By Melissa Donovan
Web to print (W2P) solutions are just one part of the print production workflow. Those able to integrate with additional elements of a digital print workflow—whether an ERP or MIS solution, RIP, CRM—are ideal for many businesses. Wide format print service providers (PSPs) realize that once complete, the efficiency of a fully automated shop is priceless, however the task of achieving full integration can be daunting.
While automation is preferred, certain shops only require standalone W2P. Ideally, this option offers the flexibility to grow into an integrated solution when the PSP is ready. To ensure this occurs, wide format PSPs need to do their homework when it comes to figuring out the best W2P solution for their business. Asking the right questions will ultimately lead to a system that is integral to their brand.
Above: Cyrious Online enables the set up of unique ordering websites for each customer. RedTie Template and RedTie Template Plus let users build products quickly and easily.
The Automated Benefits
There are clear cut advantages to implementing a W2P solution with cross-integration capabilities. Working together, from accounting, ordering, scheduling, and job setup to packaging and shipping, means that all of the information for a print project is in one interface. This saves time, decreases the possibility for error, enhances customer service, and frees up staff for other projects.
“Integration offers many benefits including automated sharing of information between systems. This not only saves time for the PSP internally, but also decreases rework and the errors associated with dual entry of information into multiple systems. Better visibility of order information in multiple systems allows for upsell opportunities and enhanced customer service,” explains Kristen Licursi, director of marketing, Cyrious Software.
Improving customer service with the help of an integrated W2P is what separates a successful print shop from a not-so-successful one. “It not only helps get new clients, but it also helps retain customers. Customer loyalty increases as they get used to ordering from a well-designed website. They can reference their old orders and estimates and reorder whenever they choose,” shares Usman Ali, principal, Ordant.
With an integrated solution, employees can shift their focus to other priorities that may make the business more money. “An order can become virtually hands off, allowing printing staff to concentrate on the custom work that is more time consuming,” says Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP, director of operations – the Americas, RedTie Group.
According to Bob Raus, category manager, workflow and partner programs, HP, Inc., automation of prepress, job submission, and production can be the difference between profitability and going out of business.
“At this point, providers who do not have a solution like this are at an extreme disadvantage. Service providers do not have to use all the features available. However, they need to have them available for customers and production, and they need to understand how to sell fully integrated solutions, rather than selling print,” agrees Wilson Zehr, CEO, Cendix Solutions.
Hesitation is common when it comes to automating any part of a workflow. The actual implementation, subsequent maintenance down the road, and its reliability make it difficult to commit to an integrated W2P system. Price point, lack of staff, and misunderstandings about the technology are also daunting to a PSP.
All of the above combined can immobilize a business owner, making them scared to pull the trigger. “PSPs may not know where to start or how to choose the best product. The implementation cost is usually high. They are afraid to destabilize their production,” explains Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and communication, Caldera.
Haylee Benton, business development, ShopVOX, believes that hesitation comes when software is a little too complex, confusing, and time consuming to set up. “Many business owners or managers worry about the time it will take to train staff and implement changes,” she admits.
“No matter how simple the simplest solution is, there is always plenty of time spent on research, development, and integration—not to mention training and troubleshooting. Most small print providers do not have the manpower to initiate such a solution and contracting it out to a third party organization can be dicey and costly,” advises David Conrad, director of sales and marketing, Mutoh America, Inc.
Specifically for wide format print providers, many are concerned that W2P solutions aren’t robust enough to handle their main offerings. “Hesitation from wide format printers to implement a W2P solution stems from knowing if W2P can support wide format jobs to begin with,” says Therese McGady, marketing associate, Aleyant.
Gil Newsom, operations manager, Rocketprint Software, LLC, shares that online quoting mechanisms are generally met with distrust. As wide format orders are typically complicated and customized, a W2P solution needs to be able to handle these easily—especially in a customer-facing interface with simple pricing options.
Flexibility to Stand Alone
While integrated W2P solutions are gaining in popularity, standalone options are still available. Not every PSP needs to have all of their solutions tied into one system. For many, the flexibility to take an existing W2P solution and down the road be able to integrate because it has the capability to do so is enough.
“From what I have heard from both prospects and customers alike, they like a separate W2P solution that can be easily integrated with other products because it gives them the flexibility of choosing a W2P system that offers the features they need, not the ones they are limited to as part and parcel of a complete, end-to-end solution,” shares Hurwitch.
