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Print and the Cloud

Cloud printing services continue to grow in the market, as showings at the massive drupa printing trade fair made quite clear this month. Application Software Provider (ASP) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) have been around for some time, but today it’s all about web connectivity. A printing infrastructure that runs in cyberspace enables people to take out steps in the process and work faster—without a lot of overhead.

For print service providers (PSPs), the over-riding challenge is how to use these services to expand and compliment their businesses. But let’s begin with a more basic question: What, exactly, is the “cloud?” Basically, it’s a means of storing, sharing, and accessing information via servers on the Internet instead of on local servers. In layman’s terms, software developer Novell defines the cloud as “a set of services and technologies that enable the delivery of computing services over the Internet in real-time, allowing end-users instant access to data and applications from any device with Internet access.” David McCormick, web services team lead for wide-format Designjet marketing at HP, embellished this definition, adding, “[The cloud] is computing, storage, and networking at a remote location that is managed by someone else. Web connectivity is the key facilitator.”

Far from soft and fuzzy, cloud computing’s platform is sturdy and robust—more like an intricately woven spider web than a puffy mass of liquid droplets floating in the atmosphere. “The cloud is actually more tangible than its name suggests,” noted Carles Marti, McCormick’s HP colleague and marketing product manager for Designjet Web Services. “At the end, it’s about different online tools and resources, connected to devices down on Earth, that help professionals to deliver tangible results. They can review, publish, share, and print any information virtually anywhere.” HP also is tapping the cloud to boost its managed print service capabilities.

“Devices connected directly to the Internet, receiving and sending information, already are a reality around us,” Marti noted. “This cloud-based work makes information flow more quickly and efficiently, reaching more people at the same time, wherever they are. It enables people to work remotely, facilitating multi-location teams, for example, where members choose to live where they want to live—because technology lets them do so.”

Indeed, content-management systems for publishers went to the cloud a few years ago, but the wind is swift and the clouds have moved fast. Nearly all agree that cloud technology is a game-changer that has fundamentally altered the way in which data is stored, routed, and handled. Prior to the drupa show, in mid-April, the creative community was abuzz as Adobe announced its Creative Cloud, a subscription-based offering that the firm says is a hub for making, sharing, and delivering creative work. It is centered on the release of Creative Suite 6 software. Creative Cloud membership provides users with access to download and install every new CS6 application as well as two new HTML5 products: Adobe Muse and Adobe Edge preview.

“The urge to be creative is universal, and harnessing the creative spark—in everyone from school children to creative pros—has never been more important,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Wherever and whenever inspiration strikes, Adobe will be there to help capture, refine and publish your ideas.”

Creative Cloud also integrates Adobe’s creative tablet applications, such as Photoshop Touch, into everyday work—seamlessly synchronizing and storing files in the cloud for sharing and access on any device. Members will be able to easily deliver mobile apps to iOS and Android marketplaces and publish, manage, and host websites. They’ll also have access to application upgrades, including new CS point-product features, before they are launched as part of major CS updates, as well as inventive new products and services as they emerge. Membership is available for $49.99 per month with an annual contract. There is a special introductory offer of $29.99 per month for CS3, CS4, CS5, and CS5.5 individual customers.

On the drupa Stage

InfoTrends associate director Kaspar Roos predicted that drupa 2012 would be a “cloud-heavy” show. Indeed, digital workflow developments in the cloud were prominent in Dusseldorf last month (see adjacent box and sidebar). EFI launched off-site data protection services employing its own data center in North America and additional sites in Europe. The new online back-up, storage, and data-recovery options are for its Print MIS and web-to-print customers who wish to host their own solutions to ensure protection, redundancy, and speedy recovery in case of disaster.

But the cloud really is nothing new for EFI, which marks its twelfth year of delivering cloud-based solutions. More than 2,500 customers now use its on-demand managed services. Present cloud-based Software as a Service offerings include Pace and PrintSmith Vision management systems, the Digital StoreFront web-to-print platform, and the new Fiery Dashboard business information service. EFI applications were designed from the ground up to run in a browser (not as client-server products), so their performance and reliability have been fine-tuned over the years to work optimally in a cloud-based deployment, the firm said.

“EFI has been a pioneer in cloud-based services with active customers since 2000,” said Ghilad Dziesietnik, the company’s chief technology officer. “We are the largest managed services provider for print providers, with thousands of locations and millions of users accessing the cloud. Software in the cloud offers numerous benefits, most notably reduced maintenance costs for users, 24/7 care, and management by a team of experts, anywhere access to information, redundancy, back-up, and highly secure data. Our new remote data protection services provide many of these advantages for clients that wish to host their own applications.”

