From Shannon to Chennai, there’s no stopping Compuscript
One of the implications of the information and communications technology (ICT) revolution is that business that has been up to now considered crafts has become more technology-driven. A case in point is that of Compuscript, a Shannon-based pre-press company that has evolved from a people-intensive to a technology-intensive operation.
Traditionally the focus of the new company's business was in the area of scholarly publishing, which includes academic journals and books in science, technology and medicine. Compuscript originally started by providing copy-editing services but shortly thereafter Cushley added typesetting to the company's service portfolio in response to another emerging trend.
Over the next few years the industry evolved. Authors started making much greater use of word processors, auto-pagination systems became more sophisticated and marking up changes on paper gradually gave way to onscreen copy-editing. In 1999, however, Compuscript faced a new trend, the growth of the web, which required the company to take a hard look at itself and the direction it was going in.
"Publishers saw the web as a new potential for revenue," says Lyons. "So the company shifted direction. We were no longer primarily involved in production of a paper product but also an electronic product. Our business had always been people-driven but with the development of our e-business side, it fundamentally shifted and became completely IT-driven. This wasn't just a matter of being simply IT aware, but of being able to customise products and carry out development work. It was pretty much a sea change in the mindset of the company. Initially we started supporting it by outsourcing our IT development but it became apparent that to be able to react to shifts in the marketplace we had to bring the development resources back in-house," he adds.
The company took three steps to reinvent itself. The first was the installation of a new Penta typesetting system from the US that allowed it to broaden its product offering. Compuscript's IT staff customised the software for the new system by developing specialist modules.
The second step was the creation of a new portal intranet/extranet to enable suppliers and clients to interface with the company. With Compuscript's tracking and management system, the company is able to seamlessly send and collect work outsourced to freelancers and subcontractors as well as track all jobs and processes internally and reduce communications costs.
The third, most recent step was the most audacious. The company opened an office in Chennai, India. "In the late Nineties, at the height of the Celtic tiger, finding and being able to afford IT resources was very difficult," says Lyons. "We started to look abroad and started hiring from India and we still have two employees who have been with us since the process of change began." When faced with competition from the sub-continent, Compuscript took a close look at outsourcing and found that having employees with local knowledge was a distinct advantage. "Our people had knowledge of conditions on the ground in India. They knew who could do the job and helped us to develop a network within India," he explains.
The company employs a total of about 40 people, split more or less evenly between Shannon and Chennai. In addition, it manages a freelance network of about 20 individuals.
"Our operation is now completely electronic," says Lyons. "We are at a stage with one of our customers where it has an online submission system. Papers submitted electronically are sent for peer review and once accepted are sent directly to us. We carry out the editing and send the text to the author in PDF format with a note explaining what he or she has to do. We also pick up the XML [extensible markup language] data and send it to the publisher that publishes it on the web as an uncorrected proof. This is actually the first time the publisher sees the text. The authors return papers to us individually and we make the corrections in XML. We also do all the graphics processing and produce a revised proof that is returned to the publisher for publication on the web as a corrected proof. The publisher then notifies us electronically to pull together 10 or so papers and to paginate them to make up a publication," he adds.
Compuscript is also launching a new venture — Internationalscienceediting.com. According to Lyons, because editors have so many excellent academic papers from which to choose, they reject otherwise good papers on the grounds that the English is of poor quality. "We are targeting our service at non-native English speaking academics. Copy-editing will be done by an English-speaking copy editor educated to postgraduate level. This will be an online service. The author will be able to submit electronically and track progress online," he explains.
"We wouldn't be able to exist without ICT. It has been both a disadvantage and an advantage. It has opened us up to competition from the global market but it also allows us to take advantage of economies of scale. Our online management system allows our employees in India to work closely with those in Shannon and we can work with customers in different time zones," he concludes.
By David Stewart