More and more products and services are being bought online – and print is no exception. Web to print systems have proliferated in recent years, and a web interface to enable clients to place orders is now regarded as an essential tool for printers, regardless of whether these orders are from the general public, from larger businesses working under contractual terms, or indeed from other print businesses.

In all instances the web to print technology has moved from the simple means of collecting an uploaded file which is then processed by logging in to an MIS and raising a job ticket as with a conventional order. In a number of instances, printers have ended up with multiple solutions according to the preference of a customer or in order to handle specific types of job. One person might be needed to sit and handle the different streams of incoming orders, directing them as necessary.

But as volumes have grown, there is no time to process jobs, especially short run or relatively low value jobs in this way. Web to print can no longer operate as web to bloke; it has to be integrated with an MIS and beyond into a full production workflow. This is the productivity software that EFI is driving towards through its acquisitions of different MIS suppliers and software like Metrix for creating ganged up jobs.

The EFI Storefront remains the most widely used web to print application globally, setting a benchmark for others to follow or replicate. There is ever closer integration with other parts of the EFI workflow, leading to the ability to create a fully automated system. The $10m deal earlier this year to use EFI software to underpin Snap Franchising’s business transformation programme is vindication of this. What will be in place by the end of Project DNA goes well beyond the traditional MIS task of estimating, job tracking and invoicing into delivering all kinds of performance analysis to measure each franchise against benchmarks and to use this data to improve performance across the franchise network.

The PrintSmith Vision MIS platform is the heart of the planned system, providing the integration into web to print and other applications. Stephen Edwards, CEO of Snap Franchising described the impact of the deal as transformational. “Project DNA is a major part of our transformation strategy to deepen our effective relationship with Australian business through our franchise network. It will transform the way we work at Snap so that we become a more efficient and streamlined company, as well as continuing to deliver exceptional and improved services to clients.”

That should apply to any IT integration project of this nature. What Snap is doing is at least as advanced as any project like it in the world.  Nicola Bissett, CEO of MIS supplier Optimus is not surprised. “Australan and New Zealand businesses are always very ready to embrace new technology. Anything we launch in the UK, we immediately launch in Australia and New Zealand as we did with our Dash MIS.”

Dash is an MIS which overturns the logic established with litho-first MIS systems that were developed to cope with long run print jobs and leisurely makereadies, not the short runs and fast run jobs that are typical of digital printing. Dash assumes web to print ordering and automation of job set up so that less experienced users can raise estimates and process jobs quickly.

However, the web to print offering has necessarily been straightforward. A more sophisticated approach is now available through an agreement between Optimus and XMPie signed at the Xerox Premier Partners meeting in Prague.

“There are three elements to the development,” says Bissett. “It will support job submission through XMPie into Optimus where all the materials required for the job will be allocated automatically. Secondly if there is a request for a price online, the price will come from the Dash MIS which will ensure consistency of pricing. Thirdly if the printer holds call off stock on behalf of the client, the system will know whether there is stock available or whether to order a new job. The customer can look at what has happened to their stock levels.”

XMPie will also support variable data and cross media campaigns, enabling editing of templates online, the same sort of functionality that EFI can deliver through its recent acquisition of DirectSmile. 

This is also key to Chili Publish, a Belgian developer which provides much of the functionality of Adobe InDesign through a web interface to design or edit artwork and then leading to the specification of a print job through to placing the order. There is close integration between Chili and Tharstern another of the MIS providers that has local support though subsidiary operations. Workflowz, which handles Chili in the UK, has an operation in Melbourne.

There is increasing integration with procurement platforms as well as MIS on the production side says Workflowz managing director Alan Dixon, generating the quotes, estimates and analysis that can be fed back into business improvement.  “The connection to the MIS is almost de facto, but as the industry changes, what is needed is a more dynamic MIS,” says Dixon. Like Bissett, he believes the Australasian industry is ahead. “Web to print has been well received here because of the size of the country,” he says. “XMPie for example has more servers and systems in Oceania than it has in Europe.”

The strength of local web to print goes some way to explain the failure of Cimpress, owner of Vistaprint, to get a foothold in Australia and New Zealand. It has since turned its attention to expansion in Europe. There are examples in Europe of more sophisticated business process integrations that are showcases for new types of business model.

Leading Indigo printer Precision Printing in London developed its own workflow to cope with single copy orders for photobooks, calendars and cards submitted through a number of websites. The software tracks the different components of a single order through every stage of production, showing job progress against timetables on monitors at each production station. Because of this Oneflow system Precision is capable of handling 30,000 separate orders in a day in the run up to Christmas. The print company is now marketing Oneflow as a software application to others using consuming facing web to print to sell single copy personalised products.

Elsewhere, Pureprint, which recruited Anthony Thirlby as chief operating officer earlier this year, is part way through implementation of a business integration project that will automate handling of jobs through online job submission, via a Tharstern MIS and to a Kodak Prinergy workflow and then to litho, digital or large format print.

Each job is assigned one of three statuses. It is either a commodity job, which is processed without intervention, a commercial job which receives some intervention or a creative job where customer service is key and the price supports pass on press and multiple proofing stages. This has meant a complete change of culture for the business and a new way of thinking about the print process. Thirlby had established his reputation by squeezing record breaking performance from Heidelberg presses with a more straightforward light touch workflow. Pureprint will surely establish new types of production record with this mix of straightforward and complex job types.

While Chili’s integration with Tharstern was the first that Chili had completed, it has since completed integrations with other MIS providers, with EFI Gamsys for example. It has also achieved an integration with Kiwi MIS developer IQ to create a Saas solution where there is no need for a capital outlay for the application, but instead a pay per use model as part of the IQconnect module.

Chili provides the interface used to create the job and place the order while printIQ handles the pricing, job tracking and so on. IQ director and product development manager Mick Rowan says: “We’ve designed and built an MIS with the future of print in mind. It is a new breed of print management system with web to print functionality incorporated directly into the product with the MIS. With no software to install, no separate web portal or online ordering system to add on printIQ represents a quantum  shift from the print software approach that most printers are taking today.”

Among the others using Chili with Tharstern is Aussie companyWhirlwind, one of the key trade printing groups. It is also the Australian end of Grafenia’s W3P web to print application. Peter Gunning, acting CEO of Grafenia says: “It is to help resellers buying print from them. W3P provides them with the tools, either as a web shop to attract business to consumer jobs using pre-designed templates. It can also be used to connect to corporate customers where the templates can be set up to allow editing of marketing collateral while retaining the brand integrity. In this mode W3P is used to make the print specification and buying process more convenient for companies which may operate over multiple sites.”

Whirlwind is picking up orders from across the country. Business cards, stationery, flyers and brochures remain the most popular products says Andrew Cester, Whirlwind CEO. The trade print business model is about offering straightforward jobs at prices that commercial printers cannot match. Job submission into workflow is about eliminating as many touch points as possible through automation from the web browser to the printing plate and beyond. “In this case the linkage between the web to print portal and the Tharstern MIS is absolutely paramount,” he says.

The second aspect of trade printing is offering jobs that are beyond the scope of commercial printers; PUR binding, large format printing and so on. Printers need to be able to offer these and other products or else lose out on business. “We are a big wholesaler and B2B for us is about selling our products online,” says Cester. “Medium sized printers will not exist in the future if they cannot do design quickly or manage print for customers online.”

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