With the overwhelming number of software solutions and announcements at drupa, this article is designed to reflect on the top 10 trends that were very visible in every vendor’s booth. While the halls were filled with offset and digital presses, finishing devices, and workstations, software was the glue that held everything together.
In the graphic arts segment, the ongoing digitization of the printing process, combined with a changing and consolidating marketplace, has resulted in a variety of solutions that increase operational efficiencies and enable print providers to seize more profitable business opportunities.
Current solutions tend to integrate more deeply in the back-office of a print provider’s operation. Front-office systems using Web-based storefronts are becoming increasingly connected with administrative systems and management information systems (MIS) solutions, where invoicing and billing is automated and services, like real-time tracking and tracing, are increasingly requested by print buyers who would like to get a tighter grip on print procurement. With advances in MIS, print providers are gaining a greater insight into the cost structure of operations and can generate competitive quotes while remaining profitable.
As the quality of digital print is improving while the costs are lowering, digital print is increasingly used as an alternative to offset. As a result, the need for solutions that combine the different prepress requirements for offset and digital into a single, automated workflow process is rising. Not only will these “hybrid workflows” add tremendous flexibility to print operations, they will also save significant costs by eliminating redundant workflows and manual interventions.
Solutions are also becoming more important in the enterprise. The business document landscape is rapidly changing as a result of the convergence of Web and print, and half of all business documents already have a cross-media requirement, according to InfoTrends’ Multi-Channel Study. Enterprises are investing in custom publication solutions that enable them to publish efficiently across a variety of delivery channels. The sustainability movement is further fuelling the change to electronic fulfilment, as consumer concern about the environmental impact of print is taken very seriously in the corporate world.
Within enterprises, there is an increasing focus on the return on investment (ROI) of marketing campaigns, and solutions are needed to record and calculate the success rates based on a wide variety of metrics. Considering the increasing costs of postal delivery, companies are looking for ways to better reach their customers by incorporating promotional messages with transactional statements. Although TransPromo is still in the early adoption phase, it is definitely gaining momentum and drupa 2008 saw some new announcements in this area.
The Top 10
Trend #1: Integration Is Key
drupa 2004 may have been referred to as the JDF(Job Definition Format) drupa, but drupa 2008 was the drupa of integration. Integration was the underlying theme for many announcements, although (not surprisingly) the depth and breadth varied significantly between the announced integration activities. Solutions that integrated order entry, MIS and the shop floor, digital and offset press operations, multiple marketing channels, and end-users with printers were prevalent in every booth.
Trend #2: Management Information Systems Are on the Rise
This drupa hosted a record number of MIS providers, as the market for MIS is rapidly growing. MIS solutions bring the next level of automation to print operations, and linkages with variable data printing, workflow, and Web-to-print software solutions provide viable upgrade trajectories. According to preliminary results from InfoTrends’ upcoming Investment Study 2008, a quarter of all European print providers plan on investing in an MIS system within the next two years.
Trend #3: Hybrid Workflows
Hybrid workflow created a significant buzz in many areas of the drupa 2008 show floor. Four years ago, Xerox was one of the first companies to showcase a hybrid workflow by providing JDF integration with Creo Prinergy, and later Heidelberg Prinect. This drupa marked the demonstration of a wide variety of integrations, and these are quickly becoming increasingly advanced. At the simplest level, a hybrid workflow offers the ability to send jobs from an offset system to a digital printer, or from a digital workflow solution to a computer-to-plate device. At a medium level, prepress processes have been standardized and are automatically controlled by an MIS system, which forms the hub in the printing process, management, and customer-interaction process. In advanced environments (e.g., industrial / packaging printing), developments in Computer-Integrated-Manufacturing (CIM), closed-loop control, and collaborative work systems allow manufacturers to computerize the entire production process from design to production. This enables them to speed up market introductions at lower costs and achieve higher consistency across channels, documents, and packaging.
Trend #4: TransPromo
The term “TransPromo” refers to the combination of transactional and promotional material into one document. While inserts have long been coupled with transaction documents, their effectiveness has been questionable. By placing a promotional message directly on a transaction document, marketers expect to achieve higher response rates. The need for marketers to better reach their customers, combined with advances in high-speed process color continuous-feed printing and rising postal costs, is rapidly paving the way for TransPromo applications. During drupa 2008, new generations of inkjet systems were presented to push the cost of high-speed full-color printing down even further by making them an attractive and cost-effective alternative to black & white printing systems. Most of the TransPromo software products on display at drupa 2008 were found at the booths of hardware vendors like Kodak (supporting the Versamark and Stream technology), HP (Inkjet Web Press, InfoPrint Solutions (InfoPrint 5000), and Xerox with application software from suppliers like GMC, Exstream, and StreamServe to mention a few.
