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Web-to-Print Portals Lead to Profits, Efficiencies

April 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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The technological laggards of society seem to be catching up and latching on to online ordering. Even for those who didn't own a personal computer until the first term of the Obama Administration, e-commerce is no longer a threatening proposition.

While there are still B2C users who will freak out at the inability to check out within three clicks, and those who feel uneasy when confronted by a nonlinear process, online commerce has never been more widely embraced. But, as the comfort level has raised, so have the user's expectation levels.

In the B2B space, where actions are much less dictated by emotions, purveyors of Web-to-print (W2P) ordering systems nonetheless must contend with perception when it comes to ease of use, notes Jim Rosenthal, vice president for Paradigm Digital Color Graphics in Southampton, PA.

Clients still want to be able to move orders off their desks within three to five clicks. By the same token, printers also want that level of simplicity, particularly when it comes to integration.

"If you have to swivel your chair between one computer and another to process orders, you haven't gained anything there," Rosenthal notes.

Ah, but W2P systems have come a long way, baby. While it burst on the scene as a source for printers to provide customers with sites for ordering business cards, stationery, post cards and the like—easily and on-demand without the need for clients to warehouse product—the needs have become more sophisticated. Inventory management and document production have become hot button areas for Paradigm Digital Color Graphics. On the latter count, clients can build a personalized document, proof it, select binding and paper types, then place their order.

"From an automation and integration standpoint, we're getting an order in the back end," Rosenthal says. "At the same time, we're also pushing a print-ready document to a device in a very hands-off approach. That capability wasn't there six or seven years ago."

Paradigm Digital Color Graphics relies on the EFI suite of W2P products, including Digital StoreFront and Online Print Solutions (OPS). Rosenthal is of the belief that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the fact his company adheres to that philosophy supports the notion that each product has its own strengths. And after all, it is a platform; what a printer can build around the W2P solution is the ultimate value, Rosenthal adds.

Supply Chain Management

As Paradigm Digital Color Graphics' business has grown, it has become more involved in mailing, fulfillment and kitting, among other services. Rosenthal believes supply chain management is one path to help expand upon the degree of work the printer does for a given client, and sees it as one of the bigger changes in recent years.

"We can tell clients that we already print 50 different items for them, but they have 300 items that they manage on a day-day basis," Rosenthal remarks. "We can control that inventory, we can store it for them, we can ship it, and make it easy for their regional offices to order. We can help them manage their brand."

It is also important that a system grow with the evolving needs of both the printer and its client. To that end, Rosenthal is a big fan of maintaining an interface that is fresh, robust and modern. With Flash going by the wayside, the use of HTML5 is more prevalent. Mobile-friendly systems are extremely important as more and more customers tote around their iPads or other tablet devices.

Dan Foster got in on the ground floor of W2P technology. He spent 13 years with Lincoln Printing, which was then part of the Consolidated Graphics (CGX) chain, and was introduced to it after CGX obtained Big Ink, which used a home-spun W2P solution. Thus, when Foster founded the company that would ultimately become Data Print USA in Fort Wayne, IN, he knew he wanted the firm to be all-digital, and use a W2P system that was affordable, easy to use and not restricting.

A user of EFI's OPS, Data Print USA has developed around 20 W2P sites for medical, banking, insurance, clothing, textile and recreational vehicle markets. In addition to the B2B sites, Data Print has ventured into consumer sites, including, which addresses marketing needs by vertical.

One of the drawbacks, especially in the case with early Website launches, was their lack of creativity. Brands were not readily apparent, and it was easy to identify the scaffolding of its construction. Customers, especially those whose brand identity is critical, require an interface that reflect its originality.

"We just picked up an insurance company that is doing a promotion with a well-known cartoon figure," Foster says. "We are branding the site exactly the way that they want it. They feel comfortable with it. So it's important for us to have the ability with our W2P technology to create multiple brands easily."

