By Terry Nagi

November 14, 2007 - This is my closing article on I-COM (Internet Customer Order Management). The previous 7 articles are available here on ODJ. From the emails I've received, I know there certainly has been confusion as to what I-COM means. My attempt has been to concentrate on those computer systems and software, currently utilized by printers, which when used in conjunction with the Internet, provide an opportunity for all printers (traditional and digital) to increase the efficiency of their communications with clients:

"Why should one bother with I-COM?" is a common question. Everyone remembers the e-Commerce or dot-bomb era and what a bust they were. But oh, how times have changed! Think back. . .

That was a time when the cell phone was generally not an acceptable expense for a print sales person to charge their company. The question now is a Blackberry or an iPhone an acceptable expense? It was long before "Googling" became an addition to the English language. It was before Face Book, MySpace and LiveJournal. Digital photography as a practical technology was yet to come, let alone added to the skills of the graphic designer or (Heck! Many were still learning how to use QuarkXPress and work around semi-usable client provided files). And since then retail sales on the Internet soared from $5.3 billion in 1999 to $33.9 billion in 2006.

The Need to Simplify

So let us examine the Internet realities of today, beyond DSL, InDesign, personalization printing and the electronic revolution of the printing industry to "right now" There is the need to simplify client/printer communications via:

  • Reducing response time of all communications  between printer, print buyer, designers, advertising agency and all parties to a print transaction
  • Simplifying the order entry and change process
  • Reducing confusion for all parties at the printers' facilities and buyers' headquarters as to status of proof, missing copy or graphics, delivery schedule, changes to original order, and other print details. These are normally communicated by tedious telephone calls back and forth, voice mail messages, and e-mails that are hopefully (or is that wishfully?) read by all parties to the print transaction.
  • Allowing details of less important print orders to be handled  in a more computerized manner, freeing customer service representatives to devote their valuable time to more complicated print orders for key clients, and first time orders from new client (mess up this first order and all the time spent in prospecting has been wasted).
  • The need to increase the efficiency of the CSR by 25%; sales person by 33%, the plant production communication by 40%. Faster presses and electronic prepress equipment require faster communications. So does profitability on shorter runs or those involving variable content.
  • Realization that we are in an age where on-line transactions are a standard way of business life (and our personal lives too).
  • Preparing the traditional printer, if not already there, for their conversion to digital print (including the swift and economical processing of huge amounts of data transmitted via  the Internet), as well as successfully dealing with the ever increasing desire of the client to have their printer deal with their mailing and fulfillment requirements.

The term Web-to-Print is sometimes used to encompass all these communication systems between printer and client. Yet, Web-to-Print is also often thought of as a system used only in the digital print environment. In fact, printers of all sizes and specialties can utilize the power of the Internet and computer to increase the efficiencies of their customer communications.

Some copy from the web site of PrintStar sums it up:

"Imagine just how great life would be if all appropriate people at your company could have all your company's contact information at their fingertips. Or if you could enable your salespeople to send quotes out quickly and effortlessly. Or automatically convert those quotes to jobs; track those jobs through completion, shipping and billing. Even better: What if you could create POs from jobs and track those costs to see how you really made out profit-wise?"

That all sounds wonderful, and managing your jobs so you can deliver results provides a competitive edge--something every business strives for. Today, this means having the information you need, when you need it. Mission critical information has to be contained in one end-to-end application, specifically designed for commercial printers.

Consider the offerings of PrintStar, for instance, which tracks contacts, inventory, estimates, paper tracking, jobs, shipments, vendors, job cost, purchase orders, invoicing, finished goods, press scheduling, and web access

I-COM Providers

Many of the providers have been featured in the past ODJ articles. As always, the best way to being evaluating not only which system to  select for your implementation, and to assist in deciding what you actually need, is to visit various I-COM software suppliers' websites. These include but are not limited to:

Plan your move

Like it or not, I-COM  for printers will have significant and long range impacts on the success of both large and small printers, and it would be foolhardy to assume the next few years will be "business as usual". All printers should have an I-COM strategy.


