By Carro Ford Weston "In-plants benefit greatly from web job submission because the ease of use and rich capabilities help them move page volume to their facility and away from desktop inkjets and hallway laser printers. This solves the problem of decreasing page counts to production class devices." --Chuck Gehman, EFI December 6, 2004 -- The market trends that drew EFI into developing its web-based solutions are also attracting more and more document operations to the online marketplace. "Web applications are really going mainstream in all segments of the graphic communications industry," observes Chuck Gehman, director of product marketing for EFI, Inc. "Printers want to make it easier for customers to do business with them, and print buying customers -- and everyone else in the world-- have grown accustomed to using the Internet to make purchases." The value that web-based services offer a printer can depend on its customer relationships and products. "For example, we are finding in-plants benefit greatly from web job submission because the ease of use and rich capabilities help them move page volume to their facility and away from desktop inkjets and hallway laser printers. This solves the problem of decreasing page counts to production class devices," he says. For commercial printers, one of the biggest advantages is a tighter order handling process. Web-based ordering can combat close margins and cut down on front-end labor. "An order coming from the web into one of our applications, with a job ticket completed by the customer can be priced automatically online with no estimating required and then purchased. Order negotiation and input goes from 45 minutes to zero," says Gehman. Improvements can also be claimed for workflow integration, resulting in jobs that flow directly from the creator into the printing facility's workflow. Web-based workflow can dramatically improve the quality of incoming job files and streamline production operations at the plant. Meeting the Standard Standardization is an important requirement for smooth flowing web-based services, and no discussion of workflow these days is complete without mention of Job Definition Format or JDF. EFI is making extensive use of the emerging standard in both the front-end job ticketing environment and back-end workflow integration. "JDF has become part of almost every engineering effort we embark on today," says Gehman. Over time the percentage of more complex work will continue to go up, as web VDP apps become more sophisticated. As the web becomes a ubiquitous presence in print workflow, will it ever be practical to bring more complex applications into the fold, such as statements? Most successful web applications today are simpler template-based projects like business cards or brochures. "I would say over time the percentage of more complex work will continue to go up, as web VDP apps become more sophisticated. Certainly, it would be great if a business person could go in to a customer site and compose their statement for next month online—then preview it with live data. It would be a powerful capability that is only possible with very sophisticated, custom solutions today. Frankly, it's still mostly the realm of programmers today, from what I have seen," says Gehman. Bandwidth for Browsers? But, do print operations want to become responsible for managing a web storefront on top of everything else? Is there bandwidth to spare for web-management skills? Not a problem, according to Gehman. "If an operator is savvy with prepress production applications, virtually nothing that happens with the web systems is going to be foreign. If web-enabled VDP is involved, an orientation toward logic and programming is very, very helpful, but not required. Some database skills never hurt anybody." It's important that web applications let you leverage the investments you've made in both the technology and in creating VDP products like templates and databases "Many people -- corporate types, creatives and their printers -- have already chosen their favorite VDP application, so it's important that web applications let you leverage the investments you've made in both the technology and in creating VDP products like templates and databases, as well as in learning how to use and deploy a VDP system," Gehman says. "For example, by incorporating Datalogics VDP solutions in our Digital StoreFront, PrinterSite Exchange and PrinterSite Fulfillment products, instead of a proprietary VDP solution, we can leverage all the experience that is already out there and help our customers move to the web much more quickly by consuming their VDP templates and automatically populating them into a web site." ROI to Go Projected ROI for web applications can be quick and robust, and Gehman offers an example: "Say you get ten orders a week from your web site, and each one previously took one hour to process, including both admin processing and prep time. If the staffers involved cost $15 an hour, which is very low these days, you are talking about a savings of $600 by eliminating that work. That indicates a very achievable ROI in a very short period of time." The benefits of web-based services for commercial printers continue to mature and tempt print providers and their vendors. As the market learns more about this tool and responds with new services and technology, the web is becoming a smart choice for companies hungry for more efficiency and speed.