By John McKeon October 10, 2002 -- True end-to-end electronic connectivity—a seamless process that links every function from taking the customer’s order to payment collection—has long been just a vision. The question was when would it become reality. The answer has been muddled by economic pressures and internal industry upheavals. GRAPH EXPO® and CONVERTING EXPO® 2002 attempted to bring some clarity and momentum to one of the industry’s most important priorities. "Fears of e-business solutions commoditizing print or replacing customer relationships have given way way to a recognition of the value the Internet plays in enhancing internal process," notes Andrew Schaer, Senior Vice President/ Worldwide Marketing at Printcafe, which introduced its new PrinterSite Internal sales force optimization system at the show, along with displaying its other integrated management system products. "The art of print is shifting to the manufacturing process," Schaer adds, "but that doesn’t make it a commodity." The "dot-com wave" broke at the 1999 edition of GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO as start-up companies and other providers of e-services mounted some of the most visible and publicized exhibits at McCormick Place. Then many of them all but vanished as printers in general did not rush to embrace their products and the national economy turned downward. Now e-business is surging again, thanks to an ever-wider adoption by printers of both web-based commerce models and internal print management strategies. Print e-business was once again a major theme of the year’s premier trade show. Today, Schaer sees the emphasis industry-wide shifting to integration of internal and external process management and communications. "Many printers have succeeded in conducting significant business through the web directly with their customers." But even a strong web presence can’t do it all. "A standalone web solution delivers some productivity improvements," Schaer notes, "but an integrated solution can substantively improve a printer’s profitability." WhatTheyThink.com profiled many of companies at the show exhibiting products aimed at linking processes together. Many are attempting to streamline business functions, and ultimately integrate business operations like estimating and billing with production functions like press scheduling, proofing and finishing. Schaer says the payoffs from this integration can be significant. "By flowing job specification data to the estimator, estimates to the sales person, job ticket information and sheet specs to the production manager and pressmen, and change orders and press performance data back to the management system," he explains, "we provide greater control for the printer, improved operating efficiency, reduced waste and greater profitability." This complete process integration can include a "storefront" on the web where customers can conduct business directly. "The printer can create its own online forms to mimic existing paper processes," says Schaer, "maximizing internal comfort and usage."