Joining the IT crowd

Added by Sharon Mordey on June, 19, 2020

Its always been the case that whenever you get a new piece of equipment, you need to train staff to use it. In prepress, this has increasingly meant learning to use software packages as much as being able to work a scanner, platesetter or before that, a process camera. But the software side now extends much further than that, and penetrates every aspect of a print business, from estimating and ordering through a web-to-print portal via prepress, production management, MIS and stock control, to shipping, invoicing, accounting and analytics.

Digital print only puts more pressure on joining up these software dots, as it typically generates more jobs per shift. This means that more time can be spent on taking the order, setting up for the job and invoicing it afterwards than the printing and finishing takes. It also exposes any delays moving work between processes, both in the electronic and the physical worlds.

While there are commercial software offerings that aim to integrate and automate various parts of the process, there’s nothing that can bind a whole business together and no supplier rash enough to claim that they can. So increasingly printers are turning to their own resources to link up the bits of the business that matter, not just to do existing things more efficiently, but to enable new capabilities and to meet rising customer expectations.

IT Crowd 1

Steve Richardson, sales director UK and Europe at rival MIS developer Optimus, agrees: ‘Being armed with first-hand skills and IT knowledge can often bring about substantial benefits if the customer harnesses it in the right way.’ He also thinks there’s a generational aspect to this. ‘There is a new generation of professionals who are younger and more progressive. IT is embraced by them and they see that technology can open doors to the possibilities of the wider world of data; this has played out well for us in a number of projects. They want what they want, and the best thing we can do is to give them the tools.’

Mr Richardson’s colleague, Optimus R&D developer Nigel Tyler, points out the distinction between what he calls ‘front-end’ tools which are generally focused around websites and use web technologies such as HTML, Javascript and web services, and the back end, ‘where the business is done’. He says, ‘They are different engineering skills. Internet technology has driven it – it’s easier to build a website than to write a Windows program. [Web] browsers are increasingly flexible and use downloadable code, with internet protocols for security. Web services are a common way of delivering – it’s not the most efficient but the skills are more widely available.’

IT Crowd 2

The efficiency he likes is in the way that newer technology can work with MIS engines like Optimus. ‘We’ve had an API since 1998 but now it’s not just for low-end [calls] only; three lines of Python code can ask Optimus to open a job, or make it craft an XML message. We have to make the back end work with it.’

In simpler terms, Mr Richardson puts it, ‘With automation, the answer is now mostly yes’. Mr Tyler adds that the most popular questions tend be about creating jobs in order to follow them right through to invoice tracking, or about Once that hurdle is overcome, integration projects can become quite ambitious. ‘We’ve seen Enfocus Switch with externally configurable automation and bi-directional information flow to the MIS,’ he comments. Mr Richardson adds, ‘We start with a brief, which is usually simple and straightforward, but once they ‘get it’, they see a world of possibilities with more features and functions that can give them a unique proposition.’ pricing, with many Optimus users wanting to offer realtime pricing via their websites. ‘Previously, integration was with internal systems. Now it’s more with externally-facing ones, driven by automating, especially with digital print,’ comments Mr Tyler, adding that in many cases, ‘the hardest bit is the customer understanding their own business rules.

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