In February this year, VISTA International and Ingenta announced a merger to create Publishing Technology. Post-merger, what according to you are the key areas where you have derived synergies?
We recently signed an agreement with the BBC to provide a new generation of the BBC Monitoring web platform. The way in which our different divisions (VISTA, Ingenta and PCG) co-operated in acquiring this major new customer is a perfect example of the synergies we have derived from the merger, and a testimony to the success of the business integration we have achieved. The sales process was run by the Ingenta sales team, for new online systems to be provided by VISTA, with sales representation acting on behalf of BBC Monitoring provided by PCG, using VISTA's back office publishing systems to manage subscriptions and billing. No one of our divisions could have successfully competed for this contract prior to the merger, but together we offer a comprehensive suite of services which is proving to be a compelling proposition for both our traditional target markets and for new sectors.
At the time of the merger, you had talked about increasing the company's US presence. What steps have been taken in this regard?
We have appointed a new US-based Vice President of the group to drive forward the development, positioning and sales of our combined offering in this core market. We're attending and hosting more conferences and events, being more active on the speaking circuit, and we continue to recruit more sales and customer staff in that region. With such a task one doesn't expect overnight results, but I'm pleased to note that our renewed focus on the US market is bearing fruit: we have signed agreements with a number of new US publishers this year, including prestigious organisations like Unicef, for whom we will provide distribution systems and other back office middleware, and the Charleston Advisor, for whom we have built an online publications platform.
Can you briefly talk about your recent success in acquiring the BBC monitoring contract?
As I mentioned earlier, this was a key win for us because it saw all areas of the business working together for the first time - and achieving great success as a result. The platform collates news sources for use by international businesses, governments and research operations. We will be helping them to expand their commercial reach by providing a range of services including digital publishing consultancy, market research, information architecture, web design and maintenance, content conversion and hosting - and of course, sales representation which will facilitate their entry into new markets. I think we were able to win this business because we can provide not only the technology required to support all these activities, but also the expertise and skills to ensure their investment is optimised through astute market research and well-timed and targeted sales campaigns. For us it's an early success that indicates the soundness of our merger strategy, and justifies our confidence as we progress to other cross-selling opportunities.
What according to you are the challenges faced by the publishing industry in this era of the Internet.
There is one key challenge facing publishers today: that, to compete effectively, they must keep pace with technological evolution - yet this means their sources of competitive advantage are increasingly disconnected from their core competences. Obviously there are other well-known challenges - the battle for mindshare against substitute media, for example. These all impact publishers' strategies and it is and will be interesting to see some of the innovative responses, and to see if publishers are able to respond and vary their business models at the pace an internet community expects.
Publishers today are outsourcing a lot of the publishing and allied support functions, that too to offshore destinations like India, Philippines etc. How is this impacting your business? How are you combating this trend?
This is not a trend we need to combat - it's a trend from which we benefit! The most common reason for outsourcing is to enable the organisation to concentrate on what it does best, and this relates to my previous answer in that, for publishers, technology is not a traditional competence - so they need to find a trusted partner with the expertise and experience to help grow their digital capabilities. We have modelled our business proposition around providing a range of online and offline publishing technologies that is truly comprehensive, and is further complemented by a variety of services; many of our publisher partners indicate that they have chosen to work with us to simplify their outsourcing arrangements, because they can channel so many different activities through the one relationship. Of course, the other reason for outsourcing is to lower costs and, on that basis, we ourselves take advantage of offshoring. We have a number of strong partnerships with companies in India and Sri Lanka, who carry out a range of tasks for us from content digitisation and metadata creation to software support and web development.
Who do you consider your major competitors in the market today? What are Publishing Technology’s strengths and weakness versus your competitors?
A number of organisations compete with us on a subset of our capabilities and in a subset of our markets, including internal publisher IT departments, but there is no one organisation competing with us on all fronts. We consider it a strength that nobody else can deliver the breadth of integrated services that we offer, particularly our ability to unite the management, selling and delivery of digital and paper products. We are also proud to deliver value for money and outstanding customer service. Our weakness is that it is hard for prospective customers to take on board the full range of services we offer, and we don't always manage to convey successfully our capabilities and achievements in niche areas.
What are your growth plans for the coming year? Any new initiatives planned for developing nations like India and China?
In 2008 we will continue to build the Publishing Technology brand and to differentiate its proposition more effectively. We continue to consider acquisition prospects, but we plan to grow organically by further cross-selling of our services to existing clients, and by winning new business because of our increasingly compelling offering, our continuing investment in R&D, and our strengthened sales force. We will in fact be making some further announcements about our research and development activities in the near future. At this point, so soon after our merger, we need to focus primarily on our core business and markets - but we will continue our activities in rapidly expanding economies, and are indeed represented in China in particular.