Why Web-To-Print Needs Integration and Automation to Succeed

Why Web-To-Print Needs Integration and Automation to Succeed

Most of the essential production and management information relating to any print job has to be defined at the ordering stage, however the order is taken. This includes pagination or size, number and type of inks, substrate, finishing, quantity, delivery and/or installation and billing addresses or pre-payment options.

A correctly configured and integrated W2P system can ensure that all this information is both collected at the point of order and passed on. Depending on the type of job, the customer may have to manually enter much of it, or may be restricted to a few simple choices via drop-down menus; when planning a W2P portal, the development of the customer interface so that all the necessary production details are captured is an essential task.

Robust and automated pre-flighting is essential and soft-proofing will be needed for anything other than stock call-off. In established business-to-business relationships it may be possible to agree terms with customers for submitting ‘fit-for-purpose’ files, and cut out the approval step, by following the PDF/X standards, for example. This approach is also applicable to regular repeating work such as wide-format franchise or retail POS/display where format, inks, substrates and finishing processes conform to pre-defined templates.

However the job parameters are established, they must be passed on to other systems within the printing business. If the necessary information already exists in digital form and has been validated by the W2P software it’s most efficient to pass it on automatically. Doing this manually reduces productivity. Jobs that are potentially problematic – because of the customer’s credit history, for example, not only for production-related reasons – may not be identified and addressed in a timely manner; errors or further delays may occur if production and management data are mis-entered or omitted.

Different items of information need to be sent to one or more different destinations. Artwork files should go into the production workflow and job information to MIS (Management Information Systems) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. It may be useful to log the order in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system too.

The W2P software not only needs to send information to other systems but may need to be able to receive it from them too. This applies particularly to scheduling and status reporting, but may also include pricing, pre-flighting, soft-proofing review and approval functions, if those capabilities are not provided within the W2P software.

In the business-to-business context it’s likely that the customer’s shipping and billing details will already be held by the printer in an MIS, CRM or finance system and so can be filled in automatically, requiring only confirmation that they are still current.

To support template-based job creation, there may also need to be links into existing digital asset management (DAM) software to fetch templates and high resolution versions of stored images or other graphical elements, though in many cases the W2P portal in effect becomes the DAM system for template-based work. A further dimension to this, and one of growing importance, is the ability for a W2P portal to connect with free Cloud-based storage services such as DropBox, SkyDrive or GoogleDrive or to paid-for services such as box.net which offer more structured storage and transfer facilities.

A minimum requirement for a W2P portal is therefore the ability to pass digital data – including both artwork and production specifications – to other systems. One-way communication may be adequate for simple reprint or stock call-off work, but ideally a W2P system will be able to communicate bi-directionally to provide ‘live’ pricing and quoting, production turnaround times, job and shipping status information, as well as access to customers’ order history and other account information.

Further options could include the ability to generate email or SMS messages to customers to notify them when specific milestones are reached, such as finished work being ready for dispatch. The W2P portal should also be able to create or access digital ‘job bags’ so that there is a consistent reference for each job in all systems within the printer’s business and possibly beyond, if third-party shipping or installation services are used, for example.

The technical aspects and practicalities of how the integration and communication between print portals, MIS and production systems is achieved are discussed in a subsequent article in this series.