Me & my... Altaimage Interactive Cloud Environment

Jenny Roper
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cross-media isn't all about marketing, it can also streamline the production process for publishers working across the full range of formats

When people think of cross-media, the temptation is to assume that it is only relevant in a marketing context. While the bulk of the demand for cross-media kit and services does indeed come from the marketing sector, for printers it simply means having the capacity to deal with multiple communication channels. And, in this age of fragmentation, this obviously extends beyond the marketing arena.

Take publishing. Thanks to the development of devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, this sector has rapidly evolved to embrace the multiplatform, multichannel model – today, no book launch is complete without an e-book release.

Hence, those printers in the publishing sphere have to embrace this multiplatform reality, but one publisher, Phaidon Press, says its repro house is actually already one step ahead of the game.

Vanessa Todd-Holmes is production controller at Phaidon, which, although it started life bringing beautifully reproduced fine art images to the masses, now prides itself on producing a wide range of titles, such as the latest cookery book from award-winning restaurant Mugaritz.

Todd-Holmes’ job is to make sure that the well-crafted layouts and arresting images that come her way are accurately and efficiently translated into workable flatplans by the four repro companies Phaidon works with. She has to spot any changes that need to be made once the repro company in question has worked its magic, and keep track of whether other parties involved in the production have requested changes or given final approval on a particular page.

And this, when dealing with art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, film and travel books, often many 100s of pages in length, in both print and e-reader formats, is no mean feat. What is needed, says Todd-Holmes, is a system that automates the correction request and final approval process so that the potential for human error in keeping track of the status of each page is eliminated.

This is where one of the repro companies that Phaidon works with was able to lend a hand and differentiate itself from the rest. In February last year, Altaimage presented Phaidon with the opportunity to be the first user of its new Interactive Cloud Environment (ICE) workflow system. First used for the production of Wallpaper* magazine’s City Guides, but now rolled-out to many of the other projects Phaidon works on, ICE has revolutionised the way the publisher can prepare content for any communication platform, says Todd-Holmes.

"Before it was a much more manual system, where we were sending a lot more packages and making phone calls and requests and sending a lot more emails. Now, using the ICE flatplanner, the process is very streamlined," she says. "You can upload your files directly and we’re notified instantly that Altaimage has received them and I’m notified once the PDFs are available to review and approve.

"That’s a real selling point when we’re pitching for new work, especially when it comes to e-books. The streamlined nature of ICE is important to e-book production not only because people expect that the production of these should be a very quick process, but also because when you’re producing an e-book and physical book, you need to be able to review both together on the same platform."

Live updates
The system works, explains Todd-Holmes, as a ‘live feed’, with notifications constantly being sent through to say, for example, that a certain user has approved a page, or that Altaimage has made a change and the page is ready for the next round of scrutiny.

The handiest feature, she says, is the central log-in system where users can get an overview of the projects they are working on listed down the side of the screen. As soon as a project is clicked on, the flatplan appears and highlights those pages that are approved, those that are still waiting for final approval from at least one party and those that are at the stage of having been annotated with corrections and so are awaiting further attention from Altaimage.

The biggest benefit this brings, says Todd-Holmes, is greatly speeding up the approval of layouts.

"Before we used ICE, it really could take days longer to get things approved by everyone," she says, explaining that without a cloud-based system, there was no way of electronically transferring files between Altaimage and between various approvers, and so these had to be posted on disc or hard-drive. "It saves at least a day because when you’re sending a package, you’re waiting for a courier to come and collect it. The same on the return – they could have it ready in the morning, but you’re not getting it until the evening."

The room for human error in tracking hundreds of pages has also been eliminated, says Todd-Holmes. "Errors through sending proofs back and forth were actually quite common," she says. "We were having to keep track of our own approval system and keep our own manual flatplan. Whereas now it’s being done automatically for us, which is much easier."

Although some projects necessarily go to other repro houses to capitalise on their specialisms in certain kinds of retouching, Todd-Holmes reports that Altaimage’s system is so easy to work with that Phaidon is placing more work with the company now. "Certainly, I am more likely to go for Altaimage when work comes in – ICE is a big factor for me," she says, reporting that being able to offer this kind of speedy and user-friendly tracking can be key to bringing in new publishing contracts.

Good news story
The fact that ICE is bringing in more work for Phaidon is of course also great news for Altaimage, and certainly demonstrates how lucrative developing a sophisticated yet user-friendly workflow system for customers can be for a repro company.

Mark Robson, joint owner of Altaimage, explains that the system is built upon Esprit software, which the company spent three or four months perfecting for the book and magazine publishing market.

"It is Esprit software, but we’ve added to it to make it talk the right language," he explains. "We realised we needed something where it’s as if our repro department are sitting within the client’s publishing department."

"The feedback we’ve had so far has been outstanding," he adds, explaining that customer satisfaction has led not only to existing customers, such as Phaidon, placing more work with the repro company, but also to work from brand new clients too, with 70% of clients now using ICE.

Of course, offering such a comprehensive workflow system does require Altaimage to lend its clients a hand in navigating their way around the software. Todd-Holmes reports that she has been very happy with Altaimage in this regard.

"First of all, AItaimage came in and gave us a presentation, then we got a tutorial," she says. "Every time they give us an update, they give us a new user guide, but also invite us down for further instructions. That’s good as I think it’s more helpful to actually go and see it in action."

The system has so far been very reliable, says Todd-Holmes, with no glitches or server failures thus far. And the repro company has too, she says, been very responsive to Phaidon’s suggestions for additions or improvements.

"They’ve just added the service, at our suggestion, whereby they send PDFs directly to our printer after they’ve been approved," says Todd-Holmes. "And they’re also currently working on a suggestion from us that should make the final archiving of a job, once it’s been completed, easier for us."

All in all, the case for repro companies, and of course printers, upping their client workflow game, seems to be pretty strong. Todd-Holmes would certainly recommend other publishers, or indeed "anyone who has a very busy workflow, with lots of moving parts in a project", opting for a repro company with a system in place like Altaimage’s ICE.

In a world in which cross-media is playing an increasingly important role, innovative solutions to multichannel demands are going to be the staple of the print industry, whether you are in the marketing sphere or not and, as Todd-Holmes says, the ability to create these solutions is a sure-fire way of winning new work.


 

SPECIFICATIONS

Platform
Mac or PC with good internet connectivity
Core software
Esprit software
Compatibility
Android, iOS Contact Altaimage 020 7531 1122 www.altaimage.co.uk


COMPANY PROFILE

Phaidon Press was founded in Vienna in 1923 and established itself in the area of large-format art books in 1936 with the publication of high-quality plates on Van Gogh, Botticelli and the French Impressionists. The rise of Nazism forced the company to relocate to the UK where it has continued to build a reputation for high-quality art publishing. It has also branched out into other fields, such as architecture, photography, design, performing arts, contemporary culture, fashion, film, cookery, travel and children’s books.

Why it was bought
Phaidon was the first company to test repro house Altaimage’s new cloud-based workflow system, Interactive Cloud Environment (ICE). The system quickly showed itself to be ideal for many of the projects the publisher works on, offering as it does a clear system for tracking the status of all pages, and allowing many different parties to approve pages from any location.

How it has performed
Production controller Vanessa Todd-Holmes says ICE has performed impeccably with no glitches or server failures. Help in using the system and navigating new updates from Altaimage has also been first rate, she reports.

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