MIS & W2P: Open door to customers

With the advent of remote service provision of software, popularly known as the cloud, it was inevitable that MIS would merge with remotely accessible web ordering, aka web-to-print (W2P), to create a comprehensive, customer-driven job management tool from costing to dispatch.

But what are the benefits of blending MIS and W2P? And how do you pay for it? Are there lump-sum outlays or can you largely get by paying month-to-month for Software as a Service (SaaS)?

How do you manage your MIS-W2P service? Can it be handled by your existing staff, do you need to hire inhouse IT experts, is it better to outsource the IT?

W2P vendors have their say

When it comes to W2P, Mark Fletcher, associate marketing specialist APAC, at EFI, emphasises it is all about the customer experience and the efficiencies that printers can achieve in shaping their customers’ impressions of the service provided. “Firstly the print customer experience — ensuring that the print buying process is easy, convenient, affordable and timely. Secondly, that print providers continue to benefit from the efficiencies and cost savings delivered through workflow automation and the integration of everything related to MIS.

“EFI’s workflow solutions have continually maintained focus on meeting print customers’ diverse print communication needs, while enabling a seamless onramp to print production, for bottom line growth,” he says.

“In today’s competitive landscape, customers demand easy around-the-clock access. EFI Digital StoreFront helps meet this challenge with a dual-purpose Web platform designed for the printing industry. DSF also creates an end-to-end content and commerce workflow by providing seamless integration with EFI Fiery servers and EFI Print MIS/ERP solutions. Which means less re-keying of job data and fewer chances for production errors.”

Fletcher details some of Digital StoreFront’s components. SmartStores uses the latest responsive technologies (HTML5 and CSS3) to allow storefronts to scale smoothly from desktop to tablet and mobile devices. Users can create an unlimited number of customer-focused custom storefronts, complete with specific brand colours and logos.

“The new generation of Storefront designs feature a rich library of contemporary web design themes with over a dozen templates you can customise. SmartStore Builder’s advanced customisation tools provide administration access to edit the SmartStore sites’ HTML and CSS,” he adds.

Visual Product Builder provides a consistent and powerful view for all products that includes side-by side print options and preview. Print customers can upload a file, select the print and binding options, add, delete and rearrange pages, obtain a quote, proof their job and submit their order, all in one intuitive online interface

DirectSmile Cross Media Integration allows the creation and publishing of cross-media campaigns directly to online W2P Catalogues, explains Fletcher. DirectSmile allows printers, agencies and corporates to create, personalise and automate marketing across all media, while being fully integrated into the DSF W2P solution. Print customers can create high-impact campaigns and order and execute them from the DSF W2P site. “So whether it’s the simple design, the convenient management of data and processes, or comprehensive response tracking, everything is part of the one browser-based solution.”

Features in Digital StoreFront Print Providers include EFI DSF accepting print orders online, facilitating customer communication, and translating order requirements into job tickets. Through the EFI-certified workflow integration, using Job Definition Format (JDF) technology, the job tickets are ready for production at the Fiery digital print server with virtually no job preparation or operator intervention.

“DSF delivers a true end-to-end workflow with bi-directional Fiery and EFI Print MIS integration in real time,” Fletcher points out. “JDF standardises and automates — via a touchless workflow — job routing to production devices such as copiers, printers, offset presses, wide- or superwide-format printers and small-format cutsheet digital devices.”

EFI DSF is also a component of the EFI Productivity Suite, ensuring it works seamlessly with EFI MIS solutions, he says. “The EFI Productivity Suite is managed as a modular suite of products and components, delivering certified end-to-end workflows out-of-the-box, giving print providers the foundation tools for today and enabling a gradual evolution towards an end-to-end, best-of-suite solution set, with a scalable platform for sustained, future-proof growth.”

