By Melissa Donovan
Workflow software is increasingly offered in the cloud as a user-friendly method for print service providers (PSPs) to create an efficient, streamlined workplace. While the cloud is beneficial for a number of reasons—availability, cost savings, ease of maintenance, and management—specific features make it ideal for wide format print shops.
Customer-facing tools such as file uploading, job layout, and proofing are attractive options for PSPs considering expanding their client base while integrating online ordering options. On the backend, job management functions like tracking a project from beginning to end, estimating, and collaborating between peers are important to consider.
While an end-to-end workflow isn’t necessarily any easier to implement when created on the cloud, it does have its own merits, specifically for those PSPs scattered in separate geographical areas. Today’s solutions make it easier to connect between different vendors thanks to open APIs and data exchange.
Software vendors and suppliers promote the cloud in their own individual ways while addressing other trending factors in workflow from open communication to automation. The cloud is simply another hosting platform and workflow software benefits from the collaboration capabilities it offers.
Workflow benefits from the cloud. Convenience, availability, cost, and maintenance are attractive features. “Cloud-based workflow is made for the way people work today, and increasingly the way business is conducted today,” admits Steve Ciesemier, direct sales manager, Aleyant Systems, LLC.
In a world that may feel like it is shrinking, there is still a need for travel. The cloud enables brand owners, printer operators, and executives to review important jobs as if they were on location in the shop. “This level of connectivity allows business owners and operators to have constant, on demand access to their business operations and processes,” explains JP Hunt, partner, InkSoft.
The cloud presents different expenses. Upfront costs like an initial capital investment are decreased and even in certain instances eliminated. The investment in getting the solution up and running and then maintaining that system is often nominal.
According to Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP – director of operations, the Americas, RedTie, Inc., “cloud storage is a fraction of the cost of maintaining onsite storage and requires far less local technical expertise. In addition, backup/recovery protocols are less costly and easier to maintain.”
“You eliminate the budget requirement, operational costs, and the resources to deploy, manage, and maintain the system,” agrees Graham Blanks, director, business operations North America, Dalim Software GmbH.
Maintenance is not only less expensive, but the cloud generally offers fewer opportunities for system failure. Security is enhanced with Web-based applications. “Most viruses and malware attack and exploit physical hardware like local servers and computers. Cloud applications have additional layers of protection such as firewalls, automated backups, and redundancy,” says Hunt.
“One of the benefits of managing your software in the cloud is less chance of an outage. A team of people work behind the scenes to ensure that the system continues to run smoothly and without any interruptions. This also means that the response time is much faster when you need to get in touch with the IT team,” agrees Usman Ali, principal, Ordant.
Another important aspect of maintenance is keeping up to date with product licensing. “PSPs struggle with hardware license dongles that get damaged, stolen, or become outdated, which can be costly to replace. With cloud-based licensing PSPs eliminate these risks and costs and can more easily scale their production workflow and receive software upgrades,” explains Dean Derhak, product director, SA International (SAi).
Kevin Kennington, business development, ShopVox, suggests that, “the cloud is an immediate way to get answers, respond to customers, and see the big picture. That is the real value. The other aspects such as IT and hardware costs are certainly warranted and matter more on large scale operations than they do for the typical graphic company.”
The Wide Aspect
Specific features of a cloud-based workflow appeal to wide format. Of note are customer facing tools like digital storefronts that offer online ordering, file upload, and proofing. Cloud-based solutions can be specifically customized to handle the unique needs of a large format print order, for both the customer and PSP.
“Aspects of workflow that are quickly migrating to the cloud are those that involve customer interactions, such as proofing and online ordering. Print buyers are increasingly comfortable with using email and other Web technologies in their businesses and expect this kind of interaction with PSPs,” shares Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
Kristen Simmons, marketing director, Cyrious Software, agrees. “Cloud connectivity is extending the capabilities of end-to-end workflow solutions to include customer facing tools for online artwork design, online ordering, and job approval. Each of these improves the level of service that PSPs can provide their customers.”
For example, file upload with preflight can alert the customer to potential problems before the job is delivered to the printer, says Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, commercial software, North America, Agfa Graphics. This eliminates unnecessary rework for both the client and print operator.
