Workflow Automation at On Demand By Cary Sherburne, Senior WTT Editor April 26, 2007 -- It was terrific to see On Demand back in Boston after all these years, and the new convention center is marvelous. Not the least of its wonders is free wireless access throughout! The recent show trend toward more emphasis on the business of printing and less emphasis on the printing equipment itself continued. As we mentioned earlier, Kodak chose not to bring a lot of its equipment, using 3D modeling on computer monitors to show the wonders of the VersaMark, as an example. Of course, there was still lots of equipment on the show floor, but it seemed that—as with the last couple of shows—the crowds tended to gather more around the monitors than around the boxes. A good sign that we are maturing as a digital industry, and by the time we hit drupa 2008, we should be seeing even more of that. One area that is heating up is Web-to-Print. There have been a number of Web-to-Print solutions on the market for a while now, but what was different this year was the price point. Suppliers are making it easier for graphic communications service providers to implement storefronts and other e-commerce web solutions that make it easier for customers to submit print jobs, anytime/anywhere. In his keynote, InfoTrends’ Charlie Pesko said, “Every time a human touches a job, you lose profit.” Web-to-print is one way to keep those hands off and improve efficiency and profit. There was still lots of equipment on the show floor, but it seemed that—as with the last couple of shows—the crowds tended to gather more around the monitors than around the boxes. A good sign that we are maturing as a digital industry, and by the time we hit drupa 2008, we should be seeing even more of that. One example of this in action is NowDocs’ introduction of NowPrint ASAP, a hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) version of its mature licensed software solution that has been in the marketplace in one form or another for the past nine years. Founder and President Brad Adamske reported that an easy five-step, ten-minute configuration process prepares a custom site that is ready to take orders, and with no set-up fee and no long-term commitment, including no credit card required, the monthly fee can be as low as $100. NowDocs is also offering a 30-day free trial of NowPrint ASAP. How much easier can it get than that? Initial traffic on the beta version has been good. Multiple files can be uploaded together, and Adamske reports that high volumes are already being experienced, with 30 orders (consisting of 38 files) hitting the system in 18 minutes not unusual at all. The scalable server farm already has 50 servers in place, and runs on Microsoft’s .NET 2.0 Framework. The SaaS version uses the same code base as NowPrint and NowPrint Enterprise, meaning that SaaS customers benefit from the company’s many years of market experience and a stable solution. EFI launched Digital StoreFront 3.0. According to EFI’s Chuck Gehman, almost no part of the system was untouched in this major update. It offers the option of Printable’s Fusion Pro or XMPie for variable data and can be implemented in as little as two days. Available as either SaaS or licensed software, Gehman indicates that Digital StoreFront is dramatically easier to use. EFI has installed Digital StoreFront in over 1,600 locations and Gehman reports that it is one of the fastest growing software products in EFI’s extensive portfolio. Xerox was showing its FreeFlow Print Server 6.0, the follow-on to its DocuSP digital front end for the DocuColor 5000, 7000 and 8000 digital presses. With a new, customizable user interface and many new ease-of-use features, the FreeFlow Print Server continues Xerox’ tradition of delivering a productive end-to-end workflow through a combination of best-of-class partners and Xerox-developed solutions. In its booth, Xerox featured four turnkey applications: Books & Manuals, Collateral By Request, Direct Mail and TransPromo, preassembled applications that make it easier for customers to implement rather than having to search for all the piece-parts on their own. Press-Sense is one of those partners. Also a long-time provider of Web-to-Print solutions with its iWay offering, Press-Sense introduced an SaaS offering called OrderSense, positioned as a stepping-stone, ease-of-entry solution that can be implemented without making a significant commitment to internal IT resources that is part of a continuum of Press-Sense offerings that allow users to easily migrate upmarket as their businesses grow. As of the show, pricing had not been established, but the product will be available mid-May. Press-Sense’s Shelagh Hammer reports that there are more than 1,000 installs of Press-Sense iWay to date, and the company is looking for good market uptake on the OrderSense SaaS offering, which is built on the same mature code base. Kodak launched its Web-to-Print Solution integrated into its Prinergy workflow solution, including electronic ordering; commerce and tracking; connectivity to digital printing systems; templates that customers can use to create customized variable data print applications; and a range of other online capabilities. The company also showed an updated NexStation digital front end for its NexPress digital press family that is also integrated with Prinergy and appears to be the first solution on the market to integrate Adobe’s new PDF Print Engine technology. While Web-to-Print is an important element of a more productive business model, MIS is important as well. There were several MIS solutions being shown at the show, and there will be even more to see at Graph Expo in the fall RSA showed a new version of its popular WebCRD solution, targeted at the enterprise and billed as “Your Portal to the Print Center.” WebCRD won a Best of Show award in the Workflow Solutions category at the show. This latest version of WebCRD introduced numerous enhancements, including the WebCRD Production Dashboard as well as additional Enterprise Integration capabilities. With the Production Dashboard, operators can see, literally ‘at-a-glance’, a live status of how many impressions/orders/jobs are in the production workflow, and filter by job status (i.e. received, make ready, printing, printed, etc.) and by job characteristics such as date, paper stock, and color versus B&W. WebCRD’s single-screen, WYSIWYG job ticket is slick—very well done and easy to use. Presstek had the only offset presses on the show floor, featuring its Presstek 34 DI and Presstek 52 DI. According to President & CEO Ed Marino, Presstek’s focus continues to be improving productivity with emphasis on taking steps out of the process, not just