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The A to Z of W2P

Dec 1, 2010 12:00 AM


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At Print 09, it was obvious that web-to-print (W2P) was becoming so ubiquitous that it was difficult to find vendors that didn't offer it. This year was no different. Some of last year's players did not exhibit, while others sent only individual representatives to roam the hall. Still, there was a strong presence by companies vying for printers' online presence.

The state of W2P

For business-to-business (B2B) applications, the W2P trend was towards increased integration with print procurement entities or departments, enabling printers to better fulfill orders for branded, templated collateral and other printed materials. On the business-to-consumer (B2C) side, the ability to edit files online, using an online WYSIWYG environment, remained paramount. Online management of variable data printing (VDP) was a consistent theme, as was the ability to create VDP jobs in desktop applications.

In last year's Print 09 coverage, we classified W2P into three categories: storefront providers, MIS system developers and production system developers. It is increasingly difficult to maintain those distinctions. Many providers are increasing their scope of offerings, either through internal development or via strategic integration partnerships or outright mergers. (A significant example was Bitstream's acquisition of financially troubled Press-Sense.)

Because the distinctions of W2P “types” are increasingly blurred, this overview of relevant exhibitors is in alphabetical order. Most of the companies listed here provide some form of Web-based system for customizing, organizing and managing print. A few printers with their own W2P infrastructure exhibited at the show, but were offering actual printing, not W2P systems for other printers.

The W2P lineup

Last year, Aleyant Systems' (www.aleyant.com) hosted Pressero system impressed many attendees with a balanced approach to document ordering, variable data customization and online editing at an attractive price point. This year, the company launched Pressero 4.0, described as a total rewrite of the software. New capabilities include built-in approval methodologies for B2B sites, based on business rules for ordering printed materials within large organizations. Limited time promotions may be easily configured and managed. Creating and modifying branded customer portals has also been greatly simplified, using a WYSIWYG site-editing interface. The company has partnerships with other developers, including Printers Software (www.printerssoftware.com), which offers Pressero along with its print MIS offerings, such as estimating, job control and inventory management.

Avanti (www.avantisystems.com) has developed a variety of W2P components for submitting and tracking print jobs online, connected to its multiple print production and MIS offerings. The company has integrated its core systems with third-party W2P front ends including XMPie, Pageflex and OPS.

Mailing software company Datatech SmartSoft (www.smartsoftusa.com) displayed a unique offering. A spokesman described its PressWise approach as the only W2P system that also incorporates print production and specific mailing/fulfillment features. Although its Web2Ship storefronts are not sold separately, the affordable SaaS approach is well suited to shops with 40-80 employees with a strong emphasis in direct mail production.

At GraphExpo, EFI (www.efi.com) demonstrated version 4.5 of its Digital StoreFront introduced in November 2009. Enhancements include product management, production and variable data handling. StoreFront works with EFI's many production and print MIS systems, extending their capabilities to users, but is also available as a standalone system. The appeal is clearly to large enterprise customers, where effective management of the print supply chain can be quantified readily.

EonCode (www.eoncode.com) launched version 3.0 of its EonDesigner document-editing module at GraphExpo. Part of the company's EonWorkflow storefront and management dashboard W2P system, the new editor helps users compete with online print service companies. The WYSIWYG content editor does not allow administrators to lock down brand-sensitive page elements (yet), but it does provide an impressive array of templates, an automatic pricing infrastructure and an intuitive navigation system for ordering and customizing print.

The company also will help printers with search engine optimization and custom development. It also announced a new relationship with Kodak, becoming the only authorized third-party W2P provider for NexPress systems.

Personalization developer GMC Software (www.gmc.net) emphasized that its offerings were not simply “web to print,” but actually “web to production,” including non-print or multichannel output. Last year the company released its PortalBuilder framework for creating online storefronts. What is new, according to a spokesman, is the focus on integrating with (and automating) enterprise document operations — regardless of whether print is the final output.

Print MIS developer Hybrid Integration (www.hybridintegration.com) displayed its GoPrint management portal (for creating jobs and uploading files) and its StorePortal Web ordering system. Although these W2P systems typically are tied to the company's print management and estimating systems, the company also offers JMF integration with Radius Solutions' ERP system for printing and packaging.

For marketing solutions provider Interlink-ONE (www.interlinkone.com), W2P is only a portion of its services for print service providers, marketing agencies and enterprise customers. About 80% of its branded W2P portals are B2B storefronts, applying business rules to issues involving budgets and departmental control and approvals. While the portals can be easily customized to match the companies' look and feel, the underlying system also allows for specific client rules, including legal and regulatory restrictions. Variable data workflows involve tagged InDesign document templates and final VDP processing in XMPie.

The company's W2P offering is enhanced by the use of a single database to manage all components of a marketing campaign — including inventory management and non-print components like e-mails, PURLs, QR Codes and other response-trackable elements. While on-demand print is an important component of the company's offering, the system is clearly all about the bigger picture.

Kodak (www.graphics.kodak.com) offered the same capable, but system-dependent W2P solution as last year. InSite Storefront gives Prinergy-based shops the ability to create customer-branded portals for online ordering, customization and variable-data printing of branded print collateral.

Selling to printers, marketing firms and enterprise customers, L2 (www.L2soft.com) is the developer of Fuse, a multichannel variable data management platform. The print component of the online system is primarily focused on direct mail, creating print-ready VDP files as part of an overall campaign. Fuse also creates and manages the e-mail and PURLs for each campaign, as well as response tracking and analytics.

Online Print Solutions (OPS, www.onlineprintsolutions.com) announced several new partnerships, including Prism and Screen (USA). Integration of its W2P system with Enfocus Pitstop Server allows users to generate reliable, print-ready PDFs for customers. OPS core capabilities (storefronts, editing, cross-media marketing, etc.) have remained essentially the same while the company improves and expands the overall workflow. The OPS Designer application is currently based in Adobe Flash — as are many others. However, a spokesman indicated the company's interest in developing an HTML5 version for the iPad.