Stephen McWilliam, EVP, Avanti Systems, suggests that since large format work takes on such a unique perspective, a cloud-based workflow is ideal because it can be tailored to accommodate the specific needs of any large format print shop. This enables estimates and associated costs to be easily calculated, benefitting both the customer and the PSP.
“Jobs are frequently tiled, which requires breaking the image into multiple elements, produced on a variety of substrates, and with a multitude of finishing options. Printers must take into consideration unique imposition/layouts, material requirements, edge sealing, grommet placement, ink coverage, square inch/feet calculations, and substrate utilized to optimize workflow,” continues McWilliam.
Each one of these components can be combined in an infinite number of unique print jobs, with each differentiating factor triggering a separate cost. Asking for grommets plus sewing, an additional charge. In the cloud, all of these options can be contained into one pricing matrix.
“By having everything centralized, such as pricing, you can create any product you want and simply associate the new product to a pre-existing pricing matrix. There is no need to re-input the pricing. With a cloud system, you need only to turn on and off the setting that allows the PSP to activate the required technology,” explains Reuben Quesus, director of business development, Racad Tech, Inc.
Internally, a print shop’s staff benefits from file uploads and approvals generated from the cloud. “It sounds trite, but print providers spend significant time during the day checking FTP servers, emails, and attachments—where files often end up in spam folders as well,” admits Bart Fret, director of sales – large format, Americas, GMG Color.
Other features that are beneficial to staff more than the customer include the ability to track a project or job from order submittal to fulfillment. “To lose a project in a pile of papers is unacceptable in this technological age, you need to have the ability to see every project and where it is in the process,” says Aaron Clippinger, CEO, V Sign Software.
Collaboration is necessary in today’s business world and for those staff members dispersed geographically, the cloud simplifies revisions and the possibility for error. “The PSP may have one location producing the job while additional employees work in the field. Similarly, their customers may have several locations of their own business that need to place, approve, and oversee orders,” suggests Simmons.
“A collaborative dynamic job board where all shop team members can directly update the jobs they are responsible for and keep those jobs up to date as they move through production is ideal. Following this approach, a job status is more up to date and that status is viewable anywhere the user is on either mobile phones or desktop computers,” adds David Rudolph, founder, Pixta, Inc.
Referring to data collection and sharing, Eric Hall, CEO, CASper Eazynet Solutions, Inc., sees collaboration between all parts of an organization as an overwhelming trend. This includes project managers sharing job overviews, production managers sharing shop floor updates, employee time card input, payroll review, job costing, and control of materials used. “Forms, documents, sign offs, spreadsheets—whatever information is required—needs to be available for sharing as needed,” he says.
While not a requirement, the cloud can make it simpler to implement an integrated, end-to-end workflow solution that includes tools like estimating, color management, job tracking, and proofing all rolled into one. “It makes it easier when there are multi-sites and different people that need to access features or information from a distance,” admits Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and communication, Caldera.
Historically, the commercial print space has successfully integrated management and workflow systems and implemented them as Software as a Service (SaaS). Many being single-vendor modular systems that handle all functions, shares Gallucci. “As services move to the cloud, they become more affordable for smaller shops. There are more opportunities for integrating systems from a variety of vendors, via open APIs and data exchange using XML and JDF,” he continues.
Carina Karlsson, CEO, arifiQ Development, agrees that the cloud has been very important in the development of API. “This directly makes it easier to implement any integrated software. It demands a more open architecture that gives new possibilities to link different software together.”
“Solving the communication issues between unique proprietary software solutions has always been—and probably will always remain—a significant technical hurdle. SaaS-based products offer a seamless transition through all critical areas of a workflow and remove the challenge of maintaining and supporting various proprietary systems,” cautions Hurwitch.
The actual implementation of an end-to-end workflow benefits from the cloud. “The cloud allows for pin point training, accurately reflecting the goals of an organization. Specific implementation plans are developed and processed through the cloud. Individual and group training is enhanced by clear company-specific processes presented visually end to end,” explains Hall.
Larry Moore, VP – partner programs, North America, Esko, argues that while there have been great strides in cloud-based applications, there isn’t one complete offering that addresses all aspects of an end-to-end workflow. “In fact, the applications that are considered cloud-based are really cloud interactive. Yes, there are products like digital storefronts. They are very good but in some manner they have to interact with a ground-based solution to be able to take the graphics file and apply the parameters from the cloud product.”