A suggested strategic planning strategy for printers regarding their entry into an I-COM position includes:

  • Survey your top 20% of clients that provide 80% of most printers' business, to determine their initiatives in using the internet and the computer to purchase products and services, including print;
  • Research and evaluate if the internet and use of computers with the printer's vendors will result in savings of money, labor and faster response time;
  • Research and understand the benefits and challenges of an I-COM system when the time is right. It is also important that people with customer contact, from sales to customer service representatives, by able to intelligently discuss the topic when presented to a client;
  • Re-evaluate the roles and responsibilities of the professional sales representative and the customer service representative in implementing an I-COM solution.

Eleven Realities

Reality number one is that I-COM can save time and people. This includes repeat transactions, estimate write-ups, job ticket write-ups, inventory checking, e-mail,  voicemail correspondence, web to print, bill paying, many  initiated by the client, which ultimately saves time and people costs for both printer and client.

More importantly, everyone involved in a print order has instant access to the latest information on that order, practically eliminating questions regarding what are the latest instructions, versions, changes and where that information is located. One of the greatest features of I-COM is that it keeps everyone on the same page with the same information, updated instantaneously.

Reality number two is that the time saved by the printer's CSRs formerly spent taking down information, can now be used watching over more critical orders and clients.

Reality number three is that the role of the sales representative will change from writing requests for estimates, job orders, and following them through the factory, to new account development and critical account solutions selling. For example, instead of tracking information on where an order is in the works and what changes have occurred, the sales representative will spend more time on the road. Instant access to information from laptops and palmtops will keep them informed of what is happening with clients and jobs, as conveniently in their cars as in their office

Reality number four is that compensation practices in the industry will change, especially for the entire customer contact team. Sales representatives now on commission will slowly move towards salary, plus smaller commissions on continuing accounts, with significant bonuses for new accounts. Customer service representatives now normally on straight salary will be paid a salary, plus incentive, as they become more responsible for current client maintenance and retention. The overall cost of sales people and customer service representatives, as a percentage of total sales will decrease.

Reality number five is that I-COM systems will blend well with printing companies that offer warehousing/fulfillment/mailing/dealer programs, where clients are already familiar with online order entry, release of goods, inventory checking, e-mail communications and other internet transaction based processes.

Reality number six is that almost all printer software packages currently used by printers of all sizes, are developing their own I-COM to provide an integrated I-COM system. This means availability of whatever information you wish to make available, password protected, behind firewalls, using PURLs, to both internal employees and clients.

Reality number seven is that vendor reduction will be continued by print buyers. Corporate management will simply insist that a select few printers serve the diversity of their print needs to simply save time and money.

Reality number eight is that I-COM transactions with suppliers (paper, ink, designers, etc) will reduce administrative costs to the printer as well as speed timely information. The same benefits accruing to the print buyer are now accruing to the printer in dealing with vendors.

Reality number nine is human-to-human (customer to sales representative or customer service representative) conversations will be significantly reduced. A plan of action must be initiated by the printer to make internet transactions more personable. Special events will have to be planned to bring customers and the printer's workforce together. Entertainment budgets may have to be increased. Plant tours will have to become more important. Presentation of new ideas in person must be heightened. The impersonal aspects of the Internet must be overcome by the personality of the company.

Reality number ten is that I-COM costs money. A printer's I-COM strategy must find a way to absorb these fees by reducing the traditional cost of selling, customer service, estimating, administering a client's business and so on. Strategizing a change in a printer's organization will be essential.

The final reality is this. If you think you can avoid I-COM, you most likely cannot. Many printers thought desktop publishing and electronic file creation by clients was a non-starter in 1992. There is hardly a printer today that does not have a significant desktop operation. Of course, not every print buyer will be into I-COM transactions with their printer in the next year. But eventually, all the ones that are truly successful will have at least some level of I-COM in their business.

It has been my pleasure to present this concept of I-COM to the readers of OnDemand Journal. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions. Now it is your turn to "Go out and Do something", if you haven't done so all ready.