Commercial printer Freeport Press is an EFI MIS client that hosts its own solution and was an early adopter of disaster-recovery services. “We had a fire in our facility, and EFI was able to recover our back-up data and have us up and running from their cloud as soon as our replacement hardware was available,” explained David Pilcher, CEO of the Freeport, OH firm. “Without EFI’s help and quick response, and their expertise in delivering cloud-based solutions, we would have lost countless hours of business from not having our systems available.”

Greg Carter, director of EFI cloud services, added, “The cloud is not only ideal for hosting services, but also for providing other critical capabilities such as disaster recovery. With their data safely stored off-site with EFI, customers are more prepared than they could be on their own. Our capacity and expertise ensure a timely recovery at a moment that is trying and critical for any organization.”

Customer data are transferred automatically every day using secure protocols to allow a full recovery into EFI’s cloud, which uses the latest border security, access control techniques, active virus filtering, and centralized monitoring. EFI provides MIS and Internet know-how combined with 24x7, real-time situation handling to deliver reliable services from the cloud as well as superior recovery into the cloud.

Managing Color in the Cloud

Printing firms, prepress service providers, designers, agencies, brand manufacturers, and publishers expect consistent results throughout the process chain. That’s why GMG introduced its CoZone, a comprehensive web strategy and an answer to soft proofing, at drupa.

With CoZone, all essential requirements for professional media and color management are deployed in the cloud. It is modular in approach, building into a central solution for all essential process steps: color management, proofing, communication, and approval processes between different supply-chain partners and for different output formats. The web-based platform requires no investment in locally installed software or expensive high-end hardware. GMG guarantees permanent accessibility and also provides the highest security standards to maintain privacy.

“CoZone stands for transparent project control and reliable handling, available to all participants at all times,” explained GMG marketing director Michael Farkas. “With CoZoneCollaborate, we launch the first chapter of our GMG web strategy.” CoZone Collaborate allows users to track the status of a project and efficiently manage production processes.

Mobile Print and One-to-One Marketing

Also rolled out at drupa, Circle from XMPie (a Xerox company) is an interactive, digital storyboard that makes 1:1 multichannel campaigns easy to visualize and understand bychief marketing officers (CMOs), providers, and customers. A cloud-based service designed to foster teamwork, XMPie Circle provides a visual language that enables all stakeholders to share concepts, agree on a blueprint, guide development, review and approve goals and touch points, and monitor analytics.

This software development follows on the heels of Xerox’s 2011 alliance with Cisco to simplify IT management by delivering cloud-based services and technology solutions that combine network intelligence and print. The partnerhip brings Xerox's market-leading managed print and cloud IT outsourcing (ITO) services to customers over Cisco’s intelligent network infrastructure. Both companies are arming their channel partners with solutions that help to extend existing IT investments to improve performance and reduce cost. Xerox and Cisco aim to make IT applications more accessible and improve efficiency for the workforce with solutions, such as mobile printing—the ability to print from any device, anytime, anywhere. More than eight percent of U.S. Internet traffic already comes from tablets or phones, according to Comscore, and that figure is growing fast.

“This relationship puts Xerox and Cisco at the center of a simplified, connected infrastructure—bringing together networking, printing and cloud services,” said Xerox CEO Ursula Burns. “Together we’re helping businesses transition to the cloud in ways that best suit their operations, and add the services needed to enhance security and productivity for employees.”

Of the new Circle software, XMPie president Jacob Aizikowitz, PhD, added: “1:1 multichannel campaigns … bring exceptionally good results, yet too often brands resort to either mass-media or single-media personalization efforts. Such a choice is almost exclusively due to the chasm that exists between the brands and their service providers around 1:1 cross-media. We believe that Circle goes a long way to bridging this chasm, enabling brands, service providers and professionals to collaborate effectively,” Aizikowitz, added. “Such collaboration will make choosing 1:1 multichannel campaigns a broadly accepted practice, leading to better marketing and overall growth in our industry.”

Whereas today’s 1:1 software solutions focus on the campaign touch points (e.g. postcard, email, website) and ignore the linkage between them, Circle makes it possible to weave together the various touch points into one coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. Circle also allows for associating visual content with touch points, helping all the stakeholders to envision the intended campaign look and feel and see design options for various scenarios and segments.

Moreover, it uniquely enables the binding of touch points to XMPie media personalization systems for rendering of live, data-driven previews for a selected audience segment. This link between planning and execution makes the story not just an early conceptualization of the campaign idea, but rather a “meeting-room,” or “circle of knowledge and control.” Plus, Circle’s social, interactive nature even permits users to comment on the various campaign touch points or the storyboard as a whole, enriching the team experience, empowering the client, and revealing business expectations throughout the campaign evolution.

