By Melissa Donovan
Automating processes for employees and customers is win-win, which is why savvy print service providers (PSPs) are aware of—or implementing—automation software.
Workflow solutions encompass every part of the print lifecycle. Web to print (W2P) is part of this much bigger puzzle, as systems integrators work to tie flexible W2P platforms into existing software solutions. When employed correctly, W2P drives efficiency and optimizes production in a print shop.
Above: RedTie offers an XML editor for sending information to other software, such as an MIS. It also provides a collection of API for more involved two-way automation requirements.
W2P is an important part of the workflow equation. It fuels the beginning of an automated process by onboarding the customer into an efficient system right out of the gate with online ordering.
“W2P is the first step in the digital journey,” according to Carissa Smith, North American marketing, Infigo. “It’s the initial point in which a customer connects with the order. While automated solutions to streamline prepress and production efforts are necessary, manually taking and entering orders into an MIS system becomes a heavy lift. By providing a platform to digitally take orders and allow customers to be in control of viewing and approving products, and checking their order status, maximum efficiency is achieved with fewer errors.”
Simply put, as W2P ecommerce systems automate order entry and job submission processes, they “give customers the ability to order on their time, providing convenience while alleviating that manual touchpoint from your staff,” explains Therese McGady, marketing manager, Aleyant.
“Optimizing production is about process automation. Using a W2P platform can collect the order details efficiently and accurately allowing it to move through the print shop’s workflow to have it produced with little to no errors in a timely manner. Once an order is confirmed online or offline by the end users, the software can process the order per the product workflow rules and flow setup. This can provide everything from customer communication, order approval, order updates, proofing, pricing, and quotes,” shares Naresh Bordia, VP business development, Radixweb, OnPrintShop.
When implemented properly, “end users will often feel W2P is a completely automated process where they can input and maintain their details; create, approve, and pay for their print orders; and finally track those orders as they work their way through the print shop until they are delivered,” notes Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP operations, the Americas, RedTie Inc.
A streamlined ordering system ensures customers remain customers. “One of the most effective W2P strategies is to make sure ordering from you is easier and offers more benefits to the buyer than from another print vendor,” adds McGady.
One way to do this is integrating a PSP’s W2P system with a customer’s procurement system—making the PSP the preferred print vendor. McGady notes that many corporate accounts utilize procure systems or “punchout procurement” and all of the items that the company’s employees can order in the storefront are referred to as a “punchout catalog”.
“If you want the company’s print and any related business, integrating your W2P software with their procurement system can benefit their employees, their management, and you. With a W2P integration like this, you represent a frictionless transaction,” says McGady.
Automatically logged in using single sign on, employees don’t need to create an account or remember a password. Integrating W2P with a procurement system means the customer is more likely to order from you rather than another vendor. Another advantage is the order information including items ordered, cost, purchase order, chargeback, and cost center numbers are tied into a customer’s system. Their management does not need to get the data from you, nor do you need to spend time gathering it for them, continues McGady.
Significans Automation is an integrator of software and processes for the printing and packaging space. The company upholds software neutrality as it believes in assisting customers with finding the best solutions to fit their application needs, cultural needs, resources, and budgets. “In the last few years we’ve experienced a surge in W2P connectivity projects whereby we find ourselves integrating a set manufacturer’s W2P or web to packaging (W2Pack) solution with workflow automation and peripheral/auxiliary business systems through to output and shipping in a number of businesses,” states Marc Raad, president, Significans Automation.
“Any print shop will need a W2P that is flexible enough to be integrated into their internal workflow for end-to-end automation to drive efficiency and optimize production. W2P plays a very important role in helping print companies achieve this, especially in an era where printers are struggling with labor shortages and order quantities decreasing,” explains Bordia.
W2P extends a PSP’s reach. “It opens up opportunity beyond geographical boundaries. This market has to be carefully planned as it has the ability to unlock vast new markets. The volume can be great, but the overall dollar per job tends to be smaller. You cannot treat these jobs with the same workflow, you need to automate and drive out all of the manual touches,” advises Leland Morgan, business unit manager North America, Durst Software Solutions.
