PICA – The Publishers Information and Costing Analyzer
Our client, a printer of trade journals, had a wish; that his customers could provide needed paperwork using an easy to use, graphical, "video game-like" program. It was also his wish that this “order entry” program could be used to give the customer a cost estimate. In addition, he wanted the customer to be able to play "what if" games to ascertain the cost changes that resulted from selecting various options and features.
Ordering the printing of a trade journal is a complex process - one of the most complex processes that I have seen in my 30 years of IT. You see, the size of a trade journal is determined by the number of ads placed in that trade journal. The more ads, the thicker the magazine. Less advertising require a thinner book.
Let's use an imaginary bug extermination journal, "Pesticide Today," as an example. When you pick up your May issue of Pesticide Today you may not be aware that there are actually many different versions of this publication. There may be a west coast version containing ads from west coast advertisers. The east coast version may include an “It’s time to renew” cover on the front. There could be dozens of even hundreds of different May issues of this one trade journal.
Before we can discuss how the PICA program works a little vocabulary is in order....
Glossary of Terms
Information provided by the publisher of a magazine to attract the particular audience to which the trade journal is targeted. Articles like “The newest in spray technologies.”
Marketing paid for by companies who want to promote their products.
A unit of print that may contain editorial content and/or advertising.
A unit consisting of one front page and one back page.
A group of 4,8,16, 32 or 64 pages that has been folded by a folding machine or by a folding printing press.
The output of a web printing press. A flat group of pages that may get folded into a signature “on press” or folded by a folding machine.
Versions (Magazines) see more below
Signatures that have been bound together using staples (saddle stitching) or glue (perfect binding).
Print Categories (aka Demographics)
The publisher of Pesticide Today has a list of subscribers. This list is broken down according to demographics, for example:
....so Pesticide Today has 10 different print categories.
A variation of the printing of a particular issue, for example:
....so Pesticide Today has 8 different versions of it’s May issue.
The PICA Program
As you can see creating an “order” for a magazine can be a very complex process. Software Resources created a Visual Basic program to simplify this task. It consists of 6 easy-to-use tabs that allows our client's customers to estimate the cost of a magazine.
Tab 1 – The Print Order module
Correlates the print categories against the version in order to come up with a total print count.
Tab 2 – The Version Builder module
Correlates which signatures go in which version of the publication.
Tab 3 – The Book Map module
A graphical drag and drop tool for laying out the pages of the magazine. Starting with a list of editorial content and a list of advertising content, the customer can decide how the editorial content and advertising will be mixed throughout the magazine.
Tab 4 – The Paper module
Used by the customer to decide which grade of paper will be used on each piece. For example, the cover form is usually printed on thick coated stock, which is the most expensive. The body forms are printed on less expensive coated or uncoated paper and cards are printed on card grade paper.
Tab 5 – The Distribution Tab
Provides detailed shipping and packaging instructions for each of the print categories.
Tab 6 – The Invoicing Module
Using the database created from the 5 different tabs above, and using pricing contracts provided by our client, this module produces a detailed invoice for the work to be performed.
Job Cloning and "What If" Analysis
The collection of all of the data from the 6 modules above is called a “Job”. Jobs can be quickly cloned and modified to produce fast comparisons of costs. For example, if an advertiser is thinking about running some full page ads, the publisher can create some "what if" scenarios with various combinations of forms to ascertain the impact of the cost of including those ads.
EDI Transmission of Job Instructions
Prior to the creation of this program, customers had to convey the information above using a series of forms which they filled out manually and sent to our client. An AS/400-based production control system produces all of the plant instructions. Forms submitted by the customers were prone to errors, and sometimes information was not transferred correctly from the forms into the AS400 system, which sometimes resulted in costly mistakes. With PICA, the instructions are transmitted directly to our client via EDI and fed into the production system. No manual forms....no errors.
Substantial Error Checking
Vast amounts of artificial intelligence have built into the modules described above to prevent the customer from making errors during order entry. For example, a four page form must be on 60 pound or greater paper stock, otherwise it tends to “float” on the binding machines. "Trade" knowledge of this nature is incorporated throughout the program to protect inexperienced customers from making mistakes.
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