By Chuck Gehman JDF products are emerging that actually work and provide real value to printers March 29, 2004 -- One might say that JDF (Job Definition Format), the CIP4 organization's industry-wide XML standard for interoperability has been, a solution looking for a problem. The burgeoning standard, in development for a few years now, set as its ambitious goal the complete description of prepress, press and postpress processes in an XML (Extensible Markup Language) specification that now is reaching for 800 pages. This lofty goal of "everything (i.e., software and machines) talking to everything else (i.e., presses and finishing equipment)" still hasn't quite been reached, but today, thanks to the work of almost 200 companies cooperating in CIP4 ( www.cip4.org ), and the work of many hundreds of individuals from the member companies, JDF products are emerging that actually work and provide real value to printers seeking to increase their productivity and competitive advantage. At the recent On Demand Conference and Expo, JDF in the real world was demonstrated in a CIP4 and Advanstar (the promoters of the show) hosted "JDF Tour." Interoperability between several software and workflow vendors' applications was shown in an educational venue that was assisted by several RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) students. EFI, HP, Objective Advantage (a software development and consulting firm focused on JDF) and Wave Corporation (makers of the popular MediaBank Digital Asset Management system), as well as several other companies, demonstrated the ability for JDF files to be created on one system and acted upon by another. The tour created a mock workflow for a fictitious company called "Kimono Bank". Kimono's three branches in New York, San Francisco and Miami all work with different advertising agencies and print service providers, who each employ their own workflow. JDF provided the glue that allowed Kimono to work with these different companies, but still leverage their print assets across the corporation. In this demonstration, JDF provided the glue that allowed Kimono to work with these different companies, but still leverage their print assets across the corporation. For example, a job submitted by a user at the San Francisco Kimono branch using EFI's exchange could be output at a print service provider on a CTP device driven by EFI's own OneFlow, or on an HP Indigo press at another print service provider. Once the job is completed, it can be stored in a web catalog application for future re-ordering by the Kimono staffers in Miami, or archived at the company's New York ad agencies in their MediaBank Digital Asset Management system. Thanks to the JDF standard, all of this was accomplished without re-keying the job information, and without having to "import" or require the user to manually "translate" the metadata (the information about the job). This is a simple demonstration that clearly drives home the power of JDF, and repeats of JDF tours like this are essential to help potential users fully understand its benefits. The conversations to date about JDF have been about "nuts and bolts. Now we are beginning to show real applications that drive home the importance of adopting this critically important standard. That's the key: JDF isn't about XML and software--it's about addressing many of the challenges that the industry faces. As we approach Drupa, we're going to see a lot more applications emerging that employ JDF in really useful ways that help users, in both print buying companies and at printing companies, expand their capabilities to become more efficient and profitable by producing more work in less time with the same or less labor. The bottom line: no one's buying JDF for its own sake! What we are buying with JDF-enabled applications is solutions to problems that can't be solved any other way.