“Circle provides us with an unlimited ‘canvas in the cloud’ where the campaign's story can be collaboratively created, previewed, refined, approved for execution, and measured,” noted Leon Schweppe, head of digital at Callprint, a U.K.-based creative technology, print media production group and XMPie beta customer. “This has greatly improved the customer understanding of the process involved in building an effective campaign. Circle makes the collaboration much more clear and professional, which improves our multichannel sales cycle. The time saved can then be used on more strategic development of our relationships and technology proposition.”

Christoph Grunicke, project/sales manager at TraffiC GmbH in Germany, also commented, “With its interactive campaign flow diagramming tools and contemporary, marketing-oriented user interface, Circle provides the perfect way to show your customers the possibilities of cross-media, and gives an image to your vision.”

Circle is not limited to XMPie users, does not require any software download or installation, and is easy to use by both beginners and cross-media experts alike. To help beginners get started quickly, XMPie has equipped Circle with sample campaign flow patterns for unlimited use by users. XMPie also will offer a free, feature-limited edition of Circle for basic campaign sketching, in addition to two premium editions with added capacity and extendibility.

“Our focus on creating a visual language for ‘telling’ the campaign story was driven from realizing, through experience with our customers, the acute need for clarity between brands and their service providers,” said Ranen Goren, VP of product innovation at XMPie. “Through our work with the Xerox Innovation Group and PODi [see sidebar], we leveraged this technology investment and introduced to Circle an extendable knowledge center that will help users view award-winning campaigns as ‘stories’—a valuable asset for expanded learning and practicing of 1:1 multichannel campaigns.”

XMPie Circle 1.0 was made available worldwide following the show.

4 More “Cloudy” Highlights That Brightened drupa

• Hiflex MIS version 2012 takes the complete management information system to the cloud, so that both the firm’s MIS and Webshop entirely operate via the Internet and be installed and executed on a server in a printer’s facility (a “private cloud”), in an external data center (“public cloud”), or at the Hiflex Data Center. It took Hiflex almost three years to develop this new architecture for its existing solutions. Using the cloud will reduce the Total Cost of Ownership as users no longer need to invest in server hardware, facilities, or back-up solutions.

• Introduced in February, paper manufacturer UPM show edits first web/cloud-based Colorectal Service at drupa. The print workflow pilot project is powered by Dalim and managed by GMG’s color-server technology.

• A world first for Screen at drupa was the introduction of a cloud-based variable-data print (VDP) application that simplifies the production of VDP jobs and gives printers an investment-free entry into one of the fastest growing areas of printing. Designers and data owners can collaborate on projects via a standard web browser before the finished file is sent to the print provider (in Screen’s case, Equios user). The service will be launched within the next 10 months, Screen said.

• FFEI launched RealPro ColorCloud, available to Caslon customers. The cost-effective cloud-based color application offers online ICC and Device Link profile creation combined with ink saving via a “pay-as-you-go” pricing model. The solution offers free registration allowing users to create and test profiles with no initial outlay. Ink saving is offered as standard and can be applied in profiles previewing the effect on the user’s own test images, which can be processed in the cloud, downloaded for viewing, and assessed in advance of payment.

Improving Cloud Printing on Demand

At drupa last month, the PODi Printing On Demand Initiative announced a strategic working group consisting of a consortium of industry leaders, including EFI, HP, and Xerox. Its mission: to define how cloud computing will be used to create, prepare, and produce printed work. The group is chaired by Craig White, an HP technologist who describes the effort as “a strategic initiative that will create clarity in how to best utilize the cloud in production workflows.” The initiative’s threefold charter:

  1. Identify and prioritize key production applications most likely to benefit from the cloud.
  2. Create a reference workflow and architecture for each production application.
  3. Define the need for any standards required to enable the reference workflow architectures.

Caslon’s Rab Govil, CEO of PODi, explained that “today's challenge for developing and delivering direct marketing materials is how to address the complex collaboration among a wide range of geographically and corporately diverse participants. Production represents only 10 percent of the cycle time for delivering direct marketing materials with the other 90 percent involving activities like coordination, content management, versioning, data processing, testing, and approvals."

The proposed model allows for unprecedented collaboration between all the parties involved in the supply chain, with benefits including:

  • Reduced cycle time through elimination of manual handoffs and translations between workflow steps.
  • Reduced cost through efficient collaboration between all parties in the supply chain—enterprise, agencies, and production providers.
  • Error reduction through automation

The new Cloud consortium will hold its first meeting in Q2 2012.