by Zhenya Dean, Business Analyst, Enfocus
A print service provider’s management information system is the brains of the operation; literally. Every brain is best used when the information is current and accurate and shared. An MIS is best served when it is fully integrated. Business and production systems communicating in a bidirectional data flow is the making of a proper MIS implementation. Communication is generally achieved by exchanging XML, JDF, or JSON.
Depending on which subsystems and devices are capable of handling data packets (XML, JDF, JSON), integrating MIS with production can lead to some challenges. Manually re-entering data to update job status introduces an opportunity for error. In some workflow environments, integrations will need to be accomplished with automation software that fills in the gaps.
It’s called web to print because it refers to both parts of the process. It’s not just a storefront. W2P is providing a means for customers to order print online and delivering those orders, with job instructions, to production. The order data is far more than customer details. It is enough job specifications to produce the order. Offering static items for print is simplest to implement downstream, but could add up to a lot of setup time. Providing a means for customers to supply their own files takes some workload away from setting up a product catalog, but it can lead to complications related to file delivery.
Ideally, file uploads would go through a preflight as they are submitted. There shouldn’t be any delay in customers finding out if their files are ready to print. This feature isn’t always part of a web to print system. Softproofing as well, should be part of the customer experience that happens automatically. That is asking a lot from an off-the-shelf web to print solution.
There are some solutions available for print service providers that either deliver both storefront and business processes, or they closely integrate with a partner to create a packaged suite. These packages are very effective, and printers will certainly see a return on their investment. But the W2P-MIS combination needs to communicate with production. Job tickets and status updates should also be automated and digital. The workflow should be aware of and communicating with all the systems and devices involved in production.
Lights out print shops can seem like more of an idea than a practical reality. That doesn’t mean that striving to automate a complete workflow is fruitless. It can take years to get from a manual environment to a mostly automated shop. It’s a bit over-achieving to expect an overnight transition. Developing an automated business takes time, beginning with planning and executing integrations to reach milestones.
It is certainly possible with today’s technology to put together hand-picked software solutions to automate a business from orders to print to shipping. All aspects of a print service provider business can be automated such as job onboarding from a webstore, job creation in MIS, preflight, soft proofing, release to production and routing, integration with imposition, delivery to output, and integration with finishing and shipping. There are also software options to unify all of these processes. For instance, Enfocus Switch is an excellent workflow development platform.
Making a decision about where to invest in automation can be overwhelming. Get demonstrations, but ask vendors to use familiar job files and scenarios to demonstrate how their solution will work. Ask for trials of software. Get the employees who will be using the software to find shortcomings. They know what challenges production faces and will quickly know if a certain solution will do the job. The nature of how print shops work sets the scene for which piece of technology will be best for them. There is no substitute for hands-on discovery.
Ask tough questions. Get the right answers. Invest in what is best for the business’s methods and in one that will allow for familiarity as well as growth.