If existing CRM, ERP, MIS, or RIPs are able to be integrated it makes sense to consider a W2P solution with integration capabilities. However, if none of those solutions exist, it would be easier and cheaper to begin with a standalone platform, according to Niro Barom, sales channel manager, B2CPrint. “Any small business or large corporation that is built with sub divisions could use a standalone platform for each division, or even an add-on feature to the main site, using a sub domain,” he suggests.
“Standalone systems have their place, particularly for those who want to roll their own, or may need multiple W2P solutions to cater to specific requirements of business to business (B2B) clients,” agrees Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing – commercial software, CTP, Agfa Graphics.
Standalone options are ideal for smaller shops, especially those looking to increase their online presence and attract new customers. “It depends on the business. Small shops just want print and ship capability and a simple back end that is easy to update and manage. Others want more advanced options and to streamline their workflow and print process including accounting, production, logistics, and billing,” says Conrad.
Starting with a standalone W2P system is a good stepping stone. Slava Apel, CEO, Amazing Print Tech, believes it can help dictate what other components will be needed when the time for further automation arises.
“A standalone solution can enable PSPs to offer customers much more flexibility and create new market and revenue opportunities in its own right,” adds Douglas Gibson, managing director, Infigo Software.
Research and Recommend
Wide format PSPs need to do their homework before committing to a W2P solution. Customer requests must be understood. Existing software and hardware need to be vetted—will they work with the W2P product you are considering? Look at the scalability of the program, will it meet future needs? Features specific to wide format must also be addressed.
“Take the time to step back and figure out exactly what it is you want to achieve with this software—are there certain products or services you want to focus on or that are more profitable to you? Shop around and don’t be fooled by the more is better fallacy of software features—focus on things right for your business and ignore all the bells and whistles that are not relevant to you,” advises Tony Tarpey, COO, SmartSoft Inc.
Licursi suggests keeping the main goal top of mind. “It is too easy to get lost in the details and attracted to shiny features when shopping for a solution.”
The customer will be the one using the W2P storefront, so it should be one that works for them. “A PSP should understand their customer and their customer’s needs, as well as how their products will fit into this new workflow solution,” suggests McGady.
“Test whether the online ordering system will be easy enough for everyone in your client’s organization to use. The whole point of setting up a B2B online ordering system for your customers is to make it easy for many employees in their organization to order the prints they need,” explains Ali.
“Always put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Customers want a user friendly, easy process for ordering that then needs to be matched in the production process in the back end. Ensure that you try the software out from many angles such as a business owner, manager, general staff, and customer,” shares Benton.
A new solution is only as good as the programs and hardware already in place. If the goal is integration, you need to ensure the systems play well together “Speak to your ERP, RIP, and MIS vendors to see what W2P tools they offer or recommend—but don’t limit your choices to them, since there are many others out there,” adds Gallucci.
“Ask your OEM equipment vendor for recommendations as the software from the W2P provider has to work with your wide format equipment,” shares Apel.
Scalability is also important, as it addresses long-term goals. “Print suppliers need to review what other industries they might be able to break into with a robust e-commerce solution,” according to Gibson. He provides the example of the personalized product industry, which is growing at an enormous rate. More businesses want to be able to offer all kinds of unique personalized products. “So wide format printers can broaden their business with a solution that enables them to offer on demand customization and personalization, opening up a whole new industry and revenue stream,” states Gibson.
For wide format, it’s important to research options that offer features tailored to the industry. “Strongly consider the ability to quote wide format products online for your users. If your W2P solution doesn’t quote wide format products online, there is no point in having it for your company,” notes Newsom.
Artwork resolution is another area of concern for wide format print providers. Gibson says PSPs should ensure that per product resolution checking can be done as part of the ordering process.
“The best homework is to pick a few sites that sell wide format products and try to figure out what they are using. If you cannot figure out the platforms that those websites are using look for a few vendors that are mentioned in magazines, awards, trade shows, and user groups. Talk to at least three vendors before making your decision,” recommends Apel.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, Reuben James Ben Quesus, director of business development, Racad Tech Inc., advises all PSPs ask W2P vendors specific questions. How long have they been in business? What advancements have they undertaken since then? Are there any open source offerings? What about customization? Do they integrate with third party systems? Are sample or demonstration sites available? What are pricing options? How is support responsiveness?
Wide format PSPs need to conduct due diligence before implementing a W2P solution. While integrated solutions are ideal thanks to their automation capabilities, standalone options are also used depending on the shop’s needs.
In either case, a properly implemented W2P solution acts as an extension of your brick-and-mortar business. “Your W2P shop can become a brand ambassador for your business and a growth engine—be sure to investigate the many solutions available in order to select the best fit for your business and your clients,” concludes Gallucci.
Jan2018, Digital Output