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TELECOM TURNS ASP

Aug 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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As printers get a handle on their electronic transmission needs, telecom providers move to a broader ASP model.

What a difference a year makes! It's trite but true. A year ago, a discussion of telecommunications would have centered around digital file transfer, and which providers offered the security, speed and other benefits necessary to deliver the MB-heavy files common to the graphic arts industry.

A year ago, the main telecom players in the industry spoke of helping printers solve their seemingly many connectivity problems-Digital Art Exchange, Inc. (DAX) (Charlestown, MA) helped by rolling out its managed T-1 and DSL services. WAM!NET (Eagan, MN) and British Telecom/Scitex joint venture Vio (King of Prussia, PA) unveiled Internet gateways to their private managed networks.

Enter 2000. Now providers are talking applications. All three have discarded their strictly telecommunications hats and donned application service provider (ASP) caps that will allow them to expand on their core services.

Why? "File transfer in and of itself is great, but users want a richer environment in which to do more production," says Tim Elliott, WAM!NET marketing director, graphic arts. "The next thing providers want to do, then, is to build applications and more ways to use that connectivity."

Natural next steps For WAM!NET, Elliott says the natural next step was to offer digital storage services under the umbrella name WAM!BASE. This is augmented with an online workspace (WAM!NET Work Space, accessed via the WAMNET.com portal) that "binds together all these hosted applications," he says.

Announced at Drupa and commercially available at Seybold San Francisco, WAM!NET Work Space is said to allow corporations and their business partners to collaborate digitally in the creation, distribution, management and storage of digital content.

The offering epitomizes WAM!- NET's broadened definition of its target audience. According to Elliott, WAM!NET is gearing its services to those in the media industry-printers, publishers, ad agencies, major motion studios and broadcast networks.

"Our roots are in print