Digital suppliers jockey for position


One of the challenges of a digital business is keeping on top of workflow and business development skills to ensure that you are continually improving your competitiveness.

Although it may be possible to develop some of the workflow tools and business skills yourself, chances are you will need to establish a relationship with a supplier who can help your business grow and adapt.

So who leads the field in the digital print workflow stakes?

The fact is there are many suppliers of digital workflow components, but very few that sell a complete suite of products and have the financial muscle and local support needed to make them an outright winner.

The obvious frontrunners are Canon, EFI, HP Indigo, Kodak, Océ and Xerox. Others worth considering are Danwood, InfoPrint, Konica Minolta and ROI.

Canon, the newest of the major workflow contenders, has been building its workflow and business development tools to coincide with the launch of the imagePress C7000VP. Canon offers a reasonable list of products and support covering web-to-print, file checking, output management and variable-data processing, as well as comprehensive demonstration and test facilities at its showrooms.

EFI has been offering digital workflow products since 2000 and, mainly through acquisition, has a long list of products, including Digital Store Front, web-to-print; Hagen and Print Smith, MIS; and Fiery Central, file checking and output management.

HP Indigo has distribution agreements with many software suppliers, but does not appear to focus on a global, European or even UK set of digital workflow products. Its desire to acquire Extream may signal a change in direction.

Kodak undoubtedly has the most comprehensive set of workflow products and probably the best approach to business development. However, most of its products are aimed at the top end of the commercial printing market and not specifically for digital print. It has recently started selling the Canon imagePress C7000VP under the name M700 as its entry-level Nexpress and it will be interesting to see if it starts to offer entry-level digital workflow products.

Océ has been training all its staff on workflow since 2000, and although not all of its products are targeted at commercial printing, it does have a comprehensive set of workflow tools.

Xerox introduced FreeFlow at Drupa 2004, so it has a full range of its own and partner products. Its engineering and marketing arms have done a great job of moving Xerox away from a primary focus on print engine sales, over the past two years, towards helping clients with business development and workflow tools.

Screen and Fujifilm have also signalled their intention to up their focus on digital.

There is currently no market leader. These firms all have strengths and weaknesses: some are very big in the US, but not in the UK; others have great products, but very few people selling them; others still have great local support and development tools, but can not deliver all the workflow components.

Chris Jordan is an independent business consultant working in graphic communications. Email: jordanjordan@clara.co.uk

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