Commentary & Analysis
Free Special: Resurgence of Print e-business Rides on Standards, Systems Integration
By John McKeon -
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: September 25, 2002
By John McKeon - (Final in a 3-part series) September 25, 2002 -- This October’s GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 2002 in Chicago may well be the event that re-launches e-commerce in the printing industry. After its high-profile debut in 1999 and its subsequent turmoil, many observers say e-business is ready to come back in a more mature and practical form, and this is the show where printers can explore it in detail. Two key factors have surfaced in the last several years that are facilitating this comeback. One is the wide adoption of the PrintTalk JDF file format implementation, which has brought true "end-to-end" connectivity to print. The other factor is greater attention by both printers and vendors to integrating e-commerce functions with comprehensive business information systems. "The JDF file format, and PrintTalk’s implementation of it, have been powerful drivers of e-business in print," said Prism USA CEO Carol Anderson. PrintTalk was launched to offer an alternative to new proprietary e-commerce systems emerging in the industry, she added. "There was very active demand from printing companies looking to make a connection between their Management Information Systems (MIS) and the e-commerce front end." "PrintTalk," she noted, "developed a very substantial interface that was standardized and would work between any of the print companies and their MIS." Companies experienced in providing industry-specific MIS products for printers had a big advantage in integrating e-commerce. "JDF and standard interfaces are the key," Anderson said. As a result, "e-commerce interest in the printing industry has become serious again." Moreover, a large number of industry vendors have given high priority to developing completely integrated digital workflows, which has also facilitated adoption of e-commerce tools to help printers interact with their customers. "The really pressing question at GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO," Anderson said, "will be ‘which companies have teamed up to offer the printer the widest range of choices’." Many very productive e-business implementations require customers to have only a common web browser. But supporting this ease-of-use for buyers puts a major burden on the printer to bring all of his data together and organize it in a useful manner. While this intensified competitive pressure on the printer, it also opened up broad new national and even global business opportunities. "Buyers are asking for some kind of e-commerce," observed Glen Forbes, Vice President of Sales/Western Region at CRC Information Systems. "Many printers," he added, "are seeing e-commerce as ‘a value added service’ that can help them compete." In the end, this emphasis on customer service and competitiveness may be the factor that enables e-commerce to earn a place in the printer’s business arsenal.