David Zwang is currently the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Ghent PDF Workgroup. The Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) is an international organization made up of graphic arts users, associations and developers building best practices for publishing workflows and has led the charge in ensuring a viable set of standards for PDF workflows for a variety of different industry segments. Also, since 1991 Zwang has operated an independent consultancy specializing in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of electronic publishing, design, prepress, and printing across the globe. He is recognized as one of the leading workflow experts in our industry.
As we head into Graph Expo, WhatTheyThink spoke with Zwang to get an update on the latest activities at the GWG, status of the State Department project which Zwang has spearheaded—the first truly global implementation of JDF—and to gain his perspective on the show and the industry in general.
WTT: David, as always a pleasure to speak with you. You provided a video update on the State Department project for our readers earlier this year. What's the latest?
DZ: The State Department project is going well. In Manila, from an HR perspective, we have everyone in place and the installation of their Heidelberg 5-color press is underway. We are in the process of negotiating for the digital presses for all of our facilities, and the key to that is getting a company that allows us to have one point of contact in the U.S., but with a corporate presence in all of our locations—DC, Manila and Cairo. We are close on that one and will make an announcement with the vendor once the deal has concluded.
WTT: Is that for both color and black & white?
DZ: Yes, we also run a copier management program out of Washington, D.C. for all of the copiers for all of the State Department offices in the U.S. Océ won the contract on that. So we will likely use Océ for black & white in the production centers. Color is still TBD as I described.
WTT: This has been touted as the first truly global JDF implementation, and you did have the opportunity to basically start from scratch. What is happening from the JDF perspective?
DZ: Our web-to-print solution, which has JDF in the background, is about to go live. We haven't done a big promotion of the service yet, but so far we are doing two-sided multilingual business cards, certificates, note cards, and we are now working on some basic newsletter/brochure kinds of things using Adobe InDesign as the composition engine and some stuff we have developed internally for web interaction and transactional activity. Behind the scenes, much of the automation using JDF, XMP, etc., is coming from Gradual Software's PowerSwitch, which I think is probably the slickest application on the planet. What is fascinating about Gradual is that if you buy their basic package, Light Switch, it is not a lot of money, and it comes with a lot of configurators so that you can immediately begin to do little things. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out, but once you start using it to automate processes and realize the benefits, then you move up the path to PowerSwitch. The more you use it, the more you realize there are other things you can do with it, and the benefits are so significant. Because PowerSwitch is JDF enabled, it integrates seamlessly with the Heidelberg products we have installed as well as other applications. I don't think there is anything else on the planet that does what this application can do and it is key to our JDF deployment. Basically, many of the vendors are still integrating their own products with JDF. Gradual Software truly bridges multiple vendors.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out, but once you start using it to automate processes and realize the benefits, then you move up the path to PowerSwitch. The more you use it, the more you realize there are other things you can do with it, and the benefits are so significant.
WTT: Anything else on the State Department implementation?
DZ: We will be starting another branch division within the organization to handle OCR scanning. About six or eight months ago, a group in the State Department brought us into a room filled with file cabinets and asked whether we could scan it all. Of course, we said we could. We worked with Elan Software which has a good scanning solution that allowed us to automate some of the capture of metadata. We cleaned out this room, and because office space is at a premium, the word got out globally. Now everyone wants to do this, to make better use of space than filling rooms with filing cabinets full of paper. We put units on wheels that include a scanner and a laptop, with everything configured for the scanning operation, sort of like a Roadie Box for a rock band. We take it into an Embassy, scan what needs to be scanned, figure out what records to save or destroy, and now they have searchable data and more physical space.
WTT: You talked about Manila being fully staffed. How about Washington and Cairo?
DZ: We still don't have all of the headcount we need in Washington. We need 48 people and are at 27. But the interesting thing is that we are doing more work than we did when we had 85 people because we can do it more efficiently. In Cairo, as you know, we are building a new facility. Drawings have been completed and are going out to bid. We anticipate we will be in there by March. The presses and all of the bindery equipment are sitting in a warehouse in Germany waiting for us.
WTT: Lots of progress. So what is new with GWG?
DZ: In my mind, the biggest thing happening with GWG is that we have opened it up to industry members. In the past, membership has been strictly for associations and vendors. But we found that we were missing a big component. The reality is that you can't neglect the impact of the design and creative community, the whole front end of the process, and we had been focusing mostly on the back end.
In my mind, the biggest thing happening with GWG is that we have opened it up to industry members.
We are doing a lot of work with job tickets. We have a proofing ticket, an ad ticket, and are putting together a number of others. They use XMP and are cross-mapped to JDF where JDF exists. We needed some additional input to make sure they would serve the needs of all constituencies. We now have that from new members, including Hearst, and a publishing group in Spain, the first two new members from the industry member category, and we expect to have more members in this category going forward. As a result, since a lot of these new members are also U.S, based, we have planned our first ever U.S. meetings, the Job Ticketing subcommittee meeting to be held in NYC on October 7, and our first general meeting in November 2008. The subcommittee meeting will be our first official introduction into the New York advertising and publishing community.
One of the other things we are working on is a database specification for magazine ad specs that can be used with integration into magazine-specific applications. There are published ad specification books, but the specifications are not always current. If you want ensure that you have current specifications, you have to go to the individual publications, hope that they are current, and then translate those into your application so you can build ads. The upcoming solutions maintain an active database of specifications, and have the ability to translate them into workable layouts in popular page layout packages. GWG will get involved not so much in the mechanism itself, but in making sure there is a set of standardized requirements and conventions so that everyone is singing out of the same hymnal and applications like InDesign, Quark or more specialized applications like EFI's ProGraph can ingest these specifications directly from the database.
Finally, we are shifting the way we think about specifications. The original core work of the GWG was preflight specifications. But increasingly, we have realized that we need to find ways to ensure that a file is created to our specifications from the beginning. This move from preflight specification to file specification is in its infancy, and probably would hit the market in the next couple of years, with perhaps some technology demos at drupa.
This move from preflight specification to file specification is in its infancy, and probably would hit the market in the next couple of years, with perhaps some technology demos at drupa.
WTT: What should attendees be looking for at Graph Expo?
DZ: I will tell you what I am going to be looking at. I am looking at inkjet, pre drupa. I have already set meetings with some of the manufacturers, not so much to see what drupa will offer, though you may get some glimpses of it if you start looking at things like resolution, speed, and droplet size and droplet control. Those are the three main components. If you look at what the vendors are doing with those three things, you will begin to see a whole new world. I am not talking wide format here, but rather, production inkjet.
Other than that, Graph Expo attendees should be focusing on things that make their work more efficient, like the Gradual Software application I referenced earlier. Gradual will be in the drupa pavilion at the show. The problem up until now has been that if you want to do JDF, you start with tens of thousands of dollars and go up. With applications like this, you can implement improvements right away for a minimal investment. Of course, for anything you buy these days, you should ensure that it is JDF compliant, but with applications like PowerSwitch, you can really begin to glue things together and you don't have to wait for Heidelberg or Kodak or Adobe to do it for you—and you can do it your way, often without needing to have programmers on staff.
WTT: Good advice. And since you mentioned it, do you think drupa 2008 is going to be the Inkjet drupa?
DZ: There is no doubt about it in my mind.
WTT: David, thanks for talking to us. We will see you at the show.