Trend #5: Customized Communications Are Still the Rage
Although customized communications solutions have been around for a while, they are one of the most important drivers of digital volume growth and additional revenue generation for digital devices. New hardware engine manufactures entered the digital production market at drupa 2008. As a result, the market for customized communication solutions is continuing to expand. From an adoption perspective, the outlook for the variable data print (VDP) application software market—as well as the Web-to-print offerings—is still very bright. What’s more, double-digit growth is expected for the next four years, according to InfoTrends’ Production Workflow and Customized Communications Forecast.
Trend #6: Web-to-Print
Web-to-print solutions, or better e-enablement custom communication solutions, streamline customer interaction, cut costs, and help print providers benefit from on-demand printing. Although most print providers acknowledge the benefits of Web-to-print, only a third of them in the U.S. and a quarter of them in Europe have installed a Web solution (according to recent studies from InfoTrends). Drupa was a clear indication that customer-facing Web-based tools are critical for print service providers. The message this year was that the “Internet is the strategy” for graphic communications service providers.
Trend #7: Multi-Channel Communication Solutions
Suppliers at this year’s drupa demonstrated multi-channel output with improved integration with variable data printing solutions. Printable, XMPie, Pageflex, and GMC all offer VDP solutions that can output to e-mail, personalized Web sites, and in some cases, to mobile sites and SMS text messaging. GMC demonstrated modules from its Integrated Marketing System, including its new portal building solution called GMC PortalBuilder. While not slated to be released until the beginning of 2009, Kodak showcased its Integrated Campaign Manager solution, which is a multi-channel communications module within its Unified Workflow Solutions product suite. GMC has integrated LookWho’sClicking with its PrintNet T Designer application and demonstrated a cross-media application at its booth. Kodak PODS has also integrated LookWho’sClicking with its Darwin desktop tool, and demonstrated this integration at its booth. Pageflex demonstrated its recently-released Campaign Manager. The overall message is that vendors have the tools to support the conversion from Print Service Provider to Marketing Service Provider.
Trend #8: Color Management
With the increasing quality of digital devices and the rise of hybrid workflows, the need for color solutions that manage consistency across devices in a workflow are becoming more important. At this year’s drupa, color management was a hot topic for vendors like Agfa, Canon, EFI, EskoArtwork, HP, and Kodak.
Trend #9: Dynamic Publishing
With the convergence of Web and Print, the need for efficient cross-media publishing is rising for corporate marketing and publishing organisations. Along with the rise of media-rich content such as Flash files, organizations benefit from solutions that make the creation, editing, storage, retrieval, and publishing of documents more efficient across a variety of channels and formats. According to InfoTrends’ Multi-Channel Communications study, 50% of all business documents have a multi-channel requirement and this number is growing. Additionally, most companies have multiple workflows in place, which means that content created within one workflow (e.g., Web) cannot be easily transferred or reused in another channel (e.g., print). Organizations like Pageflex, Agfa, and Quark have demonstrated dynamic publishing solutions where content could be broken into structured pieces, often in XML format, and dynamically merged with layout templates for each delivery channel… e-mail, Web, print, or content for mobile devices.
Trend #10: XPS
Until now, printers have not been overloaded with XPS documents, mainly because of the limited adoption rate of Vista and the lack of XPS support in their software applications. Once Vista becomes more widely accepted, XPS documents may increase in numbers. The number of printers that support XPS natively may also increase. Global Graphics, the second largest RIP manufacturer after Adobe, has worked closely with Microsoft in recent years to add XPS support to its Harlequin RIPs. EFI demonstrated its latest Fiery RIP technology with XPS support at drupa and Ultimate Technographics launched its newly-developed Ultimate XPS Imposition Engine, which enables the imposition of XPS documents.
This year’s drupa broke all previous records in terms of exhibitors, visitors, and exhibition space. On the production software solutions side, vendors truly responded to the market needs. They announced solutions to help print providers produce more efficiently and enable them to capture new business opportunities.