Workflow War By Frank Romano December 15, 2003 -- There is a tongue-in-cheek axiom in the industry that when companies have little to sell, they sell workflow futures. Workflow is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. With a future workflow, you can promise a lot, because it takes a while to find out if it really—well—works. Announcements of industry partnerships and so-called standards trigger pangs of cynicism. If you review the 200 or more "partnerships" that were announced over the last decade, you will find that less than 20% resulted in a relationship that transcended the event at which the announcement was made. Announcements are always made at major trade shows with the resultant press conference and press release, which are then promptly forgotten. At Graph Expo, we were over-fed on heaping doses of JDF and CIP4—the ultimate partnership enablers. Everyone had a workflow solution. Many suppliers are promoting JDF as the future of the printing industry because it allows all companies to integrate their systems together. This is good. JDF is complex and all-encompassing as defined in a 700-page document—and this is only the first version. I may wait for the movie. The CIP4 body that is responsible for JDF is still developing its specification, and it may take years to complete. To apply JDF, you must have hardware (like presses), cutters, and binders that are "JDF compliant." Few presses made before 1995 will support JDF. Many suppliers are developing JDF interfaces and claim that they are JDF compliant. Some of these companies choose only certain elements of the JDF specification, and there is no guarantee that other suppliers will choose the same elements. Thus, different systems may be JDF compliant but may not interface. This is bad. Interfacing different systems is what workflows must do. Heidelberg Prinect applies a JDF workflow to link its products together and to the MIS world. Other workflow solutions include Agfa Apogee, Creo Prinergy, and any other "gees." The Networked Graphic Production (NGP) initiative announced plans to choose a subset of the JDF specification that it can implement in the near term. Why NGP when there is JDF/CIP4? Because, once again, suppliers polarize into camps because of competition and, well, bad decisions. Users are then in the middle, especially when it comes to hybrid printing—part offset and part digital, for example—or sites with presses from multiple vendors. NGP wants a range of companies' products to integrate and will agree on standard JDF implementations for similar products and MIS systems. Identical JDF formats and routines, and press control systems will use exactly the same JDF structures. This may restrict some functionality, but it means everyone in the NGP partnership is marching in step. But if they all belong to, why not accomplish this within one organization rather than create another? JDF, CIP4, and NGP are all good ideas. The problem is that there are now too many good ideas. This is causing confusion and this will cause users to delay decisions. And delaying decisions is bad.