Ottaway MIS creates |living system'
By the mid-1980s PCs had established themselves. Their penetration of the newspaper market seemed close at hand. Gone would be isolated, air conditioned computer rooms. Distributed processing and databases were on the way, as intelligent microcomputers replaced dumb terminals.
That vision generally outlines systems many publications eventually adopted. Others, by the '90s, would exploit newer, more powerful microcomputers as workstations and fileservers; in other cases they joined micros to minicomputers as vendors' publishing systems evolved to accommodate new desktop machines.
At about the same time, businesses, too, were similarly reconfiguring - decentralizing structure and control to permit varying degrees of autonomy among local or individual units. Maybe not exactly "do your own thing" 20 years later, but things had changed and a generation had grown up and moved into management.
So why, by 1985, was Ottaway Newspapers moving to standardize business systems at group papers from coast to coast and centralize their operations in a minicomputer center tucked amid the farmlands of New York's Orange County?
A closer look suggests that, far from watching the parade pass, Ottaway's MIS operation began its march years before others. It now moves with the speed of the very latest hardware, with software that improves from one day to the next.
For one thing, it sought better control of the system to deliver better, more dependable service to both local and corporate users.
Wherever local managers move they find familiar systems; wherever MIS looks, it is supporting and servicing essentially the same local systems.
In the process, it did not ignore changes in computer architecture; among other things, it has warmly embraced the latest in PCs.
(Not to be ignored is the fact that Ottaway's parent corporation, Dow Jones & Co., has never been shy about technology, nor has it been reluctant to develop on its own when it felt suitable systems were unavailable elsewhere.)
Ottaway MIS director Jim Fournier volunteered that his operation seemed to move against the trend, but confidently offered a you-can't-argue-with-success defense: management is happy - the system works and is a bottom-line winner.
"I don't think there's another group in the country doing what we're doing with this much success," said Fournier, who joined Ottaway 20 years ago. After early work with Photon he became systems manager at the group's Middletown, N.Y., Times Herald-Record.
Rather than remove local decision making, centralizing enables a newspaper to concentrate on its business rather than on its business system by removing much of the responsibility for system selection, installation and maintenance in return for better system control and performance.
However, in order to centralize, software and hardware groupwide had to be standardized. …