Pageflex reseller Page Technology (www.pagetechnology.com) had its own booth and, according to a spokesman, a wide range of extended functionality added to its hosted Pageflex storefronts. In addition to providing Pageflex customization, the company offers e-mail campaign management, PURLs and the like. It also works with IT departments in the financial sector, handling a bewildering array of document needs. The company's .NET development efforts are intended to extend its customers' IT capabilities, and allow them to choose from a network of qualified print service providers. Future vertical markets will include healthcare companies and higher education.

W2P veteran Printable (www.printable.com) demonstrated its new image personalization capabilities — the fruit of acquiring DirectType in May. The resulting version (7.0) of Printable's Fusion Pro VDP suite, which boasted record sales in Q3, now supports the emerging PDF/VT standard, and has attracted the interest of Canon and other digital print players. The company's hosted Marcom Central W2P platform for printers and corporate print buyers has been steadily upgraded (interface improvements and new integrations) since Print 09.

Likewise, MIS developer PrintPoint (www.printpoint.com) demonstrated an impressive W2P module, allowing printers to create unlimited branded print ordering portals for each of their customers. The module is system dependent, giving printers a reason to use the PrintPoint system, but not available separately.

PrintSites (www.printsites.com) offers a wide range of e-commerce, branded portal and document editing features in its hosted W2P service for printers. Search engine optimization is also included, for printers looking to expand their reach, and compete against the likes of VistaPrint. The system boasts a library of over 10,000 print templates, plus online ordering, editing/customization and preflight. It also offers an e-mail management environment — allowing the printer to venture into non-print services for their customers.

Workflow developer consortium PuzzleFlow (www.puzzleflow.com) has also ventured into W2P with PrintFactory a system built around its core PDF library. Although it integrates well — as one would expect — with PuzzleFlow's many modules for proofing, preflight and the like, PrintFactory's online ordering and job management will be available as a standalone system. The previewed offering, installed in a few European locations now, is scheduled for general distribution by November.

Since its launch at Drupa, RedTie (www.red-tie.com) has completed its JDF schema and formed ongoing partnerships with Optimus (print MIS), Heidelberg and HP. The entirely SaaS platform has been refined with a new inventory management system and Internet services integration with other MIS systems, as well as improvement in the business rules for more flexible use of templates. The company also has started offering the service on a monthly subscription basis called “Red2Go,” which includes online training for basic operations. (Custom training is available separately.)

Finally, Xerox-owned VDP developer XMPie (www.xmpie.com)featured a new version (4.0) of its uStore W2P marketing portal, which offers image personalization and enhancement, and other B2C functionality, such as pre-login shopping cart capabilities. Search engine optimization has also been added. Multiple views of uStore sites may be customized according to user permissions. Version 5 of the company's cross-media management system, PersonalEffect, was also released, including improved image processing, file size optimization and more effective use of cross-media templates.

Conclusions

W2P offerings at GraphExpo were improved and expanded. W2P ultimately focuses on all the graphic communication needs of a customer — from printed products to promotional items to signage to e-mail and mobile campaigns.

It is also clear that the MIS and production system players must provide a robust W2P connection that fully utilizes its strengths without becoming too complex for the user. Some have done so on their own, while others scramble to form alliances with W2P-only providers. Expect more acquisition and consolidation, as well as continued movement into overall marketing resource (i.e., multichannel) management and procurement.

Systems for online ordering are increasingly unconcerned with whether the end product is printed or not; it's all about effective management of any type of communication. Companies who call themselves printers should consider doing the same.


John Parsons is an independent consultant, analyst and writer. Contact him at john@bytemedianews.com.

Press-Sense marches on

The Press-Sense acquisition was the big story at Bitstream-owned Pageflex (www.pageflex.com), although there were also improvements to existing Pageflex products as well. Version 7.6 allows greater user interface customization and the ability to deploy “kits” of print and non-print components within a storefront environment. Other new announcements include support for PDF/VT and the decision to provide W2P as a hosted SaaS — in addition to the existing licensed model. On the VDP front, Version 2 of the company's InDesign plugins will be released by year's end, providing a rules-based approach to page flexibility.

The company's acquisition of Press-Sense and its iWay platform rescued the W2P presence of HP, Xerox and OcĂ©, who had implemented varying degrees of the Israeli developer's rather complex online ordering and management system. According to Bitstream, the existing OEM relationships will be preserved, and the team in Israel has been retained. The company is looking to incorporate iWay's order management and production strengths into Pageflex's document customization and storefront capabilities. However, by all accounts, it will take time to sort out what a “next generation” combined system approach will be.

Who's new…

Process management, ERP and print systems developer Quarterhouse Software (www.quarterhouse.net) showed its W2P offering for the first time at Graph Expo. The company's QPrint Pro suite includes the Storefront module for branded B2B and B2C portals and E-Designer, an online editing environment for creating and managing templates and original print documents. At the show, the company announced E-Designer integration with Metrix planning and imposition software from Australian developer LithoTecnics. A new module, QPrint E-Photobook, can be added to existing QPrint Pro sites or deployed separately. The QPrint customer base is currently about 80% SaaS and 20% installed.

WitPrint Technology (www.witprint.com) was also at the show for the first time. The developer offers an extensive array of cloud-based applications for printing businesses, including product selection and ordering, pricing, simple design and order fulfillment. It also provides file upload, preflighting, proofing and final delivery of press-ready PDF files. Curiously, the service is currently an installed system, not SaaS, although a hosted option is under consideration. The company is actively seeking a North American reseller channel.