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 user 2005-10-12 at 10:37:00 am Views: 77
  • #14219

    Web-to-Print�Here to Stay

    The use and the benefits of the Internet in the graphic arts continue to grow.

    From front-end solutions
    to distribute-and-print workflow, Internet-enabled printing has become
    firmly established and by all indications, it will only become more
    entrenched. Both document owners and print buyers have embraced the Web
    as a way to streamline business processes. “In 2003, both groups told
    us that over 20 percent of all print was purchased via Web-enabled
    tools, and they expected this to increase to close to 30 percent by
    2005,” says Holly Muscolino, director, InfoTrends/CAP Ventures,
    Production Workflow Solutions consulting service.
    Benefits for commercial printers include added service to woo
    customers, streamlined workflow, and less time in the order process.
    With desktop convenience, customers order what they need on demand.
    Retailers and wholesalers can offer distributors a link to marketing
    materials that they can customize and print, while guidelines ensure
    brand consistency.
    Adoption is strong and shows no signs of saturation. “We have seen
    approximately 40 percent growth year over year in our Web-to-print
    business,” says Pageflex CEO Anna Chagnon. Pageflex Storefront allows
    definition, auto-generation, and management of Web-to-print document
    customization sites. At the core is Pageflex composition technology,
    including templates that let layouts flex to accommodate variable
    content within designer-specified guidelines.
    “The new business of printing is all about print providers transforming
    their businesses to stay increasingly relevant to the needs of
    customers,” says Michael Kucharski, VP, Production Systems Business
    Unit, Xerox Corporation. “Some of our most innovative and successful
    customers are moving away from marks on paper and focusing on
    value-added services, such as Web-based printing,”
    Educating Users
    As Web-to-print evolves, it has spawned many different configurations
    and applications. Users range from small businesses ordering cards from
    a local quick printer to corporations with self-service portals for
    global sales channels to order static and customized documents. “One
    thing we�ve heard from our customers is that providing a branded portal
    for their corporate clients often results in a centralization of print
    products in the portal, thereby capturing additional print business for
    the service provider,” Chagnon points out.
    Many potential users of a Web-to-print storefront are not fully
    prepared for what they will encounter. Many small and start-up
    businesses cannot afford professional design services and lack a basic
    background in printing. For these reasons, providers like
    PrintingForLess.com offer extensive information about printing, design
    hints, and application tips. Providers share information to help their
    users make decisions about paper, color, finishing, file preparation,
    and more. This not only aids the customer; it ultimately assists the
    commercial printer in getting properly prepared files for output.
    Software Catches Up
    “Print e-business infrastructure software is a key enabler of the
    fundamental business transformation in the graphic arts market, as it
    significantly alters how service providers communicate and deliver
    their services,” Muscolino notes. “As vendors provide more integrated
    solutions, service providers can achieve greater efficiencies that
    streamline their own workflows and reduce their own costs.”
    “Early e-procurement solutions were not integrated with printers�
    back-end production and business systems, forcing them to re-key data
    and providing little workflow benefits,” she adds. The trend is toward
    automating the entire process, further reducing cost and improving
    productivity. Total document integration with business applications
    opens a floodgate of other value-added services involving e-commerce,
    collaboration, sales management, and customer service. There are a wide
    variety of products available to create Web-to-print stores and beyond.
    GMC Software Technology offers WebProof software for Web-based
    approval, WebDesign for GUI design and development, and Web Services
    for deploying PrintNet T applications online. “The Web environment can
    be either client-built or developed with a system integrator,” explains
    Jeff DeVoyd, VP Technology, GMC. “Using these tools, you can deploy
    extremely sophisticated jobs into a Web environment.”
    The Papyrus WebPortal from ISIS Papyrus provides a unified document and
    print management interface to Intranet and Extranet users. Users can
    access and create outbound corporate and customer documents such as
    letters, statements, and marketing materials, then distribute them via
    central printing and enveloping, or by fax or email using a Web
    browser. Raw data can also be turned into one-to-one communications.
    Oc� offers two products for Internet printing submission. “DocWorks Pro
    provides a captive audience within a corporation or other customer base
    with Internet access to an in-house print shop or quick printers for
    easy job submission, as well as providing output management within the
    print shop,” explains Bob Raus, director, Software and Professional
    Services Marketing. “PRISMAweb, a complete Internet storefront product,
    provides uploads, online proofing, estimating, delivery scheduling, job
    tracking, variable data merging, and the ability to automatically
    outsource work.”
