Since the earliest days of computing, technology gurus have espoused a grand vision for a digitally interconnected future. The full potential of electronics and automation will only be realized if people and data are not kept captive in isolated systems, they’ve said. Making individual processes digital—or creating “islands of automation”—increases productivity, but is just the first step. Computer-integrated manufacturing is supposed to be the ultimate goal.

The manifestation of this concept can be seen in the progression from standalone computers to systems linked via local area networks (LANs), then wide area networks (WANs) and, ultimately, the Internet. Passing information digitally provides greater access, cuts down on communication errors and streamlines processing.

Within the graphic arts community, digital integration had been thought of mostly in terms of production workflows until recently. Now there’s starting to be more talk about linking production and business management systems as part of a database-driven operation. Various efforts to establish standards—such as ODBC (Open Database Connectivity), JDF (Job Definition Format) and XML (eXtensible Markup Language)—are helping to enable the passing of data to/from various system components.

The Digital Connection

The Internet is adding impetus to this integration effort because of the potential gains seen in Web-enabled interactions with customers. Digitally linking computer management/information systems (CMS/IS) with Internet interfaces (e-production/e-commerce) can improve customer service and facilitate job processing. Through private efforts like printCafe and the PrintTalk cooperative program, business management system and e-commerce companies are working to make this happen.

The range of integration options being developed means printers can choose a turnkey solution or build a customized solution to meet their individual needs and those of their customers.

Von Hoffmann Corp. in St. Louis is turning to the Web to better serve its book publisher clientele, with a focus on the education market. As it happens, one of Von Hoffmann’s clients got it involved in a project that has become the core of its Web-enabled services program, reports Duane Green, vice president of information systems.

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