The Cloud Campaign
Vendors promote workflow in the cloud. In doing so, they bolster the message that a cloud-based workflow can be beneficial to a wide format print shop.
Aleyant highlights cloud-based workflow opportunities in every demonstration it gives, specifically displaying how the solutions play well with others. Free informational webinars show how jobs can flow between other vendors’ systems.
Caldera promotes prepress and organizational features and how they are best served in the cloud. This includes file submission, preflight of PDF files, and production monitoring.
“Workflow in the cloud is one tool. Whether or not Cyrious recommends it to a given PSP depends on their specific needs. During our initial conversations, we determine what their critical needs are and how their operation is configured,” shares Simmons.
Dalim encourages companies to leverage the cloud as a way to provide different solutions to their clients. “It is a lot easier because software is maturing and propelling us to provide non-proprietary Web-based solutions along with mobile applications to lower the technical barrier,” admits Blanks.
“One of the big advantages we already associate with digital is the ability to have real time or near real time production information capabilities available remotely via mobile devices,” says Mike Wozny, senior product manager, EFI. As such, EFI addresses that need from its VUTEk HS 100, HSr, and HS 125 Pro series customers with VUTEk Go. The remote monitoring application streamlines high-volume printing with real-time mobile print queue and press status monitoring.
“We like to focus on efficiencies. Just like any part of the workflow, you try to focus on how much print providers are spending on certain activities—like sending emails back and forth and checking FTP servers all day. We highlight these portions of their daily work and show how it can be better and faster,” explains GMG’s Fret.
InkSoft released its InkSoft Signs & Banners to show its dedication to Web-based applications. It is a 100 percent cloud-based ecommerce and workflow management solution designed specifically for sign business’ unique needs.
To promote the concept of the cloud in production workflow, SAi developed its mobile and smartphone applications that specifically target owners of print shops. “Since they are the key decision makers, giving them direct benefits of cloud-enabled workflow helps promote the cloud and raise interest in the technology,” adds Derhak.
“Our approach is to facilitate an open system where customers can integrate and automate all aspects of their workflow. We use cloud technologies to enable integration with solutions such as W2P and order tracking systems,” shares Onyx’s Manwaring.
Besides the cloud, other trends occur in workflow. A commonality is the need to meet demand for faster turnaround times at competitive prices.
Open communication is one hot topic. This is requested in regards to workflow solutions incorporating multiple printers from different manufacturers in addition to enabling software between vendors to talk to each other.
“Systems like these increase efficiency by reducing operator time working with files, and increase reliability and quality by using one renderer to color manage, RIP, and feed all devices,” explains Gallucci.
“It means more work can be done without increasing staff and jobs can be turned faster,” agrees Ciesemier.
These results play into two of the biggest trends Darrian Young, CEO, Tucanna, Inc., has noticed. “Print buyers are requiring faster turnaround times. Maintaining a competitive price is essential. Companies that fail to make their workflows more efficient in order to meet the tighter timelines and cost restraints have a hard time keeping up with their competitors,” he cautions.
Hanssens cites large format PSPs as requesting improvements in job tracking and being able to rely on real-time production information—both of which meet the demand of quicker turnaround times from customers while keeping costs down.
“PSPs are looking for ways to cut costs and reduce errors in the print shop and are looking for automation to help. Wide format printing is inherently complex and not always straightforward to automate,” admits Manwaring.
“New solutions should provide lower cost of administration by automizing the process both for the provider and the customer. The average print order value is getting lower and the number of orders is increasing. This makes administration overhead a bigger problem than ever,” suggests Karlsson.
Mark Smith, president/software developer, EstiMate Software, says PSPs finally realizing the need for automation in workflow is one of the biggest trends he has noticed. “Using software rather than pencil, paper, and pocket calculators to manage what is happening in quoting and production. This industry has been traditionally slower to adopt software solutions and now that the industry has come around it represents a great improvement in pricing and productivity.”
Service in the Cloud
While the cloud isn’t a fit for all PSPs, its benefits are summed up in improving collaboration between shop employees, peers, and customers. PSPs can manage files better thanks to the cloud. Efficiency in the backend of a shop allows print providers to cater to customers better and that translates to cost savings.
Mar2016, Digital Output