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Web-to-Print: The Must-Have Technology

On December 6, 2011, two nearly simultaneous news announcements lit up the graphic communications industry: EFI announced it acquired Alphagraph, and HP, Hiflex. EFI’s Alphagrah acquisition is part of its growth through expansion program, bringing 6,000 (mostly European) customers into EFI’s fold; its previous Prism acquisition brought 7,000. For HP, the Hiflex addition lets the digital printing and technology company expand full force into cloud printing.

The acquisitions position EFI and HP for increased market share in Web-to-print, and coincides well with the buzz that e-commerce software is the current must-have technology for the industry.

Market forces and technology are aligned. Print operations need to streamline operations as advertising and marketing budgets are curtailed, and faster turnarounds and shorter run lengths become standard operating procedure. Web-to-print software numbers in the dozens, fueled by advancements—and the growing use of--digital print. An increasingly Internet-savvy customer base is very comfortable submitting print orders online. Digital tablets and mobile devices allow for easy Internet access, allowing jobs to be submitted, approved, and tracked 24/7.

Industry consultancy group InfoTrends estimates that by 2014, $31 billion, or 30 percent, of the $107 billion in commercial print and in-plant revenues will be generated through a Web-to-print system. Plus, its research shows that more than half of print service providers within the U.S. have already invested in an e-commerce system.

Global Industry Analysts, Inc. estimates the global market for Web-to-print software will reach $869 million by 2017.

In addition to EFI and Hiflex, Web-to-print software is available from Aleyant Systems, Avanti, GMC Software, interlinkOne, PageFlex, PagePath, PrinterPresence, PrintPoint, Inc., PTI, RedTie, WitPrint Technology, and XMPie, among others.

A Key to Survival

“In this day and age, if you want to compete and survive you have to have Web-to-print, especially if you have the type of jobs coming in that will benefit from having it,” says Scott Perry, Web and IT Administrator, Pegasus Interprint. The Portland, OR facility uses EFI’s Digital StoreFront as its e-commerce platform.

“Using Web-to-print is a no-brainer for jobs like standard stationery jobs and flyers—the jobs that are quick and easy to put on there,” says Perry. “We have several customers that have a ton of products and have personnel or facilities nationwide—having DSF is essential, especially with integration with Pace (EFI’s MIS technology). “

EFI’s Digital StoreFront is already one of the leading Web-to-print products for the printing industry, in use by more than 3,000 sites worldwide, reports Marc Olin, Senior Vice President and General Manager of APPS, EFI. Digital StoreFront Version 5.2, with an enhanced user interface and online preview capability, in now in full commercial release.

“We have seen a tremendous demand for our technology; all of our offerings have experienced double-digit growth,” says Olin. “Customers are realizing that in order to survive in this market and be competitive, they need state-of-the-art technology to manage workflows and costs. You have to know where you can make money and be able to fine tune costs to be more efficient.”

Hiflex’s Web-to-print technology, Webshop, combines an open platform JDF core with the Drupal Open Source Content Management System, allowing print customers to quickly configure and manage their portals.

“HP views cloud-based printing as a strategic and large market opportunity, especially as the print service market trends towards shorter runs and more personalization, which calls for robust Web-to-print solutions that increase profits and reduce turnaround times,” says Luis Casado, Business Director of HP Print Production Solutions. “The HIflex technology is a natural extension of our industry-leading cloud printing strategy of delivering a seamless, secure and context-aware cloud experience. This acquisition will help us create new solutions that provide enterprise and SMB customers with a simple on-ramp to cloud services, including document capture, authentication, storage and search, and most relevant to Hiflex technology, the print and publish component.”

Using to Full Advantage

In spite of the proliferation of Web-to-print use, many graphic communication firms are not using the software to its full advantage.

“If you’re going to spend the money to execute a Web-to-print program, then dedicate resources solely for the purpose of supporting that product,” says Perry. “You can’t just go out and buy a Web-to-print platform and expect the prepress department to manage it. For a successful program, you have to make the investment in personnel and time, to make it work for your company and to generate revenue.”

Many businesses put up a website and that’s the extent of their Web-to-print strategy, reports Olin. In fact, one 2010 market trend analysis (SGIA) found that while 80 percent reported they use their company site to “inform” clients and prospects, only 15 percent use their website to facilitate business and to take online orders.

“We’ve found that even those who use their website to facilitate business many times do it as a standalone process,” says Olin. “They use an online form or email to collect information from their client that is then keyed into their in-house system. Even businesses that have adopted third-party Web-to-print solutions many times find themselves manually manipulating the data to move it from the Web-to-print solution into their workflow.”

To be fully effective—including acting as a profit generator—the Web-to-print software needs to integrate into the print shop’s workflow and MIS to reduce the amount of touches the company is taking in for their customers. As dollar amounts of print orders shrink, this becomes even more critical. It explains why a key focus for EFI’s applications is building seamless workflows for digital print.

“If the information flows directly into your estimating system and the specification is complete and accurate, your quotes will be accurate and your response time will be lightning fast,” says Olin. “As a result, you’ll win more jobs and you’ll make more money on the jobs you win. At the same time, if you’ve collected the right information online and move that information—without manual touches—into planning and production, your efficiencies will be higher and you’ll eliminate many instances of chargeable and non-chargeable rework.”

Customers experiencing the most success with their Web-to-print technology use it as part of the package that they sell to their clients. “Our customers are finding creative ways of positioning themselves for their end clients, using Web-to-print as an enabler,” Olin says. “They aren’t just selling print, but selling a solution, and Web-to-print is an integral part of what they can offer.”

A Total Management Solution

Hybrid Software has also taken a holistic approach. Its suite of Order Lifecycle Management products, including FrontDesk, its Web-to-print software, addresses the entire production workflow, from online ordering to tracking to delivery, and interfaces with leading MIS, databases, and production systems. “The minute a customer has a need for something until that need is met and fulfilled, that’s OLM, from needing a design, to approving a proof, to having the job printed and fulfilled,” says Michael Rottenborn, president and CEO, Hybrid Software.

FrontDesk OLM, launched at Graph Expo 2011, is “one step removed from traditional Web-to-print,” says Rottenborn. “It’s like a digital front desk; it’s the first thing your customers will see when they come to your website.”

Hybrid Software takes the view that printers require more than one Web-to-print site, with different applications requiring different sites. “Some are good for mail merge, some for business cards—there is a huge variety of what buyers orders from printers,” says Rottenborn. “You can’t expect one Web-to-print platform to supply everything for the entire graphic communications industry.”

Rather than compete with other Web-to-print software products, Hybrid Software looks to integrate all the back office functions. Its technology will work with most of the leading Web-to-print technologies, managing and streamline the entire production flow from beginning to end.

Web-to-print is no longer an option for graphic arts shops. “Web-to-print is everywhere,” says Rottenborn. “Printers who aren’t in yet will be forced to get involved by their customers.”