    Xerox FreeFlow Web Services software also provides a digital storefront
    to help print shops streamline job ordering and management on the Web.
    A printer�s customers can view, modify, and order documents, in
    addition to uploading and submitting new jobs for production. Users
    create PDFs from their own PCs, giving them more control of the
    process. This also helps print providers resolve common production due
    to font and color discrepancies that occur when a PDF is not created
    correctly. Conversion of native files to PDF, customer communications
    such as automatic job receipt notifications, status updates, and
    finished document viewing all happen through one portal.
    Custom Approach Works for Some
    It�s not uncommon to find successful service providers who have created
    their own Web-to-print platforms. IXT Solutions has developed its own
    technology for Internet-enabled digital printing of transaction
    documents for service bureaus and commercial printers. “Instead of
    purchasing off-the-shelf solutions, we invented our own platform. IXT
    capabilities serve as the quarterback in front of the traditional
    print/mail function for file management, data parsing from any format,
    XML-based standardization, postal address management, business rules
    deployment, and management, rendering most common print and data
    formats, and workflow management,” explains founder Lyle Beasley. “We
    can either print in our production facility or we can deliver processed
    files, with customized manufacturing controls, to other production
    Mimeo.com, Inc. is another commercial printer who has put together
    their own unique software for online job submission. “Our entire
    business is based on leveraging the Internet to proof, print, bind, and
    deliver documents and presentations. Whether it�s our proprietary
    Web-based application that offers WYSIWIG document proofing, or our
    back-end compression and security technologies, the power of the Web
    has been a driving force in Mimeo�s exponential growth,” states Adam
    Slutsky, CEO, Mimeo. The company caters to everyone from small
    businesses to super-size firms like JetBlue and General Electric,
    printing over two million pages a day at its 140,000 square foot
    facility in Tennessee. Customers can order as late as 10PM ET for
    delivery as early as 8AM the following day. An online document library
    for corporate users offers on-demand access to frequently used files.
    Other value-add services include enterprise-wide usage reporting,
    cost-benefit analysis, and design consultation. Mimeo says its
    customers report 40 to 50 percent savings over work sent to traditional
    printers and copy shops.
    Workflow All the Way
    Web-based printing offers real potential for fully automated workflow,
    where all definition of the print job goes into a front-end template
    with little to no intervention between the online order placement and
    sending of output to the press. “PDF-based workflows and .csv files are
    required today, but JDF and XML will become the norm over time. JDF
    usage at the moment is minimal, but expected to increase over the next
    24 months,” says Raus.
    In a fully automated workflow, an end-user can select a template,
    customize and proof online, and click a button to place the order. This
    could immediately trigger generation of the output file in the
    appropriate print-ready format and the routing of that file to a press
    for immediate output. “Most systems today use the Web for content
    deployment with printing happening at each site. As the market matures,
    we see this changing to centralized printing,” says Walter Noot, GM,
    Onyx Graphics.
    Web-based jobs may be centrally printed and shipped, or printing may be
    distributed for more local output. One-stop shopping can require that
    resulting output files be routed to different devices depending on the
    product. “To be viable, storefront products must provide robust support
    for devices from many manufacturers, because no one has a single vendor
    shop anymore,” Raus states. To achieve higher volumes with Web-to-print
    systems, service providers can further streamline operations by
    offering very specific output options that don�t require paper
    change-outs on the device end.
    PrintManagement, a printing and design company, provides an integrated
    Web store to receive orders, manage prints, track fulfillment, and
    manage billing. Customers enter personalized information and build
    documents through a template on a Print-Management-hosted Web site. By
    using pre-approved marketing messages and images, clients can customize
    materials and have them quickly produced on a Xerox iGen3 press and
    Something to Prove
    One hurdle in an online printing world is proofing, tricky at best from
    monitors alone. Commercial printer HBP, Inc. uses Agilis Print software
    from Saepio Technologies, Inc. to power marketing libraries for various
    clients and provide accurate proofs. “The biggest challenge the
    technology solves is letting our clients customize materials and see a
    live proof on the fly,” says Rich Dunklee, director, e-business
    solutions, HBP.
