It’s not that printers are control freaks or paranoid about sinister forces aligning to abscond with their precious data. There are legitimate concerns in placing your information, and ostensibly, that of your client, into a third-party provider’s hands. After all, you are accountable (and legally on the hook) for your customer’s information. In recent years, there have been highly conspicuous examples of huge data breaches.
The more sinister aspects of entrusting your information to a third-party provider is the potential to become locked into long-term relationships with vendors. As more and more information is entrusted to the Cloud, the easier it is to become locked into a particular vendor’s platform, integrating with other tools in that provider’s menu of offerings. It has the potential to take on Big Brother qualities; and at the very least, fosters a more monogamous relationship between printer and vendor.
“If you get your customers to put everything into the Cloud, you (as a vendor) now have incredible insight as to everything they’re doing,” notes Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies. “More critically, you’re now able to do predictive analysis on when somebody might be getting ready to need another system, or other things like maintenance issues.
“For example, I might be able to predict that within three days, at the rate you [the printer] have been going, your drum is going to fail. I’m going to make sure a spare drum is available, at your site, on the morning of day two. Or, I can see you’re having issues with your software; we’ll do an upgrade to solve that problem, predictively, and do it during a down time, which I can tell is Saturday morning.”
More Technologies in Cloud Sky
The number of Cloud-based applications is growing significantly in general, and was felt in the printing industry during the recent drupa exhibition. Ryan McAbee, associate director of Production Software Services at InfoTrends, noted a pair of trending developments in two areas. One was using the Cloud to aggregate big data from multiple users to produce analytics that printers can use to improve their own operational efficiencies. The second was a gaggle of production workflow solutions.
The analytics tools are intriguing. For example:
- Heidelberg offers analytics through its Smart Services.
- HP’s PrintOS has a feature called Print Beat, which uses historical and near real-time press data.
- Pitney Bowes showcased Clarity, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) inspired solution for inserting systems. It collects, integrates and organizes existing sensor data, job info and operator data from remote inserters to support real-time insight, predictive analytics and preventive maintenance. It uses the GE Predix Cloud-based big data and analytics platform.
- While it did not have an actual product, Kodak provided a technology demonstration (Kodak Analytics) that leveraged information coming through Prinergy and CTP devices.
“It really should ultimately get print service providers in a mindset of improving operations and give them access to information that they never had in the past,” McAbee says. “All of these offered some kind of component of benchmarking, being able to see how you’re doing — in real-time view — compared to other people with similar equipment. That knowledge is power, and in this case you can use it to pinpoint where you can improve.”
The challenge is in developing presentations that deliver aggregated data information in a way that can enable its audience (shop floor managers) to interpret the numbers and make any necessary changes based on the findings. As McAbee astutely observes, will the data make it into the right hands, and even then, can the user interpret the data in such a way that an appropriate plan of action can be devised?
“So the question is, when this gets in the hands of a printer, what are they going to do with it?” he poses. “My guess is there will be a second offering from the vendor, with business development services wrapped around it.”
McAbee finds the production workflow tools, from the point of being Cloud-based, a less compelling proposition. He feels there is not enough differentiation (read: value add) between on-site and Cloud-based solutions at this point. For printers outside of metropolitan areas, infrastructure in the form of fast Internet bandwidth may also limit Cloud adoption. The benefits, he says, haven’t been well positioned.
That said, the proliferation of Cloud-based solutions, from Web-to-print to color management, begins to act as a pull mechanism. The analytics tool, while not fully understood by the broader printing audience, has the potential to be a game-changer, McAbee adds.
A recent Salt Lake City installation took place at Hudson Printing, where CEO Paul Hudson implemented the HP PrintOS SaaS. The solution was chosen specifically for its SiteFlow sub product, according to Hudson.
“We are on-boarding a client with particularly complex book-of-one type work, for which we had very little existing infrastructure,” he explains. “SiteFlow was a perfect fit and allowed us to accept this customer’s work. The product functionality of SiteFlow is what drove the adoption of this particular Cloud-based service.”
PrintOS is just one of several Cloud-based services Hudson Printing is in the process of adopting. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride, as the printer did suffer a major setback courtesy of a Cloud-based MIS implementation failure. Hudson now feels more comfortable maintaining heavy use, core computing requirements such as MIS and prepress processing local while many ancillary functions — CRM, ecommerce, marketing automation, order aggregation and some order processing — have moved or will move to Cloud-based platforms.
The Integration Process
Hudson Printing has worked closely with HP during the implementation process, and Hudson himself has been pleased with the support that’s been provided. The printer has worked through some minor issues that have been handled, and integration into others systems has also been a process they’re enduring.
“So far, it appears we’ve chosen the right direction,” he says. “The result we expect is a very nearly fully-automated order and production workflow.
“Data security is always a factor. We have analyzed our exposure and feel comfortable. While all data is sensitive, the content of the data from this particular customer is not protected from a statutory sense (HIPPA, financial, etc).”