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File transfer software improves business process

Companies seeking to save money are looking hard at streamlining business processes. At Christie's auction house, a managed file transfer solution does just that, with strong ROI.

Automating and improving business processes has catapulted to the top of many CIO agendas for 2009 as companies look to save money. For auction house Christie's International PLC, managed file transfer (MFT) software has fundamentally changed one of its most critical business processes: producing the more than 600 high-end catalogs that advertise its sales and educate customers.

The game changer: The file transfer software paid for itself in short order by allowing London-based Christie's to tap cheaper labor in offshore production centers in India and Sri Lanka, said Neil McCutcheon, who heads catalog production from Christie's London office.

"The investment has been fabulously successful in terms of our ROI, which was comfortably within our 24-months window," he said.

FTP not up to the task

When Christie's needed to deliver or receive the high-resolution images that fill the auction house's famous catalogs, staff members could use email for small files but often resorted to burning CDs and DVDs of larger files and sending them by courier or mail. But going postal really was not viable for a business that processes 350,000 digital files annually, McCutcheon said.

"We were finding this process extremely painful in terms of the delivery and receipt and management of the files into and out of our businesses," and began looking at options, McCutcheon said.

File management was not just a huge drain on productivity -- even worse, files often went missing or were damaged in transit, he said.

Christie's sometimes used FTP, the protocol for transferring files over a TCP network, but the department had "great concerns" about the consistency and performance of standard FTP transfers.

"It's not that hard to use if you're transferring small amounts of data. But when you have significant amounts, we ran into all sorts of difficulties with lines going down, with nondocumented receipts and email confirmation of receipts, and the speed and lack of automation," McCutcheon said.

The investment has been fabulously successful in terms of our ROI, which was comfortably within our 24-months window.

Neil McCutcheon, head of catalog production, Christie's International PLC

McCutcheon turned to Arlington, Va.-based Group Logic Inc., which specializes in enterprise file transfer software and Mac/Windows connectivity. Its clients are mainly in print media, publishing and packaging. Christie's was sold on the simplicity of Group Logic's MassTransit product, McCutcheon said.

"The fact that you were able to do automatic compression, without anybody actually bothering to do anything -- it just happens; the fact that we could have email receipts of files going out of and also coming into our enterprise servers," McCutcheon said.

In a June 2008 overview of the managed file transfer market, Gartner Inc. analyst L. Frank Kenney noted that FTP is not an enterprise solution. "FTP alone is not a viable option to give you the insight, security, performance and, ultimately, the risk mitigation necessary to responsibly conduct business," Kenney wrote.

Demand for MFT is strong. The market for MFT suites and services is approximately $450 million and growing at a rate of 21% to 26% year over year. The big fish -- such as Sterling Commerce, an AT&T company, and Axway Inc., which acquired Tumbleweed Communications -- are getting bigger. "While the big fish in the pond become bigger, the pond itself is growing even faster," Kenney said.

At the same time, the "perfect storm of compliance, risk, governance and performance" has caused vendors to segment and specialize, and companies should carefully vet vendors to meet their tactical and strategic needs, he said.

Integrating MFT with digital asset management systems

At Christie's, Group Logic's MassTransit system was a significant part of a bigger overhaul of the auction house's mission-critical catalog production. "The overall investment we made was quite significant," McCutcheon said. He declined to specify an amount, since a big part of it included a digital asset management system from Turning Point Innovation. Andy Lewis, general manager for Group Logic's MassTransit products, said MassTransit prices range from $10,000 for an automated exchange between two sites to broad deployments costing up to $500,000.

Christie's large IT department worked closely with Turning Point Innovation to integrate the file transfer software with the digital asset management system. McCutcheon said there were very few glitches.

Now photographers from all over the globe use MassTransit to upload photos into Christie's workflow system and add pertinent metadata tags to identify images. The catalog production line -- from the prepress vendors to proofers and printers -- uses the information to locate and deliver files quickly to meet tight deadlines.

As for ROI?

Christie's has seen a "significant savings "in all areas of production, he said. In addition to the money saved through greater efficiency, the automation has opened up the option for the first time of producing parts of the catalogs in the low-cost economies of India and Sri Lanka.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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