Another example of extention of reach is profiting 24/7, 365 days a year. “W2P is available 24/7, allowing customers to order when they want to. Availability via the web and around the clock opens an additional sales channel, increasing sales and productivity,” adds Smith.
Open Source Availability
W2P solutions benefit from being open source. The source code is able to edited and customized and/or it features integration capabilities. A solution able to integrate with a procurement system or offer flexibility with existing workflow solutions is a great way to work closely with a customer and retain the majority of their print business.
“Integration is critical for a fully automated workflow. If one system does not ‘talk’ to the other, a manual task must be initiated somewhere within the workflow. This doesn’t just slow down the process, it creates an open door for errors,” explains Smith.
With market and customer needs changing quickly, Bordia notes that no one W2P system can achieve everything, which is why a PSP should turn to a solution that is open and flexible.
“No two print providers are the same. Differing requirements for W2P features and incumbent systems necessitates the need for flexibility in integration capabilities. It is important to account for potential limitations in third party systems by providing multiple options for automating the flow of information,” shares Josh Perkins, director of product management, Avanti Computer Systems Ltd.
While we don’t have a crystal ball to glimpse into the future, it is a foregone conclusion that if you invest in any type of workflow solution, it’s nice to know it offers a form of scalability as you grow your company. “Open source is so important because you want your W2P to easily connect with any integration now or in the future. Every print business has unique needs for their print workflow—so having the ability to have choices with an open source system is a huge advantage,” attests McGady.
Hurwitch cautions that “open source is rarely an indicator of how easy it is to integrate with other software.” Access to the source code is what she refers to as a “double-edge sword,” with the flexibility to make changes but requiring a developer familiar with the language and software.
“What works best for most companies is that the W2P software has flexible integration potential, through API, Json, or XML, for example. The technical know-how is vastly reduced and with certain suppliers you can get more complex work done by code developers,” says Hurwitch.
Raad seconds Hurwitch. Explaining that in his experience, “a number of customers acquire W2P/W2Pack solutions assuming that integration is easy or can be accomplished by the W2P/W2Pack or even DIY project, however, experience and expertise are often required that falls beyond either of the aforementioned parties.”
Morgan adds that while open source makes integration between W2P solutions and centralized workflow a possibility, it is not a reason to replace your entire technology stack. “It might be part of an overall goal—but adding a new software tool should not force you to replace everything at once.”
Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc., admits that there are many interactions to consider when evaluating W2P solutions. “One of these could be how it interacts with print production solutions. The ability to automatically parse through order data could drastically reduce the time needed for production compared to manual entry.”
Open Source Hesitation
Earlier iterations of open source solutions provided uncertainty. However, advancements in technology as well as safety and security allowed open source to become a more viable option.
“Ten years ago, I could have made the case for a single source platform due to the technology being new and not widely used. In today’s world of interconnectivity if you’re working with a partner that doesn’t want to integrate, or have the ability to integrate with other systems, you will end up painting yourself into a corner that will set you back and won’t leave you any room to grow or scale with your business,” admits Bordia.
On the other hand, open source isn’t for everyone, it depends on products and services offered, business size, and geography. “While some may need open source to connect different systems for their business needs, others may want to limit potential data loss in the translation from web order to print production. It comes down to how the PSP wants to establish their system to meet customers’ needs and internal business goals,” explains Rogers.
“Open source platforms are unstable. Selecting tried and tested, out-of-the-box solutions are simpler to implement if flexibility is not a requirement or when purchasing multiple products as a packaged solution,” suggests Perkins.
PSPs strive to meet customers’ needs more efficiently whether through hardware or software.
Flexible W2P solutions integrate with third party workflow and provide PSPs with additional means to reach customers outside of their geographic reach while minimizing manual touch points and addressing the ever poignant labor shortages by automating order processing.
Jan2023, Digital Output