This article is sponsored by CloudLab as part of WhatTheyThink's Print Software Product Spotlight series. In preparing this article, the WhatTheyThink Print Software Section editors conducted original, in-depth research on CloudLab’s web-to-print product printQ. This Product Spotlight describes what the editors feel are the product suite’s strengths in the marketplace. CloudLab reviewed the final article for accuracy but had no editorial control over the content.
If you’ve been paying attention to the web-to-print software market over the last few years, you know there haven’t been that many net new entries of products/companies into this space. In my experience in helping several technologies get investment money, there is a misunderstanding about the print industry among venture capitalists, who make the errant assumption that the entire market is in decline. In addition, most investors fail to look at the overall size of the print industry. Even with declines in several areas, the opportunity for software solutions is still a large market. I feel this has limited the influx of innovative vendors into this space at the expense of the printers who need innovative software in order to thrive.
One trend that is giving printers in North America additional web-to-print software choices is the number of European vendors who are building on the success they earned throughout Europe and bringing those tested solutions into the U.S. CloudLab started selling their printQ product in the U.S. in 2017. This gives North American printers more choices and keeps vendors who are exclusively providing their services here in North America on their toes as new competitors enter the market. Competition is good for the printer. The challenges of web-to-print can be solved in a variety of ways. And, most importantly, competition from outside this market might bring solutions to the additional challenges of running a print business in an online world.
In researching printQ by CloudLab, I found that the strength that pervades the entire product is “flexibility.” This is a product that was meant to “flex” to your needs, either by configuration, customization, and/or integration. There are generally two extremes in product development: on one extreme, vendors build products that are one-size-fits-all; printers are expected to conform to the way the product works to optimize the ROI. On the other extreme is a 100% customized solution, which sounds good but also comes at a price because you move from being a printer who buys software to a printer who makes software. printQ falls right in between these two extremes. You can buy it and deploy it in a standard way, yet you can also buy it and customize it to fit your needs for commercial print products, to large-format products, to flexible, paperboard, and corrugated packaging products.
Another way to describing web-to-print is “print-enabled ecommerce.” When you describe it this way, you can easily break apart the strategic decisions that CloudLab made in focusing on the “print-enabled” part and delegating the ecommerce part to Magento. By using their API to talk to Magento, CloudLab allows their customers access to the always growing Magento features/functionality and maybe just as importantly the development community that is experienced in building on top of and supporting Magento stores.
A key challenge for most printers is finding technical staff that can build, maintain, and deploy their web-to-print technologies to their customers. I’ve heard more than a few technical resources at printers describe the “isolation” they feel by getting to be experts in very print-specific technologies. When you use an ecommerce engine like Magento, you’re giving your team skills that can be used in any market. The popularity of the Magento platform will also increase the pool of people available to you for outside contractors, employees, and consultants.
CloudLab has taken a very modular approach to their solution. They can easily deploy modules of their technology to solve specific challenges in your existing ecommerce platform or deliver the end-to-end solution if you’re looking to replace or launch a new solution. The only way a vendor can work like this is if you’ve thought from an “API perspective” from the very beginning. In the web design world, all the talk is about mobile-first design. In the software architecture world, all the talk is about API-centric design. In 2018, software solutions must assume interconnectivity from all directions. When in doubt, assume another technology may want to talk to all areas of your code. We have all experienced the frustration with legacy software packages that have very limited APIs and so very limited choices for how you can deploy them with your existing technology stack.
One additional trend that is progressing in favor of solutions like printQ is the need for customization beyond what can be configured. Many printers require customized solutions, yet most of them are without the development skills to execute on the customizations. Most web-to-print vendors’ staff offer professional services for implementation only or very limited customizations, whereas CloudLab employs a large development team that is available for customizations.
This is a relatively new entry into the North American market, but it isn’t a new solution. The companies in which CloubLab is deployed across Europe represent some of the largest printers and largest online print companies in the world. So North America gets another qualified solution that has been tested in the market to choose from when making web-to-print software decisions.
To learn more about WhatTheyThink.com’s Print Software Product Spotlights, please contact Jennifer Matt, Print Software Section Editor at [email protected].