by Gail Nickel Kailing October 3, 2003 -- Expo conversations became a little more animated by the launch of the Networked Graphic Production Partners initiative on Monday, September 29. In the show guide was an NGP supplement, the show floor included an NGP Pavilion, and an event featuring the 18 NGP partners in attendance at the show has elevated NGP and JDF to “top of the mind” status. WhatTheyThink correspondent, Gail Nickel-Kailing met with David Lemaster of Venture10 Integrated Partnerships, and Filip Buyse, Creo's Vice President of Business Development, to find out what the NGP Partners alliance is really about. We combined Buyse and Lemaster's answers for easier reading. WTT: How is the NGP Partners alliance going to solve the problem of JDF integration among all these disparate systems? Buyse and Lemaster: If we're talking purely about prepress providers or other competitive press manufacturers that may have workflow products as well, the alliance will offer great benefit. We believe that because of the way that we're putting these integrations together, they will be able to integrate once with an MIS system and get the benefit of many integrations. The major element of the process is to integrate to is the MIS system. And gathering all the MIS development companies would be very, very difficult. It will be much easier for other workflow providers to join NGP than to go on with the many integration efforts they will need to complete. Now that it's clear that this alliance is truly is open, that it's not Creo-controlled, and that it's managed by the partners; other potential workflow partners will want to join. Lots of members have good relationships with other workflow providers, and we hope to be able to convince them - to encourage them - to come in. If you could sit in the partnership meetings, you'd see all these partners taking their company hats off and set off down the road together. It's quite amazing to see. We're really excited about it. WTT: When I think about the idea of 27 companies trying to come to consensus… The question really is: how do you structure it? Buyse and Lemaster: We're putting everybody into work groups. We have a technical work group made up of MIS, press, prepress, and finishing. The press, prepress and finishing sub-groups are off and working on the abstract layers. For instance, the press group is asking: what is the information that I want to take in that's truly valuable to the printer, and what is the information that I want to send back to the job costing module within the MIS system that's truly valuable? Finishing and prepress are dong the same thing. That work will then go to the MIS group where the really hard work will be. The MIS group has to look at how all the systems are currently architected, and how they can take in all that information in relatively the same way. That's the really hard work. And that's the beauty of having Bob Bierwagen heading up that group. Bob is leading the whole technical group and is the chair of the MIS group. We have some of the most magnificent leadership in this thing. Those good people will pull it through. WTT: A lot of people think that to join, they will have to pay a fee. Tell us how much it costs to join. Buyse and Lemaster: There is no fee to join. These integrations are expensive and being part of this is expensive to everyone. We want people to spend their money on the development not for administrative costs. So we decided – because some of these companies are fragile financially – we do not want to drain their resources. We want to help them, not hurt them. We plan on providing development resources because we know partners will have a lot of questions and will need a lot of support around the JDF specification. We have people in the membership that are going to provide that. Some of the larger companies will help out because it's important. WTT: How will the certification process work? Buyse and Lemaster: The working groups will define the testing and certification procedures and process. We will be working with a third party to do the actual acceptance testing. The integration will receive either a pass or fail, and if it fails a report will be provided that explains the reasons. Members of the NGP Partners have agreed to pay their own way, and that will also include paying for the certification process. Whether the partners will charge for their integration depends on their own business model – some will and some won't. WTT: What about those links have already been done? Will you just accept those links? Buyse and Lemaster: That's the greatest thing! You already have the starting point! The subset that we're taking out of the CIP4 specification is so intuitive a value proposition that it's the thing everybody would start with. The common ground is likely to be the same functions anyway. Some people more functionality than others, some people have extra functionality that may not have as much value. We think we have a great starting point. WTT: Isn't there something called PrintCity that is doing something similar? How is NGP different? Can you leverage some of the work that has been done there? Buyse and Lemaster: PrintCity - a strategic alliance of independent “best in class” companies from the graphic arts industry - was launched at drupa 2000. As I understand it, and we have PrintCity members on our committees, PrintCity is not solely about integration. It's a group of partners where you have one partner per discipline. You only have one press vendor, and one of this, and one of that, though there may be a little overlap. And every member has veto power over new members, which is completely different from NGP Partners. Each member has one vote, and it requires a 2/3 majority to reject a new member. If you look at the mandates of the two groups they are very different. PrintCity's mandate is for a group of market leading vendors to look at the printers' issues, look at the market issues, and collaborate together on a view of the future and how to solve these problems. It's a much broader concept. We have a much narrower concept: let's enable JDF and let's get it done as fast as possible. We're a technical initiative, mostly. We do have some marketing aspects too, but the marketing is really to clarify the message. We just want people to think of integration, CIM, and NGP the way they would USB. Just plug it in and it works. PrintCity is much broader than that. Does PrintCity have partners working on integration? Of course they do, but they'd be doing that without the alliance. That's not PrintCity's initiative. Their initiative is across huge business issues and they look at helping to solve technological issues as well. We have been talking with PrintCity. We've had discussions on a formal basis and with partners offline about how can we complement each other. We're certainly not working against each other or we wouldn't have members in both initiatives. WTT: What do you say to the critics of the NGP Partners alliance? Those who say: “Is this because CIP4 isn't doing their job as fast or as good as you'd like to see the doing? Is this in competition with PrintCity? Is this an answer to other initiatives?” Buyse and Lemaster: What they're going to see in a very quickly is that we have some very short-term goals here. This is not a marketing activity. There is serious technology work going on here. We hope that all printer manufacturers will be connecting with all the MIS systems in our group. We hope we can be compelling. Eighteen of the current 27 members of NGP Partners are MIS vendors. If you look at the market, the ratio of MIS systems to other members in NGP Partners is representative of the market. If you look at the finishing line market, how many finishing line leaders are there? How many press manufacturers are there? I think alliance is very representative of the demographics of the industry. The other thing to keep in mind is that 90% of the integrations will be between MIS and something else. MIS is the hub. Integration really benefits the hardware, which needs to receive the information that is resident in the MIS system for its production. WTT: Whom should prospective members or others with questions be calling for more information? Buyse and Lemaster: Like PrintCity and other similar alliances, they will call the membership. As we broaden out and get these committees working, they're not necessarily going to be working with either of us (David and Filip). The membership committee is a good example. We also hope to leverage any partner's relationships to talk to prospective members. While there are still some Creo contacts for the time being, people have to realize that everything has a beginning. And it has to start somewhere. And Creo has been enormously generous to put out the kind of resources needed to get this thing started. There are some very expensive resources being poured into this. The likes of a Bob Bierwagen, and us (David and Filip), for example. The membership has asked for two volunteers to be part of the membership committee. As of next week, once we have those names officially, there will be key people to contact for more information. Any member can recommend any member to the committee. The criteria for joining: people have to commit to the technical resources and to the deadline. They also have to commit to the “synching” of the message to make sure we don't confuse the market. If someone is continuously not meeting their deadlines, for instance, they can be voted out by a 2/3 majority. While I was talking to one of our MIS members, we were approached by two members of another MIS company - a competing company - to get some information about NGP. I sat back and watched while they started talking and scheduled an appointment to demo each other's applications. One of these companies is European, one is North American. And I walked away with a smile, this is really what the industry needs for long-term survival. We can cooperate on one level, while we still compete on other levels. For more information, visit www.ngppartners.org .