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Commentary & Analysis

Transitioning Web-to-Print Solutions

Maintaining and paying for multiple web-to-print solutions is more expensive than you think. Transitioning off legacy systems has positive repercussions for your technical resources and your customers.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: August 12, 2015

Web-to-print technology has been around long enough to create its fair share of messes in the form of printers having multiple web-to-print solutions, spread across various customers, some integrated, and some isolated.

It is way more exciting to purchase a new web-to-print solution than it is to dig in and understand what it would actually take to transition out of the legacy web-to-print solutions that aren’t serving your needs anymore.

Let’s start at the beginning with a few clarifying questions:

How do so many printers end up in the position of having multiple web-to-print technologies?

  1. A frantic buy in reaction to one customer often results in a solution that works for that customer and isn’t well suited for your other customers.
  2. A legacy system is no longer going to be supported by the vendor so you’re forced to buy a new system before the vendor stops maintenance.
  3. The purchase of a new Print MIS can often force a change in the web-to-print solution in order to achieve an integrated workflow.
  4. A series of frantic buys based on customer demand can create a real mess of multiple solutions all adding to your company’s overall technical debt (e.g. staffing to support different technologies.)
  5. Your current web-to-print system no longer supports where you’re taking your company (e.g. it only supports catalog products and you’re company is turning into a short run digital/marketing services provider).
  6. Nobody at the printer actually dives into the web-to-print system that was purchased to really understand the full extent of its functionality; therefore new solutions are bought when existing investments would have met the customer’s needs. We see this all the time, assumptions are made based on one random answer from the vendors help desk and new solutions are purchased without validating / cross-checking information with multiple sources.

What is the risk of leaving legacy web-to-print systems alone?

This is a very good question as logically is makes sense to simply leave the customers you have on legacy systems because we are all thinking we have enough IT projects on our plate. If the IT project isn’t broken why try and fix it? Here are the top reasons why I like to see a proactive rather than passive approach to transitioning legacy web-to-print solutions.

  1. Technical Debt/Technical Resource Optimization. The more systems you have live with customers the more your staff is doing “IT janitorial work, babysitting, plate-spinning” rather than using your best technical resources to innovate on behalf of your customers. Technical resources are the most precious resources to printers today – don’t waste their time on the support of legacy systems.
  2. Legacy Systems expose you to competitive risk with your long-term customers. Most business-to-business (B2B) web-to-print systems are launched and then neglected. The only attention they are given is when the customer asks for product changes. The home page gets stale; the users who login get the sense that the site is “dead”. Competitors walk in and show a dynamic, beautiful, modern site that just feels better. You could get replaced on the visuals alone!
  3. Legacy systems typically lack support for mobile devices. The internet ecosystem is moving at a rapid rate and mobile devices are becoming the dominate access point. Responsive design is no longer a nice to have – it’s required. The tablet is replacing the laptop as the mobile device for distributed sales.

How do you think about / approach transitioning web-to-print stores from legacy solutions to new solutions?

  1. Business Priority RULES: first and foremost rank the stores/customers by business priority. Work on the most important customers first. It doesn’t matter if that means your first store to transition is the hardest. Business priorities RULE the day.
  2. Calculate the costs: understand the hard and soft costs of keeping legacy systems up and running (subscription fees, maintenance fees, and hours of your labor, as well as any vendor provided professional services or outside consultants.) Know the numbers you will be recouping when you switch the legacy system OFF, have a plan to actively deploy those resources toward a more future focused / strategic endeavor. A good question to ask yourself, if this system totally failed me, who would I turn to for help? If that scares you because the “guy” you had put it up is long gone – get off this system sooner rather than later!
  3. Evaluate the store with the account manager and customer: do NOT do a wholesale transition without discussing it with the customer. You have dead products on your stores (never ordered), don’t waste time again setting those products up in the new store – you already ate that labor once!
  4. Group the products by type because the kinds of products impact the level of effort required for transition. For example: simple print on-demand products are easy to setup. Complex variable data products that require you to move from one composition engine to a new one take way more effort.
  5. Understand the implications with your print MIS. Don’t do anything with your web-to-print system without thinking through the end-to-end workflow. A transition might be painful but the results of the transition should create fewer touches, less manual work, less errors in your path to an automated workflow.

Top 3 Ways to Prevent Web-to-Print Messes:

  1. Adopt your web-to-print system as your own, when you “own” the technology, you figure out how to make it work. You stretch it for each customer. Your guys know more than the guys answering the phone at the vendor. You have a peer group that meets regularly to discuss how to get more out of this system. When you see the technology as yours, the thought of buying multiple systems seems silly. When you don’t own it, buying your way around your lack of knowledge seems like a good idea.
  2. Think globally when choosing your solutions. There is no such thing as a point solution anymore – don’t buy isolated solutions that don’t connect with your workflow. Try very hard not to buy a solution for a single customer. You get zero leverage on all the work you put into that system.
  3. When you have to make a change, budget for the transition as well as the purchase of the new system. Print owners are watching their spend on new technology purchases; I’m suggesting you should estimate and add into that budget the costs of transition. You can attack it aggressively with outside consultants and get it done quick, which avoids on-going fees from legacy vendors. Or you can decide to do it gradually with inside resources and pay on-going fees longer. Remember once you buy the new system, working on the old system is not very exciting. Don’t put your resources in that position for too long, motivation will die. 

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Joe Fedor on Aug 12, 2015

What a great topic... I'll call it "W2P Commentary 2.0" because it's not a common topic in the press. With the market as mature as it is, there's a surprising number of print providers with a surprising number of legacy systems.

In my experience, a printer's customers are generally open to the change to a new system, as long as the printer approaches it as an upgrade. First, show the customer the benefits and value of the new technology, and get them excited. Second, conduct a current site audit with the customer with an eye on (a) making sure their critical needs are either matched or met another way with the upgrade, and (b) eliminating obsolete products and processes.

(That second point is crucial, not just because you need to make sure the customer can still do what they need to do, but also because it shows you are a technology partner, not just a print provider)

Added benefit to transitioning your existing B2B accounts ASAP - you get really good really quick with your new technology because you're immersing yourself in it immediately. Trial by fire, as it were.

Thanks, Jen.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 12, 2015


You bring up a good point, how do you "pitch" this change to the customer? I think we focus too much on a feature by feature comparison and then get paralyzed by the fact that the new solution might not have every single feature of the legacy system (important or not).

You have to sell the change by focusing on the benefits. If you dig in and lead with what WON'T BE THERE - you are not selling, you are talking people out of the change!

All solutions solve challenges in slightly different ways so don't lead with that kind of detail. This is the problem with putting technical people into a role of sales. Your sales people have to convert the features of the new system into benefits to the customer.

I'm not sure you have to go into the details of new technology - like Joe said above, pitch it as an upgrade. Printers should always brand the technology and not talk about the underlying technology provider anyway (you are selling your service, not the technology you bought from your web-to-print vendor).



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