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Who's who in E-commerce

Jun 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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Many e-commerce vendors say they enhance workflow--here's how

If the 1980s were the "me" decade, will the 1990s and early millennium qualify as the "e" decades?

Even at a few years old, e-commerce has already begun to dominate the printing industry marketplace. According to Steven Schnoll, a former printer of 30-some years and principal of e-commerce consultancy Schnoll Media Consulting (New Providence, NJ), the market currently holds more than 40 industry-specific e-commerce companies. At this year's On Demand Expo, Impresse.com representatives said the number was upwards of 45.

Here is a brief roundup of some of the major vendors that say they take existing print-buyer relationships and port them to the Internet. This is by no means an exhaustive list, especially as new ones emerge every day.

Collabria Collabria (San Mateo, CA) offers the PrintCommerce family of suites, comprising eTracker and eCatalog. ETracker, formerly named WebDocket, is Collabria's production management product. Features include online job specification, ordering and tracking, and production reporting and billing. Press-ready impositions can also be generated, in PDF format.

ECatalog allows printers to set up personalized online catalogs for specific customers. Exactly which templated items will be available for ordering are decided between the printer and customer, but they may include business cards, letterhead and business forms. Buyers can customize those print products-if ordering a business card, for example, individuals can type in their own names and titles on a corporate template-and see online proofs of their orders.

Robert Hu, vice president of strategic marketing, says that Collabria looks at the entire printing and publishing process, "not just when the document is created and thrown over the fence to the printer. That's previously been one of the bottlenecks of the industry." Collabria claims to cut as much as 75 percent of prepress costs through its service.

Hu adds, "The Internet is all about enterprise connectivity and managing workflow as an enterprise. The future of publishing needs to be considered from a business standpoint of how an organization can use the print and publishing process more effectively."

Mike Murtaugh, president of MJM Printing (Rockville, MD), a $3 million, 30-employee company that does business forms and other one- and two-color work, is one enthusiastic Collabria customer. MJM originally sought an online service to streamline the production process with a particular customer. It has since started to promote its online capabilities to win new business. "Because we can provide this solution, we have gotten big clients," Murtaugh says. "We're selling this solution versus printing."

Murtaugh raves that the workflow enhancements are "unbelievable," and offers numbers to back it up. He says while MJM typically breaks even in January and February, this past January saw 50 percent margins and a bottom line of 12 percent. In February, MJM boasted 46 percent margins with a 15 percent bottom line. The customer that originally prompted Murtaugh to seek out an online solution began a new division, and MJM processed nearly 7,000 business card orders through Collabria.

Target market: Collabria focuses most of its efforts on selling the service to printers of all sizes, though typical printer customers deal with larger corporations that have multiple divisions, according to marketing representative Brigitte Heiser. These printers generally have sales of $5 million and greater.

Pricing: Setup fees depend on the modules but may run around a few thousand dollars. After that, pricing is typically a percentage of the job transaction.

Customers: Collabria has more than 500 corporate entities using the system, according to Hu, with a ratio of one printer for every three corporate customers.

Impresse.com The Impresse.com service (Sunnyvale, CA) allows print buyers to send requests for quotes on projects, but also supports contract print procurement between buyers and their already established printers. The online platform offers participants in the print supply chain the opportunity to design, specify, price, order, track, fulfill and pay for jobs.

The firm released version 4.0 in late March, featuring XML technology to "further enable" integration to printers' back-end business systems. Other new features include the ability for print buyers to tailor the service to their own business workflows. Buyers can order items from a library of auto-populated corporate-specific templates, and an address book that includes contact information for others in the print supply chain.

The competitor dynamic is shifting a bit, according to product marketing manager Addy Roff, but Noosh tends to be a main competitor on the print buyer side. "On the printer side, we're starting to run into printCafe," she adds, "although it doesn't really have an offering yet. But it has mindshare in the printer market."

Roff says print buyers are looking for ways to make their jobs easier, especially because many are dealing with multiple projects and suppliers. "It's the idea of centralizing all sources in one central location," she explains.

The central location notion carries over to the printer side as well, where Roff says printers can decrease errors by using a central system that will track all communication. She adds that printers will see their print production process become streamlined as a result.

Target market: Impresse approaches Fortune 1000 print buying and procurement organizations, "the groups that purchase a lot of print," according to Roff. She says Impresse has always canvassed both buyers and printers, but buyers tend to embrace the service more quickly because they see the print procurement process as being complex and unautomated. Their acceptance of the service encourages their printers to join the service.

Pricing: The service bills one percent of each job transaction to the printer, but who ultimately pays the fee is for the printer and customer to decide.

Customers: As of the end of February, Impresse had 269 customers-97 were corporations and agencies; the remaining 172, commercial printers.

MediaFlex.com MediaFlex.com (Campbell, CA) offers the corporate image center, a personalized online catalog of sorts that is set up for corporate clients. Templated items are typically business communication products, such as letterhead, business cards and envelopes. Upon order, the typeset item can be softproofed online.

