Connecting in the cloud
Workflow software is expanding from the prepress environment and increasingly being made capable of linking to other parts of the print operation, with cloud connectivity playing a key role.
The traditional view of workflow in the print sector – that it was all about automating prepress and production tasks to avoid repetition – is evolving. To remain relevant, it cannot stay on such an island. It must become part of a greater whole, and its developers know this.
‘We often get that comment: ‘have you not already fixed that problem of automating prepress?’, and it’s largely true,’ says Jan De Roeck, director of marketing, industry relations and strategy at Esko. ‘We have had automation tools in prepress for many, many years. You can’t limit your scope to the prepress department though. The problem with automation and workflow is that, in reality, many other departments are involved, and it can be extended all the way to the packaging buyer. That’s a very important development going forward.’
What is needed – and indeed what is happening in the market – is for workflow and its prepress automation tools to become more closely integrated with wider business platforms, specifically MIS systems, to help bring end-to-end efficiency throughout the print operation.
‘If you keep the prepress workflow on its island, and you don’t integrate with the business side, you miss a lot of opportunities to stop errors from happening,’ Mr De Roeck adds.
HYBRID Software sees this pattern developing also. Tom Elton, who is product manager for its CLOUDFLOW product, articulates its role as the ‘middleman’, saying, ‘We pass information around, and do the logic to make decisions based on certain scenarios.’ But it is also more than that. ‘For us, in an abstract sense, it’s about automation and information,’ Mr Elton continues. ‘It is very common now to integrate with information systems like MIS and ERP. We have out of the box configurations with LabelTraxx, for example. We plug into these systems, pass information around and automate tasks. It’s connectivity, it’s reacting.’
Alongside integration, the other big technological trend for workflow is cloud deployment, or software-as-a-service. There are many implications that arise from this, both in a business sense, and in the connectivity and functionality that workflow can deliver within a business and externally.
The business case is certainly more attractive to small and medium sized printers, who are less able to afford large IT investments themselves; in cloud deployments, they can outsource infrastructure, skills and security costs to companies such as Esko and HYBRID. The security aspect has its own dimensions of course. Companies are entitled to be concerned about data security, because cybercrime is a very real threat.
‘The kneejerk reaction is to worry about this when adopting a cloud system. Companies can either invest heavily in IT skills and people to manage this internally, or they can bring in people that do this for a living and have a competence in it, and that’s what we claim to be,’ said Mr De Roeck.
From the connectivity and functionality perspective, great new opportunities can be opened through implementing a cloud-based workflow. A key application that demonstrates this comes in the nexus between customer service employees at the printing company and the customer at an external site.
Esko’s Jan De Roeck says, ‘It’s not acceptable today that everyone in the value chain must install an application on their desktop. With cloud-native technology, the browser becomes the operating system. If you are a packaging buyer and receive a file to review and approve, the only thing you need to do is click on a hyperlink and it will open in a dedicated viewer for packaging. What’s very important there is that the person at the brand will use exactly the same technology as the prepress operator editing the file.’
Integrating cloud-native applications can link the workflow with other parts of the operation. Esko gives the example of its Cape Pack pallet optimisation app, which makes operational and logistical data available to all users so that the optimum pallet calculations can be made. HYBRID Software’s CLOUDFLOW is highly modular, and a cloud implementation makes activating and deactivating different modules a simple process. One of the HYBRID modules is Datalink, based on universal interface technologies such as XML, JDF, REST and SQL, and capable of data exchange with MIS, ERP, CRM and web to print systems.