During the last decade, we've been to the top of the world-during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s-and back down again, when it all fell apart a few years later. However the Internet and e-enablement has forever changed the graphic communications world. E-enablement is the transformation of a business system or process to make it streamlined and render it accessible via the Internet. E-enabled systems deliver results faster and more conveniently, potentially in real time. The transformation typically reduces operating costs. According to Internetworldstats.com, more than 69% of Americans are logged on and 18% of consumers and businesses are linked in globally. The bottom line is that the Internet has become a critical way in which customers (and potential customers) interact with your business.
At this year's Graph Expo event, visitors saw that effective e-enablement solutions lead to the re-engineering of business strategies and the emergence of a new corporate strategic direction. We have all likely heard this hundreds of times, but the characteristics of the Internet that contribute to its effectiveness include:
- Its ease of use, ubiquity, and low cost
- Its speed, geographic reach, and constant availability as a communication mechanism
- Its ability to grant quick access to vast repositories of information
- Its ability to improve customer service
- Its ability for companies to easily measure and monitor the results of their strategies and to make adjustments when necessary
Many may claim that these characteristics are inherent in other technologies today, but it is the quantitative improvement in Web-based solutions that is prompting print service providers to make major changes in strategy and business processes.
While we historically heard a great deal about â€œWeb to printâ€? and the ability to intercept jobs over the Internet, this year's Graph Expo demonstrated toolsets that affected all functional areas of business. Integrated Internet solutions that were demonstrated had an impact on sales and marketing, the delivery of new products and services, distribution, finance and accounting, and production and procurement.
Sales and Marketing
This area obviously benefits from the Internet for graphic communications service providers and has been the most exploited to date. It is being used:
- As an online sales channel
- To provide product information to prospective and existing customers
- To build corporate brand
- To implement or extend customer loyalty programs
- To provide after-sales support
An array of tools were demonstrated that enable print service providers to create a unique, loyalty-building user experience for their customers, allowing them to easily navigate through a full suite of print products and services all in one place, including personalized print items and managed catalogs. EFI, Responsive Solutions, interlinkONE, Printable, Pageflex, Press-Sense, Xerox, and Kodak all demonstrated Web-based offerings that let print buyers shop, specify, proof, and buy print products using familiar e-commerce tools. Inside the print operation, these tools act as an on-ramp to the digital production workflow and print management systems, reducing manual data entry, decreasing the likelihood of print errors, and reducing labor costs.
While some service providers wonder how to develop e-commerce capability, websitesforprinters.com talked to printers about how they could develop affordable e-commerce Web sites for commercial printers in the U.S., Canada, and worldwide. The Web sites enable print buyers to request estimates, place orders, send files, and manage frequently-ordered materials in a secure, online format. Additional features include integrated inventory management, a virtual PDF print driver, secure document libraries, integrated online proofing, and easy reordering.
Delivery of New Products and Service Offerings
This year, the Web-oriented marketing tools were expanded so that print service providers could leverage Web tools and emerge as value-added marketing partners.
XMPie introduced the Marketing Dashboard with version 4.0 of its XMPie PersonalEffect browser-based application. With the Marketing Dashboard, campaigns with multiple touchpoints can be defined, information about campaign performance can be tracked, and reports with graphs and charts can be generated so campaigns can quickly be refined for improved impact. The toolset is designed to help Chief Marketing Officers understand and articulate ROI.
Bluetree Direct, Inc. is currently re-branding under the moniker, "The Science of Marketing" and offering solutions for fact-based decision-making. Using Bluetree, all campaign results are recorded in real time and can be viewed on a marketing dashboard for quick access.
Mindfire introduced a new product feature with the ability to monitor open and bounce rates for all outbound e-mails to prospects, including invitational and automated follow-up e-mails. The responses from an e-mail campaign are reported along with those of other channels on the survey tab. This special e-mail report displays read/unread rates and bounce reasons for each type of message.