Fletcher says EFI DSF comes in two deployment options to fit a range of technical and budgetary needs. “A cloud-based (SaaS) deployment model hosted by EFI is a compelling option with a convenient pay-as-you-go model. The EFI experts will continuously monitor performance and keep things running 24/7. The team also takes care of maintaining the server, database backups, installing upgrades and upscaling when needed.

“Or there is a self-hosted option. To incorporate Digital StoreFront into an existing IT architecture, the self-hosted deployment option, on-premises, enables retention of full control of local network Web applications behind the firewall,” he says.

At drupa, Workflowz, which is represented in Australia, demonstrated new integrations of its online editware Chili publisher, embedded in several MIS vendors’ W2P components. Examples are Tharstern, IQ, Agfa (with its Apogee Storefront), and Esko with its Webcentre.

Alan Dixon, founder, CEO and managing director of Workflowz, makes the point that linking W2P with MIS is nothing new, however it is now seen as a vital component and more MIS providers and prepress workflow solutions are including an element or providing a link to it.

Print IQ and Tharstern both have links to Chili Publisher, he says, as do Agfa and Esko. It can also be linked to other third-party products like XMPie uStore portals and various EFI solutions too.

“Chili Publisher was developed to be integrated so clients have the freedom to select their preferred e-commerce payment portal, or link to their incumbent MIS solution provider. Some of the latest developments are HTML5 enhancements so you can offer your online services to a broader client base who use tablets or even smartphones, which do not support Flash,” Dixon says.

Asked whether cloud-based or server-based W2P is superior, Dixon argues that, as W2P solutions use the internet to deliver the design experience to the customers, hosting in the cloud could make sense for most people. “However, cloud-based and Software as a Service (SaaS) are completely different. SaaS implies that someone will look after the servers, applications and infrastructure.

But who is responsible about backups for multi-tenant systems? What if you need to recover a file, how frequently are the backup procedures? How frequently are updates and improvements applied? With your own licence, you are in control of your own solution.

Chili publisher is sold as a licence, with a one-off payment and no ongoing transaction costs, says Dixon. However some of its MIS partners offer a hosted SaaS solution with a lower initial cost, but costs per document.

Shopping around for or developing a W2P portal, then configuring it with your MIS is an unnecessary step with printIQ, a hybrid MIS-W2P technology, explains Mick Rowan, director of printIQ and head of its R&D division.

“When we began planning and developing printIQ, we intentionally mapped out functionality that didn’t exist in any MIS. With decades of industry experience, we knew the holes that needed filling and the gaps that made the process difficult for printing companies. With this in mind, our road map from the genesis was to become far more than just an MIS.

“As a part of our first build, we included W2P as standard printIQ functionality and since then we’ve continued to enhance it with the addition of best-in-class OEM technologies, such as document creation and pre-flighting,” says Rowan.

The printIQ management workflow system now encompasses a customer web portal with online quoting, ordering, and a payment gateway, through to end-to-end production, automated outsourcing, inventory, and purchasing/dispatch.

“When you combine this with integrated pre-flighting and document editing,  ganging, remote site integration, and a full analytics suite, “ says Rowan, “you soon see that the future has well and truly arrived”.

The advantages of MIS-W2P integration are numerous, he says. Quote turnaround is faster and can be done by anyone, artwork is submitted directly into printIQ with a thumbnail of the PDF appearing on the quote screens, job bag and the invoice. Art can be pre-flighted upon upload and automatically proofed for customer approval without operator intervention. Online payments are made through the integrated credit card gateway.

Every possible production path is quoted upfront, explains Rowan, so users can switch to any of those once the job hits production – without going back to the estimate. An interactive job bag is created on the fly, that allows users to record time, alter the production path, generate POs and update job statuses.

Rowan is a firm believer in cloud-based MIS-W2P. With no software to install, and no separate web portal or online ordering system to add on, the benefits of using printIQ in the cloud are obvious, he says.