    HBP�s in-house creative team designs background templates for a variety
    of pieces. Clients log on to their own custom Web site to select
    materials they need, and a soft proof is instantly generated on screen.
    “It was very important to show an accurate proof that wasn�t faked,”
    declares Dunklee. “I�ve seen other proofing systems display an
    on-screen proof that is not a true representation of the finished
    piece.” Once the proof is approved, the client specifies quantities and
    other details and then sends it directly to the HBP tracking system,
    where it becomes a live job without anyone touching it.
    What�s Making Money?
    Today, almost any kind of printed output is a candidate for
    Web-to-print workflow. Products available directly from commercial
    printer or corporate Web sites include an array of items�brochures,
    posters, postcards, business cards, letterhead, catalogs, calendars,
    folders, and even CD covers.
    “At the higher end are applications like auto dealer loyalty plans,
    where dealers can customize mailings sent to existing customers.
    App-lications that support requests like 401K and medical plan kits are
    popular, letting a user log in and get a benefit package printed and
    mailed on demand,” observes DeVoyd.
    Slutsky adds, “a great percentage of our business includes hard to
    produce documents�tabs, inserts, bound, with backings, sections in
    color and in B&W, etc. These documents tend to be living, breathing
    entities. Their authors need the ability to change content more
    frequently than they would be able to with offset printing or other
    methods of document production. That�s one of the most compelling
    things about online and on-demand printing. It enables customers to
    create printed documents that can change as rapidly as the rest of
    their business landscape. Graphically-intensive pieces, where color
    accuracy has to be right on to the 100th of a percent are not as
    conducive to digital printing. Static content also does not take full
    advantage of online and on-demand, digital printing as do documents
    that require more dynamic content.”
    “We see demand increasing, especially for larger businesses that
    recognize the benefits of on-demand, Web-based POP signage,” says Noot.
    “Benefits include faster deployment, lower print inventories and
    associated costs, and higher-impact local signage.”
    Commercial printer ColorCentric Corporation has partnered with
    Lulu.com, a leading Web site serving independent authors, on an
    integrated Web-to-print service. The offering allows authors to hold no
    inventory, and instead have their book printed automatically on Xerox
    equipment on demand. Books are shipped within 48 hours of the online
    order receipt.
    High-volume variable data projects, although challenging, are not
    impossible, and more providers are making them available, too. “While
    print on demand and fulfillment have the need for tracking the correct
    versions of multiple files, variable data printing has the added
    complexity of creating one unique printed document from a set of
    possibly thousands of components. This could be as simple as a postcard
    or as complex as an entire catalog,” says Beasley of IXT, which has
    created its own online interface for these applications.
    Challenges and Opportunity
    In business for about five years, Mimeo considers itself the first
    online, on-demand print center. “Since there were no taillights to
    follow�which is fine by us as we prefer to lead and innovate�we have
    encountered first-mover hurdles, says Slutsky. “We bumped into numerous
    technological barriers related to document compression and connecting
    our Web-based application to our state-of-the-art production center.”
    For Mimeo, “The entire customer experience is conducted via the Web,”
    says Slutsky. “In fact, the first time an order is touched by human
    hands is when our print experts inspect the digital file to ensure that
    the formatting and graphics are correct.” Some may wonder if the
    Web-to-print experience may take out more of the face-to-face service
    some customers expect. Slutsky likens the empowerment of online print
    orders to the evolution of airline ticketing, saying that the first
    time you were introduced to non-paper e-tickets, you most likely opted
    for a printed ticket at a cost, for fear of the unknown. “A year later
    you�re not even talking to the travel agent. You�re booking it online
    yourself. Most people, if the product is intuitive, if it is beautiful,
    they don�t miss having anyone involved.”
    “The Internet is another channel of business,” declares Raus. “It�s not
    about printing, but a new business model and the ability to deliver
    incremental growth. Tools like PRISMAweb streamline workflow by
    providing more efficient communication than in the past.”
    “We believe that in the near future, not having a Web-enabled solution
    will be like not having a telephone or a fax machine,” states
    Muscolino. But he notes that the technology must not override one
    important element necessary in any arrangement. “Print has
    traditionally been a relationship-based business, and some print
    service providers were fearful that those relationships may be
    threatened by the technology. Service providers are recognizing that
    customer self-service is a benefit that contributes to cost reduction
    and it is not a replacement for human interaction.”