MediaFlex's corporate image center also features a kitting and fulfillment scenario for customers who want to select items from a predefined gallery of products and have them sent to the recipient. One San Francisco printer, Chromacopy Imaging, offers both types of services, one for each client they have signed up to order online. The first client orders many graphics repeatedly in a "pick-and-pack" scenario. Chromacopy, which specializes in large-format printing such as trade show and in-store retail graphics, posts the client's graphics online. Each division of the customer goes to one URL to select what they want to order.

"This is curious, because the other client is the exact opposite," shares Mack Fraga, creative director at Chromacopy. "This client has one-and only one-document, but the information changes each time. It's very similar to business card ordering, where you have a basic layout and you're changing the name and title. This client will order 2,000-plus graphics, all with the same layout, but the information on each one changes."

Greg Goldman, vice president, marketing for MediaFlex, says that the service helps printers take a programmed approach to selling, as opposed to selling on a job by job basis. "We're providing the printer with a print-ready file. We're incorporating the ability for the order itself to be captured," he says. "The document, and all of the rules that go into creating it, have already been set up. The corporate image center facilitates the ordering of these pieces on the Web."

Goldman adds that MediaFlex will be developing relationships with digital print engine manufacturers to streamline the file production process, "so you can drag and drop files, and take it into a MediaFlex system directly to a hot folder."

Target market: Goldman classifies MediaFlex's sweet spot as digital and one- and two-color printers that do short-run, low-dollar volumes coupled with many transactions. "For the digital printer, the question is how to make money on a low-dollar job when you're processing a lot of jobs," he explains. "We automate the back-end functionality, so the digital file is ready to print."

Pricing: The service costs $5,000 to set up. Afterward, pricing is a percentage of the job transaction fee.

Customers: The company recently reached a worldwide agreement with Sir Speedy Inc., under which Sir Speedy franchisees will offer corporate image centers to their major account customers. The first phase of the rollout will be a corporate image center for franchisees to order collateral material from corporate-what Goldman deems as a baby step. In the second step, corporate image centers will be established for each franchisee to offer to its customers. Ultimately, Goldman envisions a distributed print model: "Sir Speedy corporate wants to go to a large corporate account and funnel work to all of its franchisees," he explains.

Counting its Sir Speedy agreement as one customer, Goldman says MediaFlex boasts about 70 printer customers. "That's the number of customers, not sites," he stresses. "Sir Speedy will actually have about one thousand individual customers with multiple corporate image centers for each."

Noosh Noosh.com, much like its competitors, provides an online collaborative environment for creative agencies, printers, print buyers and others in the supply chain to work together efficiently. Users can ask for estimates; do job specification, ordering and tracking; and do job file archiving and remote proofing.

"Our solution offers many-to-many collaboration in real time, leveraging the speed, accuracy, accountability and convenience of the Internet," claims Darius Chagnon, manager, provider markets.

Target market: Noosh pitches its services to print buyers at large corporations first. Customers include GE Capital, Bank of America Corp. and J.Crew. These companies then typically approach their printers and ask them to use the Noosh service.

"We, and our customers, don't like it to be a do-it-or-else situation," says Chagnon. "Everyone hopes that all perceive that there are benefits on all sides."

Chagnon adds that the large corporations that make up Noosh's print buyer base often already have internal and external initiatives to use the Internet. "Their supplier base is prepared for the notion that they're going to be using an online service-they just don't know what or when. When the supplier base finds out, they can sign on pretty quickly," he says.

Pricing: Print buyers pay a monthly fee. There are no setup fees for printers, though training may incur some "modest" costs, says Chagnon. According to him, 10 people can get trained for a couple of thousand dollars. A transaction-based fee takes a percentage of each order, but that percentage depends on the size of the order and the vendor's monthly volume.

Customers: As of early April, more than 166 print buyers and printers had signed agreements with Noosh to use the service.

ColorGraphics (San Francisco), a four-color commercial printer that employs 500 people across four plants, has been using the Noosh service for a little more than a year. The company began beta testing the product in June 1999 and was already working on a few jobs with customers by late summer of 1999. James Fucillo, inside sales support and customer service representative for ColorGraphics, admits the move to online order-taking was precipitated by customers, including Bank of America and Wells-Fargo. "If it was up to us to decide on a service, we wouldn't have decided on it right now," he relates. "But the clients were on board so that really moved us along. Once our customers decided, we were on board instantly with Noosh."

Fucillo says the features used most are the request for estimates at the front end and shipping information and proof of delivery at the back end. Although ColorGraphics does use "some of the meat in the middle," Fucillo says the most important factor is to get the job specifications and shipping information correct.

PagePath PagePath's (Bensenville, IL) service is called MyOrderDesk. The basic service, free to printers and paid for by banner ads, gives printers a website if they don't already have one, an order page with an integrated file transfer system and job tracking. Printers that already have their own websites can simply create a link between their website and MyOrderDesk.

"One of the reasons our free version is so compelling is because printers are reluctant to try technology," explains Steve Ciesemier, vice president. "Printers don't want to spend money on something that they're not sure will work or will attract enough customers. MyOrderDesk allows the freedom of going ahead and trying new leading-edge technology, without any of the risks associated with it."