“Pay a monthly fee and avoid the need for physical hardware and an internal IT infrastructure. There are no fixed contract terms. We recommend a pay-as-you-go option which gives customers flexibility and certainty. And you can ramp up as needed. At any point, our customers can alter the plan for hosting, covering them as their system gets busier with more users.”

CASE STUDY: Touchless system at IBS

The integration of W2P into MIS has been proceeding in leaps and bounds at IBS Design Resources, a 19-year-old trade print enterprise in Nerang, Queensland, and has come a long way since IBS owner Scott Siganto initially installed Edit and Print, a W2P portal integrated with an inhouse-developed MIS. Siganto had collaborated with US technology developer 44 Gallons Technology on Edit and Print.

Two key areas of recent development have been in moving towards a touchless process, and in developing third-party integration, explains Siganto. “Clients using our W2P Edit and Print system that use IBS as their supplier are now fully catered for with a womb-to-tomb touchless system. Their customers can go to their website and make direct orders that are fully integrated with IBS’ MIS system, which automate the process of order/invoicing right through to presses. The first time a staff member of ours or our client’s needs to intervene is to make a plate or print the job on the digital press.

“The beauty of this automation is that it allows our clients to focus on their customer rather than on their own workflow processes or direct physical engagement with us as their supplier. In addition, this automation allows us, as the trade printer, to maximise our own resources to enable the best possible quality and prices in the quickest turnaround times,” he says. “The result of our goal of a touchless process is less errors, cheaper prices, better workflow efficiencies and more time for us to focus on our clients and for them to focus on their customers.”

Edit and Print’s development in third-party integration has also made it simple for clients to add their own internal production, and other outsourced providers to their business into the same system to replicate that automation and simplify their workflow processes, says Siganto. “Edit and Print makes it easy for any of its customers to not only integrate with the IBS MIS but with a true open-source application that can potentially be integrated with any other MIS on the market. This makes Edit and Print suitable for any business, whatever MIS they currently use or, for that matter, whatever MIS their suppliers use to ensure a smooth and automated workflow exists.”

Siganto says IBS has created an effective balance between giving its clients the functionality to self-manage its systems and the support and management of the back end of the system to give them the confidence in IBS’ product and service. “Likewise we feel we have created a great balance in outsourcing the specialised key critical components of our W2P and MIS, whilst still having our inhouse team focused on getting the best out of our systems for our clients and ourselves.

“We believe the future is all heading towards cloud-based systems but for some of our clients, they are not there yet, and some may never be. With clients throughout the country, we have first-hand experience of those that will continue to resist the move towards cloud-based subscription methods for a variety of reasons, including internet reliability in remote locations, staff or customer resistance to change, time-poor resources to enable the change, or simply a fear of the unknown.

“The beauty of Edit and Print to us is that it provides an automated cloud-based option for anyone — but with the integration features and functionality to allow our clients to stick with what works best for them, whether that is cloud- or software-based,” he says.

Siganto explains that Edit and Print is a month-by-month subscription. After an initial 12-month commitment, if the client wants to cancel, all the data is exported for them to take and IBS securely closes off the site. “Edit and Print sites are that flexible and dynamic that we have very few fall through.”

CASE STUDY: For access, Picton’s the customer’s pick

An EFI Pace MIS integrated with EFI Digital StoreFront (DSF) is providing seamless customer accessibility to jobs and logistics at Picton Press in West Perth. Brad Hall, data services manager at Picton Press, says the portal enables custom branding for clients, as well as an online retail store for shorter-run work without setting up regular accounts.

“However, our branded storefronts for customers that re-order regularly are the largest components of handling print within our business,” explains Hall.

For example, Picton, a 28-year-old company with 35 staff, prints packaging for a well-known manufacturer whose products are sold at Bunnings and Masters hardware stores. “They have hundreds of lines but all the same-sized packaging inserts, so we build the products for them in a customised portal,” he says. “Each time they have a delivery go out, they just log in, upload their artwork into the specific templates we’ve created for them, and we ship it directly.”

