Star product: Zaikio Print Connectivity Platform
Friday, December 18, 2020
Now backed up by Heidelberg’s considerable clout, this connectivity platform is intended to deliver where JDF has failed and enable plug-and-play communication between any print-related device.
What does Zaikio do?
Zaikio is a “print-specific connectivity platform,” intended to allow everyone in the print industry to link their systems together, whether printer, software vendor or supplier. End-users can access its connectivity for free, though they can buy compatible Zaikio or third-party products through an app store. According to Zaikio’s partner success manager Karl Ciz, who will handle UK enquiries, it will allow “print-related data to be shared on a level playing field for the first time”.
In simple terms, it’s an alternative to JDF that should allow user-level plug-and-play connectivity between systems from different manufacturers – JDF promised but never delivered plug-and-play.
Zaikio the company is based in Germany and was originally called Crispy Mountain. Its first product, an MIS called Keyline, was a Printweek Star Product in March 2019. Last year, Heidelberg took a majority share, which gives it more marketing clout, though the aim is for the connectivity to be vendor-neutral in practise, while additional shareholders may be sought.
When was it announced and when will it reach users?
Ciz says that “Zaikio is soft launching, but was officially announced by Heidelberg in July 2020. Anyone can sign up for an account today. It is still early days, but users can already access services like procurement, or connectivity with various MIS vendors.”
These accounts are free to all users. Zaikio’s ‘roadmap’ sees more features being rolled out as more developers come on board. By the end of 2020 the main Mission Control cloud connectivity system will be out of beta and open to all, while the app store procurement platform will go live. 2021 will see the introduction of more and more apps, including imposition, preflight and Keyline apps for accounting, billing, production planning and scheduling.
How does it work?
Zaikio is a cloud-based connectivity system that connects multiple print software solutions together into what it calls “one communication superhighway”. Individual system developers only need to create a connection to Mission Control, which then handles conversions and communications with other connected systems. Any given pair of developers don’t need to know how their products communicate with each other, they only need to know how to communicate with Zaikio.
“Zaikio is, in effect, modernising the approach to data,” says Ciz. “Gone are the days of direct one-to-one integrations that need maintaining across multiple providers. Users can expect easier integrations, with less cost, if any, and ultimate flexibility.”
These users, usually printers, can register for Zaikio accounts free of charge, which will give them their own secure workspace within Mission Control and allow them to connect to any supported integrated software or service. This will store and distribute data required by the print process to all parties in a print shop that need it: people, software and machines.
In principle any machine or software package that can connect to the internet can have links written to Mission Control, by third-party developers as well as Zaikio. And all connected parties are informed automatically whenever data changes or new information becomes available.
“With this approach we can distribute information effectively to all participants without the need for them to talk to each other directly through individual adapters or middlewares,” says Ciz. “Since Mission Control is running in the cloud, we can adopt new features and changes to the API without the need to roll out manual updates. Integrations can never just break because the specification changes.
“So for printers and solutions providers alike, this will bring huge efficiency benefits and much simpler integration options, all within one secure single sign-on platform.”
Developers can also, if they want, use Zaikio’s API tools to establish direct links between each other to run locally within the print factory, which will be a bit faster than going through the cloud processes.
How does it differ from JDF?
“Having an API is much more flexible and resilient than JDF, which can be and often is interpreted in different ways by different vendors,” says Ciz. “Mission Control removes a lot of the integration headache by using a standard data format and strict data validation to avoid errors throughout the process.
However, Ciz says, “there are elements of JDF that are valuable, so Zaikio’s data model borrows JDF’s folding schemes, for example. These are widely used and accepted as a fixed standard in the industry.”
What are developers offered?
“All apps submitted to the App Store will be checked and certified by our experts,” says Ciz. “We are customer led, so if users wish to see their software on the platform they should speak with their provider to get in touch with Zaikio.”
How fast/productive is it?
“Speed is important. Zaikio enables connections that respond in milliseconds,” says Ciz. “Zaikio measures the traffic on the platform very precisely and will automatically scale as the user base grows.
“Connected solutions will process data either on-site, or in hosted environments. Zaikio merely enables the connectivity to those services. The efficiencies of doing that via one connectivity platform instead of multiple APIs provides users with much simpler setup, and vendors with lower cost of sale and ongoing maintenance.”
What about security?
End-users may feel nervous about committing their commercial and technical data to a third party, while suppliers might be twitchy about the Heidelberg connection. What’s Zaikio’s answer?
“No access to data is granted unless the vendor approves it during the integration of their service,” says Ciz. “Even then, Zaikio only uses data that is really necessary to fulfil an app’s goal. In most cases it’s production data that would need to be shared with approved third parties. So for every connection users make, Zaikio asks them what data are needed and in what context?
“To be crystal clear, Zaikio is an independent legal entity and Heidelberg is ‘just’ one of many partners on the platform. Of course, Heidelberg is the single shareholder at the moment, but its role and rights on the platform are the same as for anyone else. If Zaikio could not guarantee that, it would lose trust right from the start.”
What is the USP?
Ciz claims that “Zaikio is the only truly open print connectivity platform. It is not here to drive clicks for one vendor, it is here to open up connectivity for all players in the industry.”
How easy is it to implement and use?
Zaikio offers “plug and play access,” Ciz says. “There are no complex setup procedures or costly bespoke integrations needed. Users simply log in using their Zaikio account. All services will be visible under the one login. From there users can navigate to all connected systems with a click.
“One app would be Mission Control, where production managers and other staff can have a look at what’s currently going on in the print shop. The user interface is so simple that everyone can use it without going through days of training”
What training and service support is on offer to developers and end users?
“Users won’t need that much support, but will be able to access the Zaikio team via phone, chat, or email,” says Ciz. “For developers, we offer direct support via Slack video- conferencing channels, as well as extensive documentation.”
How much does it cost?
It’s free for all uses and developers. Zaikio will make money through its own App Store, where it charges vendors a percentage of sales to end-users.
Platform Internet cloud-based
Connectivity potentially unlimited
Data structures JSON, open REST APIs
Price Free accounts available to both users and partners, vendors pay percentage of sales via App Store procurement platform
Contact Zaikio www.zaikio.com Karl Ciz: 07803 922592
Zaikio is an enabling technology rather than a specific product, although its Cloud-based Mission Control connectivity conversion system and its App Store will give it more of an accessible presence than JDF, which tends to be invisibly incorporated in products.
In that sense Zaikio has points in common with Enfocus’ Switch user-specifiable workflow setup and automation technology, which likewise encourages third parties to develop certified links to their systems, with the links (though not the actual systems) available through Enfocus’ Appstore. However Switch is primarily intended to link software products so they can process and pass job content between them, where Zaikio also allows job data and control instructions to pass between production hardware as well as software.
Zaikio says that its nearest alternative is HP’s Site Flow, part of its Print OS, that uses APIs and SDKs to link production processes. Zaikio says that it potentially links a wider range of services and vendors than HP, however. Ciz says: “In fact we think HP’s Site Flow could benefit from our connectivity tools!”
“We have significantly increased the automation of our procurement processes with the Zaikio and Sappi team. The Zaikio concept has convinced us. By integrating the platform into our process landscape, we expect to reduce the many interfaces in the ordering process and to increase overall productivity” Jens Rauschen Managing director, Meinders & Elstermann, Belm, Germany