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Y2K--A Common Cause

March 1999
Commercial printers, trade shops, publishers and industry suppliers are banding together under the Graphics Century Project (GCP) umbrella to share critical information and find practical solutions concerning common Y2K problems.


BY ERIK CAGLE

(Editor's Note: This is the second in a year-long series of articles examining the Y2K problem as it applies to the commercial printing industry. This installment takes a look at the Graphics Century Project, an association-led effort to exchange knowledge.)

Pat Maher will be one of the first to admit that the commercial printing industry falls short in the free exchange of ideas and technology among its colleagues.

Perhaps that's why Maher, director of information services for Quad/Graphics, is so elated to see the level of cooperation taking place among members of the Graphics Century Project (GCP).

The project was developed by the Graphic Communications Association (GCA), a special industry group of Printing Industries of America, to share critical and up-to-date information on the Y2K computer problem as it applies to the graphic arts. Printers, trade shops, publishers and industry suppliers—big and small—have banded together to sift through the new age of urban legend and find practical answers to their common questions.

For the Record
A team leader for the GCP initiative, Maher is exploring the technical aspects of the Y2K bug. The fact that he is even willing to speak on the subject is a refreshing change from the multitude of techies who blurt "No comment" before curling up in a ball behind their company's Y2K Readiness Disclosure Statement, posted prominently on corporate Websites.

Maher and other GCP facilitators are more concerned about a lack of quality information. "We've had a lot of cooperation between different members of the printing, publishing and paper industries," Maher notes. "This is not an industry that shares information freely—there's a real barrier there. But what has come out of the [GCP] is a concerted effort to make sure the entire industry, not just an individual company, is ready."

By coming together as a group, for example, the project has forced the hand of support systems to come to the table with information on their readiness. A presentation by equipment manufacturers took place in November, and more are in the works, including the United States Postal Service (USPS), various utilities and the railroad.

The GCP began late last September and has been gathering momentum ever since. Virgil Horton, a GCA consultant with the Print Media Group, is among those spearheading the project, which boasts more than 30 major printing, publishing and supplier players—a veritable Who's Who including Time, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, Quad/Graphics, Quebecor Printing (USA) and R.R. Donnelley & Sons.

Not surprisingly, these well-known companies have already left their mark on Y2K studies. Members and non-members alike can access the Standard Y2K Readiness Survey from the GCA Website's page covering the Graphics Century Project at www.gca.org/grafcent/gcpover.htm (Adobe Acrobat required). Horton is pleased with the results of the survey; he feels it is important to have a standardized measuring stick for the entire industry. In this manner, cross-referencing or interpretation of other surveys are not required.

"We've been able to set a standard to gather the necessary information," Horton says. "One, the survey helps you understand where you are from a compliance standpoint inside your own operation. Two, once you've filled it out . . . your answers are relative because all of the companies are answering on the same plane."

Thus far, Horton says the GCA's Website has attracted hundreds of hits to download the survey. He feels the survey will be a tremendous help to smaller and mid-sized printers, the two groups targeted as lagging behind in Y2K research and preparedness.

Aside from the workshops, which have included Q&A presentations from equipment manufacturers such as Heidelberg and MAN Roland, another GCP perk is its intranet site. Available to members only, the site is more geared toward the media industry. Browsers can visit the printing section and hyperlink to a given printer's site on Y2K. Search engines help access specific information; discussion groups are included to share common experiences and ask questions; and reports done by various companies are also available.

Sized to Fit
Given that a company which generates $10 million or less in sales annually is going to have different problems and needs than a company the size and scope of R.R. Donnelley, discussion groups can be geared for all participants. Smaller printers can get access to the intranet site and some of the meeting reports.

"I wanted to make sure we could reach as many people as possible," Horton remarks. "The Graphics Century Project is a proactive, positive program on Y2K. I receive fliers every day about Y2K programs, and it's all scare tactics. We're not taking that approach."

The project is also taking advantage of legislation passed recently to encourage the dissemination of Y2K ideas and plans. Through the Y2K Information Disclosure Act, participating companies will be granted limited liability for disclosing plans and readiness. The association's project provides the industry umbrella.

Out in the Open
"By doing this, we're able to bring competitive companies together to discuss Y2K—an issue that they normally wouldn't discuss," Horton says. "By being a part of the project, you're provided with that umbrella of protection. The Justice Department has come out and said that kind of competitive information exchange is not in violation of anti-trust laws."

It is Horton's hope that the project picks up more and more smaller printers as the clock ticks off to the year 2000.

"The industry is going to be pretty well prepared, and it's especially true of the larger and medium-sized companies," he remarks. "Companies under $40 million to $50 million in sales need to be doing more and that's where the affiliate program comes in."

For more information on joining the Graphics Century Project, call Virgil Horton at (703) 519-8194 or e-mail him at vhorton@gca.org.


Tips on Bug Dissection

To find a Y2K bug, you need not think like a bug. Quad/Graphics' Pat Maher, the industry chair at the Graphics Century Project, can lend a hand.

Maher is heavily involved in the initiative—he was a cog in the startup efforts and has chaired an industry conference—which is wholly geared toward helping members of the commercial printing industry battle the new millennium computer problem. He has provided a sampling of the findings made through the project.

* The highest degree of computerized automation is in the prepress function, thus it is the most problematic area. Maher stresses that no one area of the pressroom is problematic.

"Things are a lot more stable than we originally thought, especially with embedded systems," Maher says. "Most embedded processors will not have problems. The problems they do have will be cosmetic and not affect the way they run.

"Some older Scitex systems have had problems; many of them were based on PS2 and Whisper processors," he adds. "For example, IBM said PS2 is old technology and it wouldn't be upgraded. Scitex recommends Brisque processors to replace PS2 and is working with its customers to resolve these issues."

* The most overlooked aspect at this point is a company's supply chain. Utilities—electric, gas, water, etc.—seem to fall in the peripheral category, but remain critical systems. Maher feels a lot of companies haven't begun looking at whether these support systems will be in place.

* From the trivia department comes this nugget of information: Only 20 percent of the Y2K problems will rear their head at the stroke of midnight. Thus, 80 percent of the problems will likely catch people by surprise.

"Most of the larger printers are members of the GCP, and these companies are spending a lot of time and money on the project," Maher notes. "We're going to see small pockets of problems, but there's a lot more awareness, a lot more sharing of information."
 

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