzburger Nachrichten is also considering, investigating, planning and realising new products. Naturally, the new technical environment is of assistance here, as production, processes, contents and indeed the “medium” itself play a decisive role. Print products are output in a simpler operation and selected contents can be made available at the same time as “linked products” for new media. To return to your question, yes, we are working intensively on new products for various media … I will be able to say more when we have proceeded further with the development work.
nt: Was the newsroom actively involved in system selection and introduction, and how was the new system accepted in practice?
R. Minimayr: A decision that is as forward-looking, important and serious as this must and can only be taken together and in consultation with the newsroom, but naturally also the production, advertising and technical divisions. Of course, the newsroom was fully integrated into the decision-making process and continues to be so. As a consequence of the positive attitude on the part of the entire newsroom -- indeed, of nearly all personnel in the publishing house (after all, this also involved accompanying measures such as a total re-equipping of the production and communication environment and of the back office functionalities) -- the changeover is a success and constantly exciting.
nt: Introducing new systems is frequently accompanied by reorganisation measures. What organisational changes did you undertake in Salzburg?
R. Minimayr: With system changes on such a scale as this one, the “reorganisation” aspect is always an important consideration. In our house, it was also a “hot” topic – but not only that! In the project group we naturally discussed, defined and tested “the ideal editorial, advertising and production workflow”, and as a result rejected several theories. However, it was clear from the beginning of the project in January 2003 up to the decision in favour of multicom in July 2003 and putting into operation of the system in February 2004 that discussions about reorganisation should not impede the group. The outcome is a system that guarantees the latest processes, is flexible and efficient, and is at the disposal of the user – but that also gives the time and freedom to exactly plan, check and gradually realise these in-house measures. Naturally, it has caused major changes at production, proofreading, page layout, technical and secretarial levels.
nt: Let us turn our attention now to the area of advertising. Whereas the multicom NGen editorial system is in use already at several other publishing houses, the advertising system is a completely new development – that requires courage, involves risks, but also opportunities. What motivated you to take this risk?
R. Minimayr: We were looking for a system that is modern - modular, adaptable, efficient, not fixed and “rigidly wired”, sometimes also a little crazy but still logical and meaningful – almost like a “Matador for grown-ups” that was simply supposed to work (editor’s note: “Matador” is a creative wooden modular system for children). Of course, we checked all possible advertising systems and even discovered some good approaches ... After giving in-depth consideration to all necessary adaptations of existing systems, it became clear to us in the project group that we should take a closer look at the Ngen system. Following discussions with multicom, it was also clear that multicom needed a development partner and we would have the opportunity to help create a comprehensive, innovative and integrated system. On the basis of the drafted principles contained in the “Recommendations to the Management” and their courage and willingness to take a risk with new things, they took the decision to pursue a joint effort with multicom. Bingo! We landed ourselves a lot of work!
nt: Did you have to scale back your demands during the realisation phase, or did you recognise new possibilities that, in cooperation with the supplier, you were able to introduce into the development?
R. Minimayr: No really major functions were scaled back after SN defined the specifications -- naturally in such a wide-ranging project (especially in such a short realisation period) there are always functions that are prioritised, changed, postponed, re-designed – sometimes even rejected. The final outcome is the product that is in operation today and is the outcome of our cooperation with multicom. It now has fully-integrated additional functions that we considered only briefly at the initial stage. Now as then, new ideas are born and acted on almost daily.
nt: In the advertising area, are you also considering new cross-media ad combinations or services (online and/or mobile) that may possibly become an option only now with the new system?
R. Minimayr: The core objective is, naturally, better and more efficient customer management. We now have a wide range of new, fully-integrated functions, also using the online approach. From order-taking directly from the customer base, price calculation, copy proofing, schedules, checks on formats and capability to produce the orders, up to job status and box number information, the customer (provided it has been activated) can view everything via the online access to his customer account. New combinations between print, online portals and other services as well as search agents up to the applicant database, everything is retrievable from one system. Mobile information, however and wherever, on whatever medium, or more precisely print, portal or medium, is now possible.
nt: In the marketing brochures there is always reference to the “seamless” Ngen system. But no one is alone in this world and even NGen must communicate with other systems in order to permit automated production. Have you been able to register a simplification in the realisation of interfaces to other manufacturers’ systems with XML, and what effect has this had on the project?
R. Minimayr: Our system design does not include very many interfaces to other manufacturers’ systems. We realised data import from the news agencies and photo agencies (text and image), and we would like to see agencies agreeing on standards, especially in the text area. Besides the export of articles and pages to outside archives and the balances and outstanding invoices of the advertising customers to the accounting system, there are almost no interfaces. The few that existed were, naturally, much easier to realise than before by the standardised structure.
nt: What were your main objectives with the introduction of the new publishing system, and can you state already whether you have achieved them?
R. Minimayr: We still have plans for the technical Ngen environment – but I can already draw up a positive balance-sheet. We have the opportunity to realise new ideas in a simpler and more cost-efficient way, can manage our customers more efficiently and advise them more comprehensively, have many more chances to logically package the products and offer the reader, customer and partner a superior product. But one thing is also clear: The system is only a means to an end and it helps to better meet the more exacting demands and manage new ideas.
Harald Löffler conducted the interview.
Page first published: 31.10.2005