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JDF Update -- Fulfilling the Promise

March 2004
By Margaret Motamed

There has been much recent discussion in our industry relative to the progress of the JDF initiative and the impact it might have on the future of printing. As CIP4's chief marketing officer, the worldwide standards body responsible for developing and testing JDF and PPF, my challenge has been to increase the visibility and awareness of not only JDF, but of all of the activities being undertaken by CIP4 to promote computer-based integration of processes within the graphic arts industry.

The printing industry has been slow to adopt the principles of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), which have been in use for some time in most of the rest of the manufacturing industry. Perhaps because we are a custom manufacturing industry, we feel automation is problematic, unlike manufacturing such items as food products, apparel and automobiles.

A further complication has been the lack of consistent communication standards in a multi-vendor environment that would allow disparate systems to easily talk with each other as a job is being processed. Unfortunately, we cannot allow these issues to hold us back from adoption of automation any longer. We simply can't afford to do things the way they've always been done and still stay competitive—and profitable.

InterOperability Testing

As the standards body behind JDF, CIP4 is responsible for testing the viability of both the standard itself, and of vendor implementations of the standard. To that end, CIP4 hosts periodic JDF InterOps, which is shorthand for our interoperability testing process. We have held three InterOps since May of 2003, and it is exciting to see the progress that is being made.

InterOps are open to any CIP4 member. In preparation for the event, vendors apply to have their products tested. Based on those applications, product pairs are identified for testing. These pairs are identified based on input/output relationships; that is, as part of the workflow, each product accepts an input from some other product, and creates an output that is delivered as an input to yet another product. An example is shown in the above graphic.

When pairs test successfully, it means that the JDF instructions used by these two products conform to the JDF standard. In other words, there has been successful communication of information about a job from one step of the process to the next in a multi-vendor scenario.

While we have not been able to test all identified product pairs at each InterOp, what is extremely exciting is the growth in vendor participation, the number of products submitted and the number of pairs identified during the three InterOps sessions we have held in 2003.

And we have been able to increase the number of pairs tested in each successive session as we—CIP4 and the vendors—gain more experience with the process, increasing the number of successful pairs, as well. Notably, we were able to test more pairs in the latter sessions because so much more is now working. The graphic on the right is a summary of the JDF InterOps results to date. We plan to hold at least three more sessions during 2004.

What does this all mean for the graphic arts industry? JDF doesn't stand alone; it is a stepping stone to full computer-integrated manufacturing in printing. But beyond the technological advantages of JDF is a critical business advantage.

JDF can drive increased customer satisfaction for the print service provider. Increasing profits is not always about cutting costs. Most printers would agree that if they could increase the amount of business flowing into the firm, driving up revenues while utilizing the same fixed cost base, the result would be an increase in profits. With its full implementation, JDF can help increase customer satisfaction and increase business volume.

The automation offered by JDF-enabled products presents the print service provider with a better view, for example, of when a job will be completed, improving the ability to comply with promised due dates. Thus, it is important to think about JDF not only in terms of automation or cutting costs, but also in terms of its ability to make customers happier by improving service, reducing costs and decreasing turnaround times. But that's not all.

With JDF, graphic arts service providers are able to extend an automated communications capability directly to the customer, increasing the ability to implement a self-service model. While human interaction and relationships will always be important in a service business such as ours, customers increasingly want to take advantage of the Internet at a time and from a location that is most convenient to them. This includes such capabilities as viewing online proofs, checking job status, entering orders, uploading files and accessing activity reports.

With a fully implemented cross-vendor JDF-enabled workflow, customers can even assess the viability of a job prior to submitting it: Will the design result in the job being too expensive, too time-consuming? These are the types of things that often inform the buying decisions for a savvy buyer. To the extent an effective self-service model is utilized, productivity is enhanced for both the customer and the service provider. The result is improved cash flow and job throughput for the service provider, and improved customer convenience.

It will also result in higher customer retention rates. Of course, the service provider can still choose to filter information as appropriate. But as the traditional separation between customer interfaces and the production operation begins to erode, the entire process can become much more customer-oriented, and much more convenient for all parties to use.

In a nutshell, JDF brings the notion of computer-based integration and automation to the printing industry, reducing bottlenecks and improving overall business practices. It also comprehends the need to produce customer communications in media other than print, helping customers make appropriate choices about what is—and what is not—printed, and placing the service provider in the position of managing an entire range of multimedia communications on behalf of the customer.

In a time when the printing industry is experiencing negligible growth and competition from other media, this functionality offers a logical way for graphic arts service providers to diversify their portfolio of services, experiencing growth despite the pressures on print.

Come to the JDF Parc

CIP4 will have a key role as well as a key booth, the JDF Parc, at Drupa 2004, which many people are calling the "JDF Drupa." CIP4 members have been overwhelming in extending their support to make this possible. The JDF Parc will be comprised of 18 pods, each pod occupied by a different vendor showing from one to four applications.

When you enter the JDF Parc, you will choose from one of six different workflows, each ultimately producing the same print job. This means that rather than vendors operating in pairs, they will be simultaneously interacting with at least six different vendors in multiple workflows to demonstrate interoperability—making this a much more realistic JDF demonstration than simple pair interaction.

Based on the selected workflow, you will be provided with a job ticket and a job ticket ID that will act as your guide for navigating the booth. This will provide you with the opportunity to follow a job through its entire workflow, end to end, viewing JDF in action. We will also incorporate a presentation area that will allow CIP4 members (vendors, consultants, early adopters and other industry groups) to make educational presentations on their JDF implementation plans and achievements.

In preparation for this much more complex simulation, CIP4 was scheduled to hold its next InterOp at the end of February (just a few weeks before Drupa) in Zofingen, Switzerland. In past InterOps, vendor participants have brought their own JDF tickets to test.

In February, participants were planning to use CIP4-created job tickets. Following this InterOp, vendors will be able to correct any identified problems and, more than likely, we will hold one more InterOp prior to Drupa—a virtual InterOp conducted over the Web—just to make sure everything is in place.

We don't have the space within JDF Parc to actually print the applications, but preprinted samples will be available, and visitors will be able to closely follow the progress of "their" job through the entire process.

In conclusion, 2004 will truly be the Year of JDF. Products—both hardware and software—from a wide array of suppliers will be JDF enabled, tested and certified to interoperate. As these products begin to make their way into the print production environment, service providers—and their customers—will begin to reap the benefits. And CIM will become a reality in the world of print.

Our world is changing, and we must change with it. JDF is one of the key enablers that will facilitate that change, resulting in a stronger, nimbler, more responsive graphic arts industry than ever before.

About the Author

Margaret Motamed is the director of product planning for EFI, a global provider of digital imaging and print management solutions for the commercial and enterprise markets. She also serves as the chief marketing officer for CIP4, an international standards body whose purpose is to encourage computer-based integration of all processes. The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress (CIP4) is the successor of CIP3, which started in 1995. (www.cip4.org)
 

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