Building for the future

Barney Cox
Friday, September 12, 2008

As the nature of print has evolved, the background processes and systems, such as workflow tools and MIS, have also matured, reflecting the increasingly complex nature of the output. Never has it been more necessary to replace the blanket term 'pre-press' with the multi-channel friendly moniker 'pre-media' to describe the building blocks behind output that can just as easily include online delivery as it does the traditional printed page.

Print is developing from a commodity into a service. Print providers are becoming multimedia firms. And pre-media systems are evolving to satisfy the needs of more elaborate workflows, which need to deal just as competently with printed pages as data-driven internet offerings.

There was a time when customers would typically go to separate firms at the data, creative and production stages. Now there is a growing trend among clients to turn to a single firm to manage an end-to-end process. This could well include the use of personalised URLs (PURLs) or, increasingly, on a transpromo job that mixes marketing with bills, statements or other correspondence. It’s vital a printer has watertight pre-media systems to govern this process.

‘Pre-media’ used to refer to preflighting, running out a proof and producing a set of plates to get a file printed, but can now just as easily describe the management of a company’s customer communications, identifying an audience, cleansing data, selecting prospects and planning what media to use and how. The focus at the front end has moved from making PDFs printable to managing a multi-media campaign.

Increasingly the requisite functions are provided by a single system. Matthieu Bossan, Kodak GCG EAMER marketing director for enterprise solutions, says its pre-media workflow Prinergy is, in digital print applications at least, effectively a black box. Kodak and the other suppliers are developing their print production workflow products to address the nature of work that is not cost-effective if there is any human interaction prior to printing.

One of the big announcements at Drupa was HP’s launch of its digital print workflow suite SmartStream. The umbrella brand covers the digital front ends for its presses and third-party products from the likes of Creo and EskoArtwork for specific vertical markets and applications. Two developments within the SmartStream family highlight the move towards total automation. Firstly the digital front ends (DFEs), which were previously tied into a specific press, have been separated out to enable processing power to be upgraded to handle additional personalisation or presses as needed.

The second move was the launch of Smart-Stream Director, an overarching tool that incorporates web-to-print, personalisation and production management of pre-press, printing and post-press. Based on Press-sense iWay, Director highlights the way workflows bridge the divide between production and administration to enhance efficiency.
A technology roadmap is emerging that allows printers to gain the production and business skills step by step. The
move into digital production acts as a spur to an automated pre-press workflow, paving the way for web-to-print without operator intervention, and once a firm is happy in an online and automated environment, it has the foundations to move to cross-media.

Exstream’s Dialogue is another such high-end system. It has been geared toward large firms in sectors such as retail that have the scale and expertise to run their own multi-channel campaigns. Dialogue’s modules for campaign management can take data from a firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, target an offer by segmenting the audience by location or demographic on the fly and feed that data back to the CRM system.

Earlier this year, Exstream was bought by HP, which has put printers firmly in the line of sight by promoting Dialogue as a route into online and beyond into campaign management. We absolutely see printers providing these sort of services; it will be one of the key differentiators for them, says Exstream technical manager for Europe Chris Stobbs.

HP’s platform is now just beginning to enter the consciousness of the general print market, but for a vendor with a high industry profile and a large install base among digital printers, look no further than XMPie. UK sales and channel manager David Baldaro says customers that started with personalisation and then went into cross-media are moving up into campaign management, too. He adds he is in discussions about integrating XMPie with campaign management systems.
Our focus is to provide the tools to put a campaign together – the production, logic and execution, he says.

Kodak, on the other hand, sees potential in the sector, using Drupa to show Insite Campaign Manager, which it plans to launch early next year. Kodak’s Bossan says: It resonates with people who today need to go to someone else for data cleaning and web page design. It has made a big impact on people doing cross-media.

But breaking out of print into multi-channel offerings is not just about the software you need but also the skills to deliver a service. XMPie, for example, is working with XL HR to train customers in how to use its software, sell the service and recruit the right staff in the first place. Baldaro says: Cross-media is a new string to most businesses’ bows and it won’t automatically make things better. You need to invest in the skills to implement it before you install; you need designers, web developers and data experts.

Rather than take the plunge without testing the water, there are interim steps to let printers dip their toe into multi-channel production. ROI Software, which sells Xralle web-to-print, Pageflex cross-media and personalisation and MindFire campaign management tools, also provides a service based on its own products under the 360 brand. Professional services manager Simon Ellington, who runs 360, says the biggest problem for printers is a lack of knowledge and time to learn.

Some print firms are even using their greater data and campaign skills to carve out a niche supplying services to other printers. Companies such as Alpha-Graphics North East, the subject of this month’s Business Inspection feature, are offering a cross-media service to trade. By widening the scope beyond agencies, it can be possible for smaller printers to succeed in the redefined pre-media market and to use alternative channels as a stepping stone to higher-value services.

CDMS has its roots in print, but has moved further up the value chain to offer complete campaign management from data to delivery. The buzz is about integrated marketing solutions, says CDMS sales and marketing director Chris Brooks. The demand for the services never changes, it’s the way of satisfying it that does.

Brooks says the beauty of personalised URLs (PURLs) is that while in the past a direct mail piece may have got a 3% response, you would have no follow-up from the other 97%. A PURL shows you that you’ve successfully interacted even if the offer may be wrong, he says. You can get a dialogue going and re-engage the individual to find out what was wrong.

Having created additional customer data, it is natural to want to have one firm managing the process end to end to update the data held on the customer and to feed that into subsequent campaigns, or the next stage of the original campaign.

CDMS invested in Exstream’s Dialogue package to provide its cross-media production workflow. Dialogue combines customer data that CDMS has generated, images from its asset management system and uses design templates and campaign logic to create all the print, web and email materials needed including follow-ups to customer responses.

According to Brooks, CDMS invested in Dialogue because: As consumers become more tech savvy and environmentally aware, they will respond better to those organisations that communicate the right offer at the right time over their preferred channel. We can now focus on the cost per respondent rather than the traditional CPM (cost per mail pack).


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