By Frank J. Romano June 14, 2004 -- JDF is a great idea but its time has not come. The standardization that allows jobs to flow to any device or system will enable truly automated workflows. JDF is envisioned as the "lingua franca" of workflow. Or, is it the Esperanto of workflow? Pre-press, press, and post-press devices, plus the business systems that surround them, must all talk the same language--and that will require investments of time and money. Older presses may not be applicable and older finishing systems will not be applicable. We already have a great deal of the benefit of computer-integrated manufacturing through the CTP and advanced workflows that printers have implemented in the last few years. Every press and CTP supplier already has working CIM approaches. In addition, CTP mandated automated workflows, and this cut labor and increased productivity. Where will JDF-enabled workflows provide a clear benefit? We already have automated systems at the press,. At the cutter as well. Soon, there will be more automation in the bindery. At present, there is no ROI for JDF--just a promise--an ROI-owe-you. Because of limited personnel savings, we are told that the savings will be in time. Jobs will enter the system faster and "automate" the CSR, planner, and estimator. Much of this is predicated on originators integrating job information when the job is created. These are the same people who mess up fonts, images, and color spaces--leaving control of jobs to them may not be the best idea. The printing industry needs pragmatic, working solutions--now--that exist now. At present, there is no ROI for JDF--just a promise--an ROI-owe-you. JDF is not a magic bullet. It is an enabling technology that links all aspects of a printing business. Theoretically, you enter information once and that information controls, reports, and operates everything automatically. If you have to give someone a piece of paper in order to do anything, your system is not automated. Total automation may also have a downside. Customers would be in control. Re-keystroking is said to be the problem because printers have numerous stop points for re-entry of production instructions. We heard a printer say that it "takes a day to enter a job ticket." That printer needs more than JDF. Total automation may also have a downside. Customers would be in control. Lights-out automation also brings every printer to the save level and does not provide the differentiation in service that allows value-added pricing. We have a long way to go, especially when one considers that many printing plants have equipment from multiple vendors. Consider the following statistics: Pre-press, press, and finishing from same supplier < 1 % Pre-press and press from same supplier 6 % Press and finishing from same supplier < 1 % Pre-press, press, and finishing from different suppliers 93 % Printers with a single press 11 % Printers with multiple presses from one supplier 11 % Printers with multiple presses from different suppliers 78 % Printers with IT professionals on staff 12 % JDF is a good idea, but we have a ways to go for it to work as planned.