Managing web-to-profit

Users of both MIS and W2P have a lot of issues to address and decisions to make about implementation and running of these systems. MIS technology has moved a long way from its initial cumbersome approach, and now presents a more intuitive approach. What is more, a lot of it is now in the cloud, meaning printers are never out-of-date. And they are increasingly connecting with W2P to offer customer-driven online print estimating. But what is the optimal business model for a MIS-W2P resource in a print enterprise’s workflow?
 
Payment models are either upfront or month-by-month. And then there is the question of IT expertise. Do you import it, outsource it, or grow your own?
 
Accura W2P
Accura W2P offers its AccuraOnline product, which combines the best features of a web storefront with back-end MIS integration. In other words, a smooth customer experience from the storefront is supported by information-rich connectivity to a MIS database, avoiding what Accura describes as “web-to-nowhere”, a common fault of third-party W2P solutions.
 
Trevor Cocks, Accura’s managing director, tells ProPrint that print clients tend to think in terms of a one-way “orders in” approach first – to get order data from the third-party W2P to the MIS. “However is this really enough? Does this really provide a satisfactory solution for the printer or the customer? The end-result can be a poor, clunky and costly implementation.
 
“At Accura MIS, we do offer anl/xml API technology to integrate third-party web portals, however we prefer to offer our own fully-integrated bidirectional MIS and W2P solution, as AccuraOnline. The advantages of this are there is no integration services/programming needed, no file import/export or manipulating xml – it’s out-of-the- box, real-time, bidirectional and seamless. There is also only one database to maintain – the MIS, instead of the MIS and a web-portal, which usually is either not updated from the MIS or only partially.
 
“The MIS can pass almost any information back and forth, so it provides a true customer-service e-commerce portal, rather than just W2P (order placement). AccuraOnline and Accura MIS seamlessly sync quotes, orders with full history, proofs, stock control, messaging, invoice data, delivery data (PDF copies of delivery and invoice can be self-served by the client). Users can get live pricing, request quotes, repeat quotes/orders, sign off on proofs, see live stock levels of finished products being warehoused, and so forth, as well as the traditional file-upload and W2P print/artwork editing,” says Cocks.
 
Printers embracing W2P for the first time are likely to do it gingerly, explains Cocks, “W2P is usually adopted by the printer in response to the demands of an existing or new client. Printers considering W2P are right to pause for thought, particularly if they’re planning on entering the B2C market. Printers who adopt W2P would usually start with five-to-ten per cent of their work going through online systems, rising to perhaps 50 per cent maximum. Even then, many existing long-established clients will prefer to deal with the printer offline by email, fax and telephone.”
 
Accura MIS is a product suite the printer “purchases”, says Cocks, rather than a SaaS solution. Payment is either by upfront outright charges, or scheduled payments of a lease over three, four or five years. “This works a lot like a SaaS solution with the added benefit that the printer takes title of the software licence at the end of the agreement, unlike SaaS. Over a five-to-ten year period, leasing is up to 300 per cent cheaper than SaaS. The database can be hosted on the printer’s own servers or in the cloud.”
 
“Accura is very easy to set up and use. We have some of the shortest training/implementation times in the industry. Where we quote ten days, other systems would quote more than 30 days. Not only is it easy and quick to learn, unlike other large-scale systems, it can be 100 per cent maintained by the end-user, with no programming or added consultancy services needed.”
 
Connect1To1
Connect1To1 uStore is a complete cloud-based W2P solution ‘out of the box’ that provides a 24/7 web portal, with features such as order acquisition, production and fulfilment. uStore can be configured with TransMedia or TransMedia Pro on one hand, or Enterprise Cross Media on the other, to add cross-media database muscle to a core W2P product.
 
Tyrone O’Brien, Connect1to1 owner, defines an optimal MIS-W2P integration as “seamless integration where the MIS can access W2P without the need to double handle and create more work. With all W2P solutions today, the key feature is ease of integration to MIS and print workflow”. O’Brien believes that typically at least 30-60 per cent of a print company’s work should flow through a W2P portal. 
 
