Commentary & Analysis
The Status of JDF: It's Your Move
by Bob Raus of Oc&
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: February 27, 2006
by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division January 27, 2006 -- Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious. At the recent Xplor conference in Miami Beach a speaker in a session on the joint strengths of JDF and PDF pointed out that "The (XML based) JDF job ticket syntax was for geeks," meaning that it is not necessary for “non-geeks” such as shop owners, printer operators, and basically all non-IT folks. This declaration that the XML code needs to "remain behind the IT curtain" resulted in a collective sigh of relief from the mostly non-technical audience. The good news is that some JDF capabilities are available now and ready for you to use in products such as Adobe Acrobat 7 and others. The print industry has bought into the vision and spent millions of R&D dollars bringing JDF to the table. The bad news is that the collective success (or failure) of JDF depends on you buying and using these products. The bad news is that the collective success (or failure) of JDF depends on you buying and using these products. JDF, when properly implemented, will be transparent to document owners and creators while streamlining document submission and job ordering, reducing costs and automating workflows at print providers, especially when related to cross-media programs. JDF should also reduce employee training, make-ready and prepress complexity, provide a single interface for job management, and an easier upgrade path to new presses and even finishing systems. PDF will be an increasingly important part of JDF workflows regardless of the workflow architecture or the print engines used. Behind the IT Curtain Those benefits are indeed driven by what goes on behind the IT curtain. According to CIP4, the organization charged with creating the JDF specification, JDF will provide four main functions: * A common language for print life cycle or "the JDF Job Ticket" * A command and control language for devices on the shop floor, regardless of manufacturer. This includes the JMF (Job Messaging Format) for communicating with MIS systems. * A methodology for creating automated workflows that integrate software and equipment from different companies * Automates the device handshake to confirm needed functionality throughout the system and on specific devices. For example, the kind of stapling used or how a document will be folded. This is a wonderful vision, and one shared by some 287 companies and organizations working with CIP4 at all levels, trying to enable JDF throughout the print production process. The potential is clearly there, and in some instances JDF is working well. The ultimate challenges are not in the engineering, defining the spec or even in getting all the different software and equipment to work together. I believe the make or break challenge is in adoption: the industry must do all it can to encourage widespread adoption. If it does not, JDF will fail to take hold and the R&D efforts of those 287 companies will ultimately be put to better use. The more rapidly print service providers adopt elements of JDF in their workflows, the sooner they and technology vendors will see a return on their investment. Failing this, it is entirely possible JDF will fade away in as little as eighteen months. And if that were to happen we all stand to lose. It is entirely possible JDF will fade away in as little as eighteen months. And if that were to happen we all stand to lose. Is it Science Fiction? To seasoned print professionals the promise of JDF can seem like science fiction. Like any technology-driven format (or ultimately, a standard), the execution can take some time, and the entire vision is not possible today. But pieces of it are, progress is being made, and forward-looking print service providers that have adopted some elements of JDF are reaping some of the benefits already. The fulfillment of the vision and its future benefits are attainable but with some caveats: * Equipment and software providers have to continue to invest in JDF compliance. To do this, they need to see a positive response and strong signals of adoption from the marketplace. Translate that to mean new sales of JDF enabled software and hardware products. * The leading vendors who are making the investment today are looking to begin seeing an ROI within a relatively short timeframe --I believe this is the next twelve to eighteen months. If this does not happen at least some of them will put their R&D monies into their own product communication protocols rather than JDF, and development will falter or even stop. * Rapid adoption will deliver two major benefits to early adopters. First, it gives them some of the advantages of JDF which can benefit their customers and their businesses while preparing them for future advances in JDF. Second, it shows vendors a JDF adoption trend that helps justify their R&D costs. On the Other Hand It's understandable, though, why some vendors are reluctant to invest in or adopt JDF. Market demand is still weak. JDF actually removes some competitive advantages because it opens up all device capabilities, particularly in mixed environments. As such, this primarily benefits smaller vendors with limited or specialized product portfolios--the ones who are much less able to contribute to the development of JDF as a standard. Printshops should evaluate their business processes and MIS systems to best utilize current and future JDF and JMF capabilities. As a vendor, I believe it's important to take a fairly global view, and look to the future, At Océ, for instance, our PRISMA family of workflow management software already delivers many of the functions promised by JDF. Océ PRISMA is already designed to drive Océ and non-Océ printers, but there is still plenty of room in PRISMA to integrate important aspects of JDF functionality – and we’re committed to adding it. Meanwhile, print service providers can see the promise of greater automation, although exactly when is less than clear. But highly automated or not, JDF should deliver a greater ability to mix and match vendor equipment, an important advantage for mixed shops and convergent documents. It should simplify software integration and help streamline some time-consuming workflows. Finally, printshops should evaluate their business processes and MIS systems to best utilize current and future JDF and JMF capabilities. The old adage “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail" has never been more accurate.. What level of growth and success do you want to achieve with your business? We all need to work with a vision of where we want to go. When it comes to the vision of JDF, the question is can we all afford to wait for further development and adoption or can you seize its potential today and be better prepared for the future? No complaining or finger pointing if JDF doesn’t take hold because it’s now up to you. Do you agree? Or not? Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.