Hall’s IT team handles the customisation for Picton, but DSF works well out of the box. “I’m able to give StoreFront to a non-tech person to build a portal if required.”

Picton took the decision not to use DSF as a cloud-based system but to go self-hosting. “We have our own private ‘cloud’ onsite and it’s better for us to keep it within that cloud. We have the infrastructure in place to be self-hosting,” he says, noting that the Picton Press building is located very close to the Perth CBD and has a high-speed fibre-optic connection enabling a lightning-fast web server. “However, we have the ability to move DSF to a cloud-based solution if in future we ever needed to.”

Paying only a software maintenance fee, rather than a monthly outlay for SaaS keeps a lid on costs, he says.

Assuming W2P is well integrated into the MIS, it creates “hands-off ordering” any time of day. “Without anyone on our staff having a conversation or having to do anything, the order is in our system”, he explains.

“We have a job bag that prints automatically for our digital print. With a manual or offline job, somebody has to raise a quote, have the quote approved, convert that to a job, accept the artwork, and send it downstairs to the presses. That’s all done automatically without any human resources. That’s probably the biggest advantage.

“The other advantage is credit-card payment that’s integrated into the ordering process, so nobody has to apply or collect the payment – it all happens automatically. It’s about automation.

“And there’s also a value-add for the customer. We find that our customers for whom we’re building a custom portal, with their branding and their products within it, it makes the customer more ‘sticky’. They’re less likely to shop around purely on price when they’re receiving the additional service of a web portal.”

CASE STUDY: Revolutionary MIS-W2P integration

At Revolution Print in Ballarat, Victoria, there has been a complete rethink of the ordering regimen, explains managing director John Schreenan. Spurred on by a rising volume of jobs from emerging national clients, Schreenan and Revolution partner Leon Wilson put their heads together to streamline the costing and ordering process.

Four years ago, the 37-year-old,  15-staff hybrid offset/digital print provider (then known as Kingprint) invested in a MIS from Online Print Solutions, which has since been acquired by EFI. The OPS core system provided the building blocks for an inhouse-developed MIS.

That system was later blended with a W2P portal that made client ordering a breeze, which the pair sees as an absolute incentive to business, along of course, with the requisites for quality and timely delivery.

Customers old and new took to W2P quickly. Schreenan and Wilson estimate that from a miniscule three-to-four per cent in 2009, the online ratio of orders has leaped to 60 per cent today, with Schreenan forecasting an eventual peak at around three-quarters of Revolution’s total business.

But he is the first to admit that not all jobs can be ordered from the customer’s keyboard, telling ProPrint that “there will always be those jobs that will be too complex to order online”.

Wilson explains there are three tiers of online clients. The “Google hunters” who walk in from the street, artwork ready, credit card in hand, comprise around 15 per cent; the trade clients who buy at favourable rates and have the option of reskinning the portal to their own customers, comprise around 35 per cent; and the corporates who can order from their customised ‘cloud catalogues’ residing on Revolution’ server, comprising around 50 per cent.

Clients can follow their job from lodgement, through art, prepress, print and delivery. Customers log on and order. The system emails the specs to production. Information is then transferred semi-automatically to a DolphinWorxs Printworxs MIS, and a Printworxs job bag is set up from pre-existing templates, using the MIS’s estimating, production and CRM. OPS provides client ordering, file upload, estimating and approval, as well as backend preflighting.

Xerox Freeflow Core automates imposition work, explains Schreenan, creating expressway conditions all the way from the online order to rip, imposition and stock loading on the press.

“In that process, we haven’t spoken and we haven’t emailed. It’s cut down the traffic of emails and phones into here, which has been a massive benefit for us. And because we place the artwork on the cloud for them, the artwork accuracy is better than ever too.”

And while more complex jobs still require some manual nursing along, and there is never a wall of silence when customers want a chat about the particulars of a project, the new workflow points the way to the future.

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