With the first of the live events for the year in the rearview mirror, a few typical talk tracks are emerging. One of the many that deserve consideration in the land of inkjet is web-to-print. It can be an enabler of high-volume production, but it can also become a bottleneck if not well implemented.
At both the June Imaging Network Group meeting in Denver and the July Inkjet Summit in Austin, there was talk of inkjet devices. The speed and agility of roll-fed solutions, either anticipated or currently installed, led to conversations about expanded capacity and how to fill it effectively. The central issue in many of these conversations wasn’t selling the work or the printing functions. The challenge was how to get work that is sold to the press efficiently. Having capacity is excellent, but the ability to use it is better! PSPs and in-plants see web-to-print as a great solution to meet deadlines and avoid rework.
If you are shaking your head and asking: “How hard can it be?” – I understand. You sell the work, you take the files from the customer, and you print… right? OK, that is too simple. We know there is more to it, but not everyone is clear on how to get work in the door reliably and accurately with the fewest touchpoints. Adding a web-to-print solution might not be the answer, and it can add touchpoints that cost you money!
We know from industry surveys that job onboarding is a common bottleneck, even when there is a web-to-print system in place. To be effective, the web-to-print system should be the system of record for every job that comes in, no matter how it is sold. It should have the ability for internal salespeople to use it to add their sales. The best systems permit customer-facing portals for customer self-service and purchase management and may even allow for consumer-facing public portals. The common element is how data about each job is captured.
A single job onboarding system that normalizes the information into a standard format ensures that all needed information is captured, and shares information with supporting systems is the goal. Whether you are looking at your first web-to-print solution or considering a change to a currently installed solution, activating a well-configured, robust web-to-print solution could unlock the capacity of your high-speed inkjet! But before you jump into the new or upgraded web-to-print pool, start with how you onboard jobs today.
Preparing for Web-to-Print
A web-to-print system is designed to capture job specifications and package them with the print asset for routing into the workflow. How is that done today? Even if you have a web-to-print solution, It may be less normalized than you want. Every salesperson may capture specifications in their own way, leaving the Customer Service Reps to figure out what they meant and if the work as defined is possible with the current equipment. Inbound orders may arrive through the web-to-print interface, email, fax, or phone call. The data in those orders needs to be normalized so that job tickets can be created, inventory can be checked, and jobs can be scheduled, which may be done by a team member. Perhaps more than one team member!
The best practice web-to-print implementation automates the capture of job specifications in a consistent way, verifies that the specifications can be executed in production, and confirms that the elements of the print package are available. That is the baseline. You may also want the web-to-print portal to capture payment or purchase orders. You may want to link it to a catalog of templates. You may want it to link to an online design tool. You do want it integrated into your business workflow, Print MIS, and ERP. You want to set it up with specific product templates, or you may want it to allow for full design flexibility. You want it to generate a JDF/JMF compatible job ticket to work seamlessly with the rest of your production workflow. When you have these elements, you have built the infrastructure to feed high-speed presses.
Even if you have done an assessment recently, do one that focuses on all the ways you capture new and recurring job information. Who gathers the information? Who confirms the specifications? How many people are involved? How many times does work stop because of missing information or incorrect information? Those last two are critical because high-speed inkjet presses do not like to sit idle. Find the bottlenecks and detours to draw a box around your requirements.
If you have a web-to-print implementation, especially one built in-house, review it against your requirements. If it is ticking all the boxes, fabulous! If it’s not meeting your needs, this is a good time to look for a path to your best solution.
If you are operating without a current web-to-print environment, you may be tempted to build it yourself. Consider carefully before you launch that project. When you build it, if it breaks, you must assign the resources to get it back up and running on top of your regular daily activities. Today, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of well-built, affordable web-to-print solutions available that are tested and have pedigrees. Before you start to build, talk to your hardware and software vendors to see what they have to offer and recommend. Your decision will cause changes in how you manage job onboarding which typically makes DIY a poor choice.
It is OK to “Crawl, Walk, Run” into web-to-print, but always start with a solid assessment of what you have. Build your expectation list and be honest with yourself and your vendors about your capabilities. Talk with your staff to see if they will embrace or work hard to find ways around it. In all cases, there is work ahead.
Come back next time, and we’ll look at more of the elements that should be part of your web-to-print considerations. Remember, there are a million questions in inkjet city! Have questions? Ping me on LinkedIn or drop a note.