Implementation can be challenging, he cautions. “The learning curve is huge and I would say we would normally evaluate staff as there is quite a bit of IT development/integration that’s needed.”
“We’ve developed a full integration solution with printIQ, allowing printers to receive orders in PrintIQ, and fulfilling the order from within printIQ,” says O’Brien. “This includes job ticket, production, inventory management, status and invoicing, through to the MIS.”
 
Dolphin Worxs
Stephanie Gaddin, COO of Dolphin Worxs, says she is typically seeing a lot of smart automation, with MIS systems seamlessly integrating into all aspects of a client’s workflow, from quoting through prepress, production and finishing. “W2P is another extension of that seamless integration. For a lot of vendors in this space, the words MIS and W2P are essentially becoming interchangeable.”
Dolphin Worxs has recently become a reseller of Pressero W2P in Australia, New Zealand, and across all 54 countries in Africa. Pressero’s developer Aleyant Systems specialises in advanced, cloud-based solutions for e-commerce and ‘web-to’ solutions.
 
The Dolphin Worxs flagship Dolphin MIS has a newly developed Application Programming Interface (API), custom-built for Pressero, which is due to be launched and released by September this year. Says Gaddin: “We’re thrilled  to be working with Jeff Protheroe [Aleyant vp] and his team.” While the Dolphin MIS is not web-based, it can be interfaced to online CRM and W2P packages – and Dolphin Worxs has a cloud MIS/CRM combined product, Print Worxs. 
 
“W2P is at its simplest an integrated e-commerce solution tied to the production workflow – there are technically no reasons that all business cannot be conducted via a W2P portal, since for some vendors, there are aspects of the W2P that function as a MIS and vice-versa for online MIS providers,” explains Gaddin.
 
The right system will not require a specialist to be hired in house, she says, “but certain systems do take a bit of getting used to. The hardest adjustment for any company using any new system or software tool is the change in thinking that’s required.”
 
EFI 
Mark Fletcher, associate marketing specialist for EFI Asia-Pacific, describes EFI’s Quick Print Suite MIS as ‘flexible, affordable and browser-based’, automating key elements in the printing workflow, reducing touch points, streamlining operations, and optimising business growth. Key features include integration to EFI best-in-class e-commerce solutions, direct communication with EFI Fiery for touchless print production, tools to effectively manage key operational processes like estimating, point-of-sale, account management, production management, receivables and sales analysis, and powerful scheduling, shopfloor data collection and job-costing solutions.
 
Meanwhile, Quick Print Suite Web-To-Print is EFI’s W2P Digital Store Front e-commerce software that standardises job submission, automates workflow and ultimately captures more print work, says Fletcher. Available in 16 languages with support for multiple currencies, the new generation of highly customisable responsive SmartStore designs features a rich library of contemporary web design themes with over a dozen customisable templates. SmartStores use the latest responsive technologies (HTML5 and CSS3) to allow storefronts to scale smoothly from desktop to tablet and mobile devices.
 
Digital StoreFront has two installation options. A cloud-based, SaaS deployment model hosted by EFI is a compelling pay-as-you-go model that includes 24/7 monitoring, maintaining the server, installing upgrades and upscaling.
 
A self-hosted model incorporates Digital StoreFront into a printer’s existing IT architecture, enabling printers to retain full control of their web application on their network, behind their firewall, on their premises. “Process automation cuts costs, reduces job turnaround times and wins more business,” notes Fletcher. “The Quick Print Suite solution effectively manages and automates printing workflow from job acquisition, with e-commerce solutions, to output and production, with direct communication to Fiery Central and Command Station solutions.” 
 
printIQ
Mick Rowan, director of printIQ and head of its R&D division, discusses when the developer designed printIQ, “We listened to our customers to understand the complexities that they faced, and then developed management workflow solutions to simplify their processes. By working with industry experts, we’ve been able to deliver to the requirements of the industry. The end-result is a system build by the industry for the industry – in its entirety.” As an example, Rowan cites the Core 8 modules within printIQ that create a seamless, end-to-end workflow. Customers can add an array of additional modules to the core to further extend their workflow. There are fully integrated third-party options encompassing VDP, file verification, ganging/sheet optimisation, prepress systems, web applications, and even other printers.
 