making the steps faster. Along those lines, Presstek’s theme—“Be More Capable … Profitable … Competitive”—emphasized how the DI press can impact a printer’s business. Joining Presstek in its booth was Grover Daniels, a fourth generation printer and owner of Boston’s Copy Cop and The Digital Printing Company. Daniels and his team were demonstrating their Printable-based Web-to-Print solution as an example of driving large volumes of print to the DI press via the Web. The example being used was from a high end real estate firm, Landvest, which the firm had been pursuing for more than a year. Acording to Daniels, the combination of the firm’s online presence, powered by Printable, and the 300 lpi quality of its DI press was what finally landed the deal. Artworks was showing its Enfocus Neo, which garnered an On Demand Best of Show award in the document creation category. Neo is a very cool native PDF application for highly productive editing and delivers fast editing and page handling of complex PDFs, even over remote connections using standard laptops. PDFs are rapidly manipulated to the operator's liking, with real-time zooms to the highest levels of detail. On another note, Screen was showing its impressive Truepress Jet520, a continuous-feed, single-pass inkjet printer for producing catalogs, direct mail pieces, full-color account statements and other variable materials. The Truepress Jet520 allows users to lay out documents, vary images and change colors to print personalized information, with the aid of front-end applications that are linked to customer databases. Available as a simplex or duplex model, the Truepress Jet520 consists of a printing unit and rewinder/unwinder unit. It features a printing width of 5.9 inches to 20 inches and paper width of 6.4 inches to 20.4 inches. The print speed is automatically adjusted depending upon how fast data is being processed. At 720 dpi x 360 dpi, the Truepress Jet520 prints at the rate of 209.9 feet per minute, the equivalent of 50,000 impressions per hour. During the show, I had the opportunity to meet with Andrew Field, President & CEO of PrintingForLess, located in Livingston, Montana ( see video ). As you can imagine, that location is not a hotbed of printing activity, so Andrew took his business online in 1999. He now has 175 employees and 100% of his business comes through the web. At 2006 revenues of $24 million, PrintingForLess is a great example of the success one can achieve via Web-to-print. If you are thinking about adding Web-to-Print, take a look at the site to get some ideas. While Web-to-Print is an important element of a more productive business model, MIS is important as well. There were several MIS solutions being shown at the show, and there will be even more to see at Graph Expo in the fall. I spent time with Patrick Bolan, President of Avanti, a company that has been in business for 23 years, and that has been demonstrating at On Demand for the last eight. Avanti includes, among its 26 modules, a Web-to-Print aspect as well as estimating, job costing and shop floor management. Bolan is seeing a growing trend in hybrid offset/digital print shops among his customer base, with 50% to 60% of Avanti solutions going into those shops. A year ago, he says, the percentages were quite a bit lower. A traditional offset shop using Avanti and adding a digital press can take advantage of Avanti’s digital estimating module, literally integrating that digital press into the shop workflow in as little as 15 minutes, according to Bolan. He points out that anytime you have to reenter data into your systems, what he calls a “break point” occurs. Break points cost money and lead to islands of automation and opportunity for error. In a recent study of 2,400 orders, each with seven to eight break points, Avanti determined the firm that was being studied could save $150,000 to $180,000 per year by simply eliminating those break points. With an entry price of $20,000, Avanti—or for that matter, any—MIS system is not only a bargain, but a necessity for continued business success. EDSF conducted its Industry Leaders luncheon to a packed house at On Demand, and made a pitch for attendees to support the organization’s efforts to attract more young professionals to careers in our industry. According to Frank Romano, who spoke at the event, we need to attract 60,000 new people to our industry every year just to stay even Pace Systems was also at the show, showcasing new ePace features that allow printers to streamline data entry, drive sales productivity and offer dynamic web-to-print solutions, including the ability to add pre-configured item templates to contain job production requirements, job material needs and scheduling details. Templates can be utilized for manual job entry, web-to-print orders and to allow for automatic replenishment of finished goods items. ePace also now includes an integrated CRM module for managing existing customer and prospect information to increase revenue opportunities. And its strategic partnerships with Printable Technologies, Press-sense iWay and Responsive Solutions bring integrated Web-to-Print solutions to the mix as well. While using the SaaS model decreases the need for on-site IT employees, the need is still there, and even more-so if you choose a licensed software version of Web-to-Print and/or implementation of an MIS solution. PrintingForLess, for example, has ten IT/IS professionals on its staff of 175. Printing firms should be looking for IT-savvy employees to augment the craftspeople they traditionally employ. EDSF conducted its Industry Leaders luncheon to a packed house at On Demand, and made a pitch for attendees to support the organization’s efforts to attract more of these types of young professionals to careers in our industry. According to Frank Romano, who spoke at the event ( see video), we need to attract 60,000 new people to our industry every year just to stay even—and, he pointed out, we need their fresh thinking. It is worth the investment of your time to visit EDSF’s site to learn how you can get involved and help keep our industry vital and its pool of potential job candidates large enough to serve our needs. In my opinion, support of organizations like EDSF is just as important to your future success as going after workflow automation. It is sort of a chicken and egg thing—we need the automation to stay competitive and grow our businesses, and we need the new talent in order to implement the automation. With On Demand behind us, we are already looking toward Graph Expo and drupa 2008, where we will see even more emphasis on workflow and automation. You can be sure that WhatTheyThink will be there to bring you all the latest news.