by Gail Nickel-Kailing September 30, 2003 -- Networked Graphic Production™ (NGP) has evolved since Creo introduced the initiative two years ago. No longer a Creo effort, now 27 companies have joined the NGP Partner initiative. Does that mean that NGP will need to become NGPP? Arranged in two rows on a stage at the end of the room, representatives of 18 companies were prepared to answer questions and provide input into the latest iteration in the effort to turn talk of JDF-compliant production components into reality. In a brief presentation, delivered by Amos Michelson, Creo CEO, NGP was described as an equal and open partnership where any company wishing to integrate their applications with other providers of production solutions can join. The purpose is to bring integration and automation to life through tested and certified JDF interfaces. NGP Partners are committed to defining, developing, testing, and delivering JDF-based integration between their systems to bring tangible value to printers, print buyers, and creative professionals. By delivering closely integrated, cross-vendor solutions, NGP will lead the way to maximize the efficiency of the complete print production process. After his brief introduction and overview, Amos opened the floor for questions from the audience about NGP. Backing him up with additional answers to the numerous were the eighteen company representatives. Perhaps it was just the end of a long day that made the audience ask a lot of questions. Questions: • Why was the NGP initiative started? Creo started NGP with the clear knowledge that an initiative had to be launched to bring all the elements of a graphic production system to elements to work together. When MAN Roland partnered with Printcafe and integrated the software and hardware, the MIS systems were JDF-compliant but not “plug and play.” What the industry really needs is integration. Island systems will never be successful. Vendors need to integrate solutions so that shared customers will benefit. It will be a huge advantage for all our customers. Our industry simply isn't as profitable as it was and we need to work together to survive. Printers need to have better capability in the future to be more efficient. • Why do we need another initiative on standardization and connectivity? How will the average printer understand the process? For example, PrintCity – a strategic alliance of independent “best in class” companies from the graphic arts industry - was launched at drupa 2000. PrintCity's goal is to provide complete solutions in an open system architecture to raise the performance, efficiency and productivity of its members' customers. How is NGP different? Networked Graphic Production is the philosophy of a number of people who share same vision and want to work together to accelerate the adoption of JDF compliant. NGP Partners are not trying to start a new standard, but want to deliver a total system and make sure components work together. If a system is NGP-compliant the user will know in advance that the components have been tested to work together. • On more careful examination, there is only one prepress supplier. The fact that this was a Creo-launched initiative makes it seem like competitive prepress companies cannot join. There is nothing that prevents anyone – including Agfa - to participate. While the NGP was indeed launched by Creo, it now belongs to 27 member companies, not just to Creo. • What is the NGP certification process? Does it involve the full JDF certification? NGP will certify subsets of JDF. Involved are the elements that are needed to make the certified products “plug and play.” There are subsets for prepress, subsets for MIS systems and each subset will be used to certify the appropriate partners. NGP Partners will be delivering products tested by an independent certification lab to ensure that they work together. • When someone wants to reach the NGP Partner initiative, whom do they call? Who answers the phone? Messages are taken by a Creo employee and then forwarded to the appropriate member. • How will group prioritize which “dots are to be connected first?” Which products will be linked together and certified? Beginning tomorrow the members of the NGP Partner alliance will meet to start the process. It will consume an enormous amount of effort. This group will decide which products will be integrated for launch at drupa. The membership can configure the providers into subsets that will require interfacing. For example, prepress, MIS, postpress, etc. The group will define a subset of the 700-page JDF spec for MIS systems, for example. Then every MIS system within NGP will speak to presses in the same way. • Who decides what the subsets will be and how often they will change? Will NGP be flexible enough to add changes as members are added? In the beginning Creo looked at what EFP features would provide the most benefit to printers and then provided the specs to the ERP companies. Creo defined the interface between the ERP systems and the presses. There are working groups within the NGP from different parts of the industry. These working groups will define the integration that will bring the most value to the printers. • There are people who are saying they are JDF-compliant but are not members of NGP. Isn't there a danger that this will fragment the entire JDF effort? JDF is a language. It doesn't have a concrete implementation effort or practical applications. NGP will create an interoperable system by enabling system “touch points” in a more generic format. This initiative is to drive standardization in the graphic arts industry. It doesn't compete with JDF, and it doesn't cost a lot of money, but members must contribute to defining the points of communication. And members are committed to get the communication process done before drupa to demonstrate the connections. • Will there be an NGP booth at drupa? It hasn't been discussed yet. The first priority is to define the subsets and begin the work of developing and certifying the links. Then the marketing side will be addressed. • What happens when JDF is yesterday's technology? How will NGP promote the next technology? It is expected that it will be a long time before it's time to start another initiative. XML has a lot of effort behind it. The real challenge is implementing it. But it needs to be done. The idea is to work closely with CIP4 to bring the implementation forward. • What about EFI? EFI and Printcafe have a hardware agnostic approach that will tie into all manufacturers. They will continue to work to insure that they can integrate with all technologies out there. • This initiative does seem to be the second initiative announced today. It appears to exclude Heidelberg. Ultimately, the industry is driven by its customers. Customers are asking for connectivity and integration to other technology; to make products work with as many different companies as possible. It comes down to economics. In a free and open environment, if NGP delivers enough value, there will be no other initiatives. Amos stated that he expects it will only be a matter of time before Heidelberg joins the NGP initiative because NGP is an open standard and Prinect is not an open system, it is proprietary.