For each marketing campaign, Pageflex generates a customized Web site for viewing the campaign metrics. Pageflex displays the results with easy-to-understand graphs that illustrate statistics such as how many people received an e-mail message, how many of them opened the message, and how many clicked the personalized URL that was provided. Pageflex enables customers to use this information for follow-up messaging.
Companies like interlinkONE and Responsive Solutions demonstrated end-to-end solutions from order entry to response management tracking.
Organizations are integrating solutions with Salesforce.com and ACT! to deliver leads directly to sales staff or telemarketing centers.
The result is a new level of service that enables the print service provider to participate in the much more lucrative marketing value chain through e-enablement. The Internet lets the service provider deliver real-time information on campaign effectiveness and make modifications to quickly enhance ROI.
The Internet is well-known as a distribution channel for electronic goods. Electronic goods include software as well as the provision of knowledge-based skills and remote support. What is seldom considered is the Internet's ability to indirectly support and build a physical distribution channel or network. Now a company in the U.S. can easily support and build business partner networks throughout the world at minimal cost. At Graph Expo, HubCast discussed its ability to answer a commercial printer's needs for distributed print. HubCast is an open commercial print utility that provides distributed printing services. The utility is regulated to standardized file format, color calibration, and JDF job information as well as financial and logistical operation. The HubCast service offers subscribers access to a network of commercial printers worldwide. It enables domestic partners to print abroad without the typical shipping and licensing costs associated with international business transactions. Using the Internet, projects can be coordinated locally and printed globally at numerous on demand and offset production facilities, saving clients time and money while also shortening the lengthy shipping process.
Finance and Accounting
Solutions like Printable offer a Print Gateway module. This enables users to integrate its software as a service (SaaS)-based Printable solution with accounting, inventory, print management, and shop floor systems like Enterprise Print Management Solutions. Extensive support of standard formats including CIP4 JDF/JMF, PrintTalk, and legacy flat files allow users to implement machine control, retrieve status information, and input to accounting.
By providing easy access to supplier data and product information as well as internal and external knowledge bases, the Internet can lead to improved product and service quality as well as reduced waste and downtime. A number of announcements at Graph Expo provided improved automation and integration from the customer-facing Web site through to mailing and distribution.
Saepio Technologies displayed its newly-released Digital Content Engine 6.0, which incorporates LightsOut Digital Printing. In this release, Saepio combines its Web-based marketing tool for end-users with next-generation print shop process automation technologies and JDF-enabled manufacturing equipment. The result is what Saepio categorizes as a nearly humanless workflow that fully automates each stage of the production and printing process to deliver improved workflow efficiencies and overall print shop profitability.
Pace Systems Group, Inc. and Pageflex announced the integration of the ePace print management system with Pageflex's Storefront Web-to-print software. This solution provides a streamlined workflow that incorporates online ordering through the print production environment, finishing, shipment, and updating of the delivery tracking number in Pageflex Storefront.
According to Anna Chagnon, President and CEO of Pageflex parent Bitstream, Inc., â€œWe are pleased that the extensibility of Pageflex Storefront has enabled us to make Pageflex Storefront a seamless participant in an ePace managed workflow. Our joint customers now have the opportunity to sell document customization services through a Web portal, coupled with the competitive advantage of behind-the-scenes automated business processes.â€?
The Internet Changes Everything!
While the list of examples in this article is not comprehensive, this year's Graph Expo illustrated that the Internet has enabled print service providers to increase communication to internal and external customers. The Internet makes us more customer-focused and responsive. External customers now have the power to determine when they procure print, customize it, and request how they want to receive the goods (FedEx, normal mail, or personal delivery). At the same time, information directly collected about customers' procurement habits should assist in understanding reorder points.
The biggest value that I saw at Graph Expo was the ability of the Internet to impact relationships. Easy access to timely, accurate, and targeted information by businesses and their suppliers, partners, and customers fosters relationships that are one-to-one rather than one-to-many. The personalization, communication, and functionality that are the outcome enhance and reinforce relationships in ways that were not possible in the past. Further implementation and extension of these principles will streamline operations, improve profitability, and enhance business relationships well into the future.