A big selling point of MyOrderDesk is its file transfer and compression system. According to Ciesemier, the typical file upload method on the Internet lets the user send only one file at a time. Because users then have to wait until a file is sent before they can send another one, the transfer system "effectively chains you to your desk. It's not a convenient way to do things, especially in the graphic arts field where you send 10 to 15 files to someone," he explains.

MyOrderDesk instead allows printers to send multiple files at a time over the Internet. The service's technology wraps all of the selected files with the work order information so they arrive at the printer as one bundle. E-mail confirmation at both buyer and printer ends notify when the files have arrived.

Ciesemier says PagePath is also the only e-commerce company that automatically compresses files during transfer. He says the printers PagePath markets to tend to work with customers who connect to the Internet via a modem. If an 8 MB file takes six minutes per MB to send over a modem, then that will tie up 48 minutes of the customer's line. He claims that MyOrderDesk compresses the file so that an 8 MB file can now be transferred across a phone line in less than five minutes. "That's a big usability difference."

David Midler, co-owner of Presentech (Atlanta), a digital graphic imaging company that specializes in large-format poster printing and other presentation visuals, says the company chose MyOrderDesk for its file transfer system. "Our customers would send us files by e-mail and we'd never receive them," he relates. "FTP was always an option, but most people didn't know how to use it. We needed a system that was easy to use anywhere, no matter what the circumstance."

Presentech has been using MyOrderDesk for about four months. About 20 Presentech customers transfer files over the website, resulting in an average of three dozen transactions a week.

"There is no such thing as a perfect file transfer, short of putting a file on a disk and handing it to someone," Midler says. "This comes as close as you can get."

Target market: Companies who use MyOrderDesk tend to be small to midsize printers, graphic designers, reprographers and copy shops. Larger customers fall in the $10 million to $20 million range.

Pricing: Free, if using the basic service. The performance package, which features the automatic file compression, allows printers to assign account numbers to customers, and provides 2,000 MB and five days of storage on the central system, costs $300 to set up and $5 per day to use. If the service isn't used on a particular day, printers don't get charged. The monthly cap is $55 per month.

Customers: MyOrderDesk claims about 2,000 printer users.

printCafe In its former life a printing industry software vendor called Prograph Systems (Pittsburgh), printCafe launched at Seybold Boston 2000 with $25 million financial backing by Creo. Having also acquired some of the biggest names in print management systems, including Programmed Solutions, Hagen Systems, Logic and AHP Systems, printCafe immediately received publicity for its intent to build a Web-based print procurement platform that will integrate with its back-end business management software. Sources indicate printCafe, which is in a quiet period following its S-1 filing to go public and therefore could not grant an interview with american printer, will be announcing the online interface soon.

Target market: PrintCafe intends to sell its service to the 6,500-plus printing facilities, suppliers and print buyers that are currently using the software developed by its merged companies.

Pricing: Pricing will be based on a subscription fee.

PrintConnect.net PrintConnect.net is another recent launch. Dubbed a customer relationship management system, PrintConnect offers such online capabilities as print quoting, digital file transfer, real-time job tracking and customized reporting. The result, in PrintConnect's view: Web-based self-service for clients.

"One of the big pains for buyers is not only going through the job specification process but also trying to find out the status of a job," says Erik Harrell, president and CEO. "The constituency is not only the print buyer but other people involved in the job, including individuals from financials, creative and marketing, that have an interest in finding out where the job is done. Today, a lot of that tracking is done on the phone. Someone calls the print buyer, the buyer calls a salesperson, the salesperson calls a customer service representative and so forth. Our mission for printers is to provide a platform that they can use to provide better customer service."

Target market: Harrell says the buyer-centric approach taken by some e-commerce vendors puts printers on the defensive. The Boston company is, instead, working with both printers and customers equally. PrintConnect will target the middle market-for print buyers, PrintConnect's sweet spot will be those with a $3 million to $7 million print budget.

Pricing: PrintConnect is taking an application service provider (ASP) model for pricing and will charge printers a per user-per month fee. "The incentive is to put more business on the system. The more business they do, the lower their cost will be per percent of sales," says Harrell.

Customers: Use is scattered among PrintConnect's 40 printer and buyer customers.

One more tool Do these e-commerce services enhance workflow? Ted Stitzer, managing director for consulting services at the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (Paramus, NJ), seems to think so. "It's an opportunity but a lot of printers view e-commerce as a threat. On the printer side of the equation, there are real opportunities to save time, which is going to save money and people activity," he comments.

But, concludes Ciesemier of PagePath, the Internet is not an "end-all, be-all solution. It's just one more tool, like the phone or fax. You use it when it's appropriate. Our customers aren't looking for a replacement to person-to-person relationships. They're looking for a way to reduce the heavy lifting, the grunt work required."

In the meantime, the market will continue to change. Drupa promises to offer some significant announcements on the e-commerce front. Schnoll observes that e-commerce companies keep cropping up in the market. "I think the industry will take time to digest it all and sift it all out," he says.