Modules and licences on printIQ are numerous. For example, IQconnect-Apogee is an interface from printIQ to Apogee, enabling users to pass job data and PDF files into their prepress for preflight, layout, or to calculate impositions. IQconnect-Chili Publisher offers editable template information, meta data, annotations and artwork files, in addition to the standard W2P functionality within printIQ. And IQconnect-Enfocus Switch provides a dedicated workflow to match a range of business configurations. Using Enfocus MIS Integration-v3, Switch can provide full, ‘lights-out’ automation. PrintIQ delivers the artwork and job meta data to Enfocus Switch, preflight, proofing, rip and email workflows, then Switch passes back data to printIQ to keep production boards updated.
 
“With printIQ, the W2P functionality is built directly into the core product,” explains Rowan. “There’s no separate bolt-on or third-party software, it’s simply part of the base product and everyone accesses it. Production staff manage the factory whilst customers quote, order and track, all from within the same application. With no software to install, and no separate web portal or online ordering system to add on, printIQ certainly represents a quantum shift from what most printers are doing right now. By utilising a cloud-based solution, printIQ offers shorter implementation times, lower upfront costs, and subscription-based payments. If you combine this with shorter, less costly development cycles and simplified functionality updates, the benefits are obvious.”
 
But what ratio of work can a print business expect to conduct via its MIS-W2P portal? “There’s no reason that the bulk of interactions between the end-user and the print company can’t be managed through a W2P portal,” asserts Rowan. “In a well-rounded portal, a customer should be able to quote their own work, as well as request a quote for more complex jobs. They should also have the ability to order variable-data print (VDP), and static items with existing artwork that is held on file. 
 
The W2P portal should be able to handle pick-and-pack items from multiple inventory locations and report stock holdings. The portal should have payment options, including a credit card gateway, along with the ability to check previous quotes, jobs, and orders. The portal should offer the ability to download previous invoices, and have the ability to copy existing quotes. The W2P portal should also provide the option for full job tracking, from order to dispatch.”
 
What is the learning curve if you are training inhouse? Or is it better to outsource W2P management? The curve is steep when implementing any new business system, according to Rowan.
 
However by following a well-structured implementation plan, backed by a documented process, the risks can be significantly negated, he assures. “As an example, the printIQ implementation plan follows a structured 12-week process in which key milestones and are defined. Our team kick off the implementation of printIQ and build the backbone of the system, then work on giving our customers the tools and the knowledge to continue to edit and update the system. We provide ongoing training resources to allow our customers to maintain their skills and continue to support them via our Smartertrack support system. After the installation is complete, our customers will have the knowledge to continue building and developing their installation of printIQ.”
 
Payment models for printIQ cover a number of purchasing options from the traditional upfront method through to a full SaaS (Software as a Service) model, as well as a fully financed option, says Rowan.
 
Printcraft, the largest independently owned printer in the greater Brisbane area, has integrated printIQ MIS/W2P technology to streamline its services from storefront to despatch, providing greater productivity and an engaged customer experience. General manager Matt Naughton says innovation is the key to survival in today’s Australian commercial print market, and offering a genuine solutions package to its customers in “a multi-channel, multi-dimensional approach” is Printcraft’s “point of difference”.
 
Tharstern
MIS developer Tharstern has added Vpress to its stable, under the umbrella company, Mosaic Solutions. The Tharstern MIS range is now integrated with Vpress Coreprint, a cloud solution that has drawn applause for its end-to-end integrations at various print sites in the UK. Coreprint is scalable and affordable for SMEs, with an upfront setup fee followed by a regular ‘pay-by’ charge for users.
 
Tresta Keegan, Mosaic’s managing director, was drawn to Vpress by its extensive groundwork in Britain, its print-industry breeding, and what she sees as a dedicated focus on end-users. “With a unified Coreprint web-to-print and Tharstern MIS workflow, the end-user signs off their own artwork at any time of the day or night, sending it straight into the production workflow. This means that variable-print products are a commodity, however, the print room has become an extension of the customer and it’s easier to create stronger ties with them. There is a powerful shared ‘ownership’ of the online solution. System automation means volumes increase, immediate savings are realised, and workforce savings are ongoing.”
 