One of the beauties of using OPS, Foster says, is its flexibility. Users can take the off-the-shelf, simplified route to creating sites, or can drill down and develop more customized solutions. And, as client needs continue to evolve—particularly with modern touches such as personalized URLs and cross-media campaigns—OPS has "adopted them and married it into the product."

Committing to W2P, from the top down, is essential for printers to enjoy success in this area, Foster notes. Equally so, assigning the right staff members to quarterback installation and ongoing use is paramount. For companies that have not delved into W2P workflows, Foster recommends hiring educated, experienced personnel.

"You just can't grab someone out of the prepress department," he says. "You need to have the analytical thought process to make it work."

One of the most dynamic printing companies in the marketing space is Daytona Beach, FL-based DME, which has a storied history when it comes to online storefront platforms. Its first offering was OPS, but in recent months DME has cultivated its own custom W2P platform, which was released in January. The application features content management tools that allow DME to white-label the storefront for its customers.

Its DME Connect offering enables portal owners to (among other things) instantly proof and approve products on-screen in real time. To enhance automation on the printer-facing side, DME has developed a variety of modular components created in-house. DME's intelligent production network (IPN) is the heart of the back-end system, a standalone system wired into their new custom W2P application, notes Eric Remington, directory of technology solutions for DME.

"The nucleus of that system is the XMPie variable data composition engine, with which we're very familiar," Remington notes. "We've been successful in the past as a marketing service provider doing high-end automotive programs and a variety of complicated marketing initiatives and customer retention-type systems, using cross-media and the XMPie suite to deliver e-mails, PURLs and direct mail pieces in concert. Now, we're using our experience from a variable data pattern and automating around that system."

The need for automation to help drive jobs through the system could well be the basis for a platform that could be sold to other printers, according to Remington. Sales opportunities could develop, for example, by adding outside printers—those with offerings DME does not provide—to DME's IPN. "At that point, anybody who has a W2P portal can utilize that type of product," he adds. "The prerequisite is anything we can compose through XMPie is a candidate for that automation system."

Unveiling Consumer Applications

While DME had offered W2P for many years prior, its program truly took off about five years ago. Marketing budgets and traditional direct mail were beginning to shrink and, since DME relishes its cutting-edge philosophy, it decided to support other channels. In 2008, it debuted a pair of consumer niche products: one for personalized wrapping paper, another for wall clings (adhesive-backed, temporary cling-ons). A well-known insurance carrier bought into the cling-on concept for a line of business cards to take the place of refrigerator magnets.

According to Remington, DME has branded portals specific to personal events—birthdays, bar mitzvahs, communions, religious holidays—for the consumer. "We figured we could go after some of the SEO-specific terms to get a test market for Web-to-print," Remington remarks.

DME began doing business collateral as a B2B solution courtesy of its partnership with Office Depot, which was trying to complete a business portal for one of its customers, a multi-level communications company. The objective: create a secure portal to allow the sales reps to access their collateral (business cards, sell sheets) and have it printed at an Office Depot store or through its print network.

"We're supporting it as a service and transaction-based system, which gave us the idea of the Connect platform," Remington notes. "We can go software as a service (SaaS) or platform as a service to do Web-to-print, for our and other companies' needs, and build a network around that."

DME has about 30 W2P sites rolled out, 12 of which are geared toward retail. Five B2B sites have been rolled out on the new platform, with three in the implementation stage and seven on its legacy platform that will be moving over. Remington believes the commodity print and the variable data products helped lay the foundation for the offering, and he sees the next evolution in the platform being marketing-to-print—marketing-based retention programs or "drip" marketing programs.

In that scenario, users rely on the interface to manage a customer campaign through various marketing tools (e-mail, PURLs, direct mail) and set preferences on how and when the marketing recipient is engaged. A product such as XMPie's Circle campaign workflow speaks to the need, according to Remington.

"They're in that same mindset, the desire for the marketing world to automate all of the other things that we're doing, not just printed material," he says. "It's about effectively engaging your marketing campaigns and having systems that you can incorporate into making it easier." PI



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