Commentary & Analysis
FREE IPA Technical Conference Workflow RoundUP: The Inside Scoop
By Cary Sherburne
Published: June 1, 2005
As promised, WhatTheyThink took a deeper look into the background and expectations for this year’s First Annual Workflow RoundUP being conducted at the IPA Technical Conference (June 7-9, 2005, Chicago www.ipa.org/tech). David Zwang was tapped to organize the RoundUP and has been working with the IPA team to structure the event.
David is the principal consultant of Zwang & Company, a firm specializing in strategic business planning, analysis, and related services to companies in the vertical Publishing market worldwide. His experience includes an extensive background in Electronic Premedia and many printing technologies, including; Offset, Flexo, and Gravure. This makes his background ideal for shepherding the Workflow RoundUP project.
In addition to writing many articles related to the publishing industry, David has developed a variety of courses in Process Benchmarking, Color Reproduction, PostScript Troubleshooting, and Service Bureau Management. He has been an active board member of a number of International Graphic Arts Associations and standards bodies. Currently, he sits on CGATS, CIP4, and is the Vice Chairman of the Ghent PDF Workgroup (www.GhentPDFWorkgroup.org). He has also written countless articles and has lectured at many Colleges, Universities, and major industry conferences. If you are attending the Technical Conference, please be sure to look him up.
David took time out of his busy schedule, just before setting off on a whirlwind speaking tour in Australia and New Zealand, to give us some background on the Workflow RoundUP and to share his thoughts in general about the importance of a workflow strategy for anyone in the graphic communications business.
WTT: David, thanks for making time to speak with us today. Can you tell us what prompted the IPA to formulate this year’s First Annual Workflow RoundUP?
DZ: As you know, I was involved in the Color Proofing RoundUP over the last few years, and this seemed to be a logical extension. I have been involved in both the Ghent PDF Workgroup and IPA for a couple of reasons. Part of it is to give back to the industry, because the industry has been very good to me over the years. But the other part is my overriding drive to help unify the international graphic arts community. I wrote an article many years ago about how silly it was that we had all these associations, standards groups and development efforts in an industry that is resource constrained, duplicating efforts and fighting for the same funding. The Ghent PDF Workgroup has been a unifying effort in this regard. And the IPA Technical Conference is probably one of the better conferences at the technical level if you want to do prepress. It is vendor agnostic, brings a broader view of the process and focuses on education. This year’s conference offered a good opportunity to help promote the work that the Ghent PDF Workgroup is doing in this area and to bring a new dimension of knowledge around digital workflow to the North American market.
WTT: Has your work been primarily in the production environment, or does it also spill over into the office environment as well? Also, is the Ghent PDF Workgroup involved in initiatives outside of PDF-specific workflow?
DZ: It has primarily been production, but we have started to get into office document printing as well. If you talk to Xerox or IKON or Canon, they will tell you that their customers love their equipment because they can print anything quickly. But it takes a lot longer to prepare a file for professional printing, and that is one of the things we are addressing. We are also addressing job ticketing, color management, and have been at the forefront of encouraging the disparate standards or pseudo-standards organizations around the world to discuss specific unified global standards. While our original charter at the Ghent PDF Workgroup was about PDF, now it is broader and encompasses best practices in graphic communications as a whole.
WTT: What is the basis for the Workflow RoundUP, from a technical perspective?
DZ: One of the subcommittees of the Ghent PDF Workgroup is the RIP output subcommittee. One of the problems in workflow has to do with the ability to take different types of files, put them through various applications and into RIPs. This is where systems tend to fall apart. Through the Ghent PDF Workgroup, we have been able to identify many of the issues and work with the vendors on resolving some of those issues. The Packaging Workgroup is a good example. In that sub-group, we have been working on this issue for about a year and the final specifications will be out in September. We had to work with all of the RIP vendors, and with Adobe and others, to fix the holes in the process. The RIP Output Subcommittee creates different test files that can be used to find those holes in a variety of stages in the workflow. These test files will be the basis of the Workflow RoundUP at the IPA Technical Conference. The Ghent PDF Workgroup also agreed that the Tech Conference was a great vehicle for showcasing the work we are doing in the printing and publishing workflow arena and a good opportunity to educate the marketplace. This RoundUP will be a win/win for the IPA, the Ghent PDF Workgroup, and the industry as whole.
WTT: How will the RoundUP be structured?
DZ: Both vendors and users are participating. Test files are available for download by clicking here. For ease of evaluation, we are providing a basic layout in a number of different layout applications and letting participants place the test images into that layout and create a PDF file. We are suggesting they use the Ghent PDF Workgroup specifications and best practices to start with to reduce the number of issues they will have.
So they download the test, run it, and bring a PDF file and a proof or print to the Conference. We will then discuss their results and help them evaluate those results. We will have “perfect answer keys” and we will discuss the issues we see, what kinds of things are affected by various components in the process, what applications are better or worse, that kind of thing. The other thing that we will most likely find in this process is that people don’t update their RIPs on a regular basis. I have taken informal surveys over the years when I give talks, asking how many people have upgraded their RIPs in the last year, two years, three years. And it is surprising how many don’t think they need to. The problem is when something like PDF 1.5 comes along, it turns RIPs upside down in terms of their ability to process files accurately. That creates a big problem, and we want to highlight that.
WTT: What is involved in upgrading a RIP?
DZ: It is usually just a software upgrade. I have heard so many excuses, like, ‘We upgrade something and it breaks three other things.” Some smaller shops don’t understand the software licensing model; in their mind they are buying it and they don’t calculate into the buying process the additional future expense for upgrades. But in reality, it is costing them much more not to upgrade. These are some of the issues that the Workflow RoundUP will bring out.
WTT: How will the results be published?
DZ: We are looking at creating some kind of a white paper that will discuss the tests, and the issues that were raised by them. We are not trying to rank workflow solutions, but we will use this exercise as a way to alert people about what they should be considering in terms of workflow. We are looking at all kinds of ways to educate people and this is a good opportunity. We find so much just in the course of our testing that we really would like to share with the market. For example, there are 49 files we use to test compliance to the specification. We have a number of white papers we are coming out with soon, including one on the specifications themselves—why are they written the way they are; how to use them; what are they all about. There is a color management white paper also due out. The results of this Workflow RoundUP would be another one, and would be publicly available through both the IPA and Ghent PDF Workgroup sites. IPA will likely conduct a webinar to recap our findings.
WTT: Do you think this will become an annual event?
DZ: We probably will do it again next year. We will have more tests available by then, too. Very much like the Color Proofing RoundUP, the first year we started with a subset of the issues and grew from there. We are doing same thing here, starting slowly, seeing where the holes are in the tests, what else we need to do and what else people would like to see. Next year we will add to the event accordingly.
WTT: David, thanks for speaking with us today. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?
DZ: I would encourage both users and vendors to take advantage of the mentoring situation provided by IPA’s Technology Conference and the Workflow RoundUP. The Ghent PDF Workgroup consists of top experts from all over the world. Participating in these types of events gives people access to that expertise, since some of the members of the group will be present. Also, virtually all of the people who are involved in the Ghent PDF Workgroup are people that also go back and deal with these issues on a daily basis, on the front lines, so they bring real-world experience to our efforts. While we do have vendor members, it is still a user association. We chose to allow vendors to join, but we still retained user association control to keep our work vendor agnostic. We wanted to make sure that future development efforts support user needs and are vendor supported, but not vendor driven. I will look forward to seeing a lot of WhatTheyThink readers at the event!