It's Never Business As Usual

229-year-old Bowne, not content to rest on past successes, has changed itself repeatedly to meet customer demands for new services

John Foley, Editor, InformationWeek

September 24, 2004

4 Min Read

"You don't want to let anybody down when it's gone on that long," Harenchar says. "We don't say it out loud, but after 225 years, the attitude is, nothing bad is going to happen on my watch."

Bowne's revenue grew 6% in 2003 to $1.1 billion, after two years of slight declines. In the first six months of this year, revenue was up 8%, to $607 million. Financial printing accounts for the bulk of sales, but Bowne has branched into custom digital printing, outsourcing, and even language translation and localization. Bowne Global Solutions, for example, helps convert some of Microsoft's technical documentation into other languages, in part by using its own language-translation software.

After clamping down on IT spending when revenue was declining, Bowne's tech spending this year will jump 11% above last year's level. The IT team is busy refreshing "virtually every aspect of our infrastructure," Harenchar says. That includes new servers, a wide area network upgrade to "meshed" Multiprotocol Label Switching technology, and storage from EMC Corp. If the challenge before was squeezing every bit from the company's previous IT investments, the onus now is deciding what to do next. "The shift has been from trying to 'make do' to figuring how many simultaneous projects we can handle," Harenchar says.

Bowne's four divisions employ roughly 7,600 people in 100 offices around the world, plus seven U.S. typesetting and printing plants. The company uses PeopleSoft Inc. financial software for bookkeeping and Siebel Systems Inc. customer-relationship-management applications. Two New Jersey data centers, housing 600 servers, provide system redundancy for business continuity.

"Ruth has developed a strong team in the IT organization that's client focused and partners with the business to support our strategic goals," says John Batt, Bowne's VP of marketing and strategic planning, in an E-mail response to a query about Harenchar's influence on the company. "Our technology team has helped to accelerate our growth and reinforce our leadership in the industry," he says.

Printing Money ChartFor Harenchar, it was a roundabout path to her first CIO assignment. Before moving to New Jersey to work for Ernst & Young, she spent 18 years with EDS, first in the Chicago area where she came on board as a cardiac epidemiologist to adjudicate claims in the company's medical-claims processing business and later in a variety of IT management roles in EDS's Plano, Texas, headquarters. As a cardiac specialist, Harenchar developed a knack for using computers for statistical analysis, which she parlayed into a new career. "I kept getting assignments and drifting in that direction," she says.

At Bowne, Harenchar reports to the office of the chairman, comprised of the company's president and CEO. That's significant because there's been turnover at the top since she arrived. In May, the company's president, CEO, and chairman Robert Johnson resigned for personal reasons. Bowne named senior VP and general counsel Philip Kucera as interim CEO, and, in late August, it promoted senior VP David Shea, who was CEO of two Bowne business units, to the president's slot.

When working for EDS and Ernst & Young, Harenchar was involved in several revenue-generating projects, experience she's drawing on to better serve Bowne's business units. She points to a new service called 8-K Express as an example of how Bowne's IT team can move quickly to meet a business need. The online service, which lets public companies and law firms create and file 8-K forms using Bowne's step-by-step templates, was launched on Aug. 16, just one week before SEC rules kicked in requiring that 8-Ks be filed in more circumstances than before.

Bowne's Enterprise Solutions division is signing customers such as Merrill Lynch for its digital-printing services, one of the company's fastest-growing lines of business. Bowne produces personalized booklets for Merrill clients that combine a welcome letter, disclosure statements, privacy policy, and related collateral. "The kind of work they do in digital printing is certainly where customers are headed, so they're well positioned for that," analyst Clement says. "For the kind of work they're doing, I would certainly call them a technology leader."

Services are a strategically important part of Bowne's business, yet there's no escaping the company's deep roots in printing. Its New York headquarters building was built with reinforced concrete floors to support the weight of long-gone linotype machines and printers, and passenger elevators had to be added when the building was converted into office space.

Bowne's IT staff continues to fine-tune the company's proprietary typesetting system for improved speed, quality, and efficiency. The IT department, for example, hopes to develop a typesetter's workstation that replaces arcane symbols with an easy-to-read WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) screen. "It's a constant evaluation," Harenchar says. "Where's the next place we can get more speed?"

Business-technology optimization, process improvement, differentiation through services--Bowne is trying to master them all. Even after 229 years, there's no such thing as business as usual.

About the Author(s)

John Foley

Editor, InformationWeek

John Foley is director, strategic communications, for Oracle Corp. and a former editor of InformationWeek Government.

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