Printer moves from hot lead to hypertext

By Mark Leon, InfoWorld |  Software

BOWNE & CO. got its start when New York was still a British colony, so it isn't exactly a name synonymous with 21st century technology.

But Bowne, a financial printing company, has survived the past 225 years because of its ability to quickly change with the times -- and its CTO, Elaine Beitler, is leading a technology revolution there.

Bowne is rapidly moving into the distributed information management business and, in the process, has discovered it has become in part an ASP (application service provider). "We have been known for many years as the leading printer and typesetter for the financial industry," Beitler says. "But now we are in the business of information management, so printing is almost an afterthought -- a small part of this bigger picture."

In 1850, Bowne started printing annual reports for companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By 1933, with the formation of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), Bowne had begun to focus on financial printing, preparing the regulatory and disclosure documents used to communicate with investors.

In 1998, the company began the process of reinventing itself, using enterprise and Internet technology, which attracted Beitler, who joined that year. "I wanted to be a part of a company where technology was essentially the product," she explains. But when so many of her peers were joining dot-com startups for exactly the same reason, Beitler went in a different direction. "I also wanted a firm with a real brick-and-mortar history and an old traditional company culture."

Beitler found this in Bowne. "You can feel the longstanding tradition of customer service," she says, although it didn't always make her job easier. "In the two years prior to my joining, the IT staff grew from 60 to over 100," she explains. "We had also acquired more than 20 companies -- specialists in Internet consulting, software development, content and localization, and outsourcing. This, rather than technology, has proven to be my biggest challenge -- develop a culture of folks who have been here for years [along with] so many brand-new people."

All of this internal upheaval was part of a plan to make Bowne into a distributed enterprise. In one sense, the company hasn't changed much since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president; the core business is still based on financial printing, but under the hood, things are radically different. Technology has transformed the printing business into a sophisticated set of information management services. "We can now take a 100-page printing job and distribute it to 100 different production locations," Beitler says. "One of the first technical jobs I had as CTO was to put a foundation in place to manage this sort of thing."

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