The pairing of Tharstern with Vpress Coreprint has produced a cloud-based, online ordering SaaS service fully integrated with the Tharstern MIS, which can either be cloud-hosted or locally installed as an enterprise MIS system. The process automatically creates jobs and channels them into what Keegan calls a production-aware workflow. At the same time, she assures the market that Tharstern will also continue to integrate its MIS with other online solutions from alternative vendors.
 
Workflowz and Chili Publisher
Alan Dixon, CEO of Workflowz, emphasises integrated solutions, linking MIS and W2P technologies, and passing order details from W2P into MIS has massive cost saving benefits. It reduces manual double handling and rekeying job information into the MIS where mistakes could be made. Showing up-to-date and accurate costs from the MIS in the W2P portal provides a consistent and profitable solution, he argues.
 
Workflowz has integrations with printIQ and other MIS providers. Dixon describes Chili Publisher, from Belgian developer Chili Publish, as “the hottest online document editor that has been developed to be integrated into other solutions such as MIS and procurement platforms”. The ability to quickly take Adobe InDesign files and place them online as intelligent templates adhering to corporate branding is essential when everyone is under pressure with time-to-market schedules, he explains.
 
“An additional benefit is the live updates that save time by refreshing the previews and the ability to visualise documents as folded items or in 3D. It should almost go without saying that the solution is platform-agnostic and can run on tablets (non-flash) and desktop computers alike. The main advantage of Chili Publisher is you choose how it is integrated, controlling the look, feel and functionality to suit your client’s requirements. 
 
“Sitting alongside Chili Publisher in our portfolio is XMPie whose product family extends from desktop personalisation through to full blown immersive cross-media campaigns. Its W2P offering also takes InDesign files but comes with an out-of-the-box storefront with onboard e-commerce that can be white labelled and branded.”
 
The question of what proportion of work a printer can hope to run through MIS-W2P does not have a specific answer, says Dixon. “There isn’t a singular formula that works for everybody. For example, B2C tends to have more use for generic online editing and customising but is a more transient market. B2B markets tend to be longer running due to tendering processes – and the return on creating templates once has a higher yield value for branded marketing material. Brand managers get used to ordering online and the correct W2P platform can empower them to create a broad spectrum of materials, from corporate stationery, local area marketing, retail, POS and packaging.”
 
At Workflowz the focus is to use the experience and existing inhouse expertise of the MIS department at a client print house, but also to enhance its W2P team’s capabilities (who are typically designers or prepress). 
 
“We often take customers with little or no W2P experience and empower them with a combination of suitable training and best-of-breed products,” says Dixon. “We start simple and scale up with a broad spectrum of users, ranging from instant print through 
to multinationals that will require compliance, approvals and auditing history features.”
 
Asked about cloud attributes, Dixon says: “We think there is a misnomer and confusion in the marketplace about cloud or online solutions. Whilst technically they are different, the ultimate experience for an end-user should be the same, that is, availability online 24/7 from anywhere. Choosing where and how you host your solution should be at your discretion –  either on premise, at your ISP or fully virtualised cloud with perceived greater resilience. Therefore online and cloud-based are synonymous and interchangeable if you have a technology that you can deploy either way and even potentially upscale to from one to another.” 
 
Regarding payment models, he believes it is important not to be forced into a corner and to remain flexible. “Either having onboard payment facilities or linking into industry-standard third-party solutions or incumbent platforms gives the flexibility that any business would seek. For example, we have connections with Magento (eBay), WooCommerce (WordPress) and nopCommerce (open-source). How you charge commercially should be flexible, with options of a subscription, upfront or per-unit costs at the discretion of the business. However, it’s imperative that this information is passed back to the MIS and accounts. One area to note is lots of users within an enterprise or even SME environment don’t have the ability to pay by credit card and need to raise POs and follow normal procurement processes. This should be considered when assessing the suitability of the technology.” 

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