By John McKeon - (Second in a 3-part series) September 24, 2002 -- To get an idea of how e-business is changing printing, consider how a basic process like proof approval can benefit from going online. For generations, the typical proof spent most of the time between its creation and its approval riding in the sales rep’s car. Every significant change meant a new go-round, and if several people had to review a proof, each had no easy way to see what comments the others were making. E-business can change all that. Streamlined proof approval is often the first thing printers and their customers want from e-business, and this function is expected to help drive the resurgence of e-commerce options that will be a highlight of the upcoming GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 2002 in Chicago. Three years after the dot.coms arrived in force at GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 1999, and after many of them disappeared in the economic downturn of the subsequent two years, e-commerce is coming back to print in a big way. "All of a sudden around the end of last year, we began to see demand from our own customers, printers, who were feeling the demand from their customers," said Carol Anderson, CEO of Prism USA. Cutting time and cost out of proof reviews are two of the things today’s printers look for first when they consider an e-business approach. Jerry Miller, product manager for Prinect Internet Portal at Heidelberg USA, said online print reviews today entail much more than merely e-mailing a PDF file to a customer. He cited his company’s HD Proof as an example of what the Internet can bring to the process. Using only a common web browser, customers can now log into a printer’s secure web site and access a high quality job proof. They can make changes and add comments, and synchronize these changes with those of other reviewers, even alerting each reviewer when a colleague has made a proof change. Miller says a hardcopy proof is generally still required as a contract proof, especially for really quality-critical jobs. But online proofing can move a job much more quickly through the multiple generations of proof reviews before that point. Online proofing is "the main thing for some users," agrees Tony Caudill, national sales manager at Pace Systems Group. But basic functions like ordering, job tracking, inventory management, invoice status, and the like –"things they normally would have to call the printer for," Caudill says—are also moving to e-business in a big way. Glen Forbes, Vice President of Sales/Western Region at CRC Information Systems, said much of the success of today’s e-business vendors arises from the fact that they’ve been serving the printing industry for a long time, rather than trying to bring in a generic e-tool from outside. This industry insight has led to the development of products that are quite specific to the printing business. "Fulfillment really lends itself to e-commerce," Forbes said. Instead of making multiple phone calls, a customer now can go to the printer’s web site and quickly determine his or her remaining quantity of a printed product, check the ordering history, place a new order, or track a current job. This is especially valuable, Forbes added, in an environment in which "job cycles are being reduced, and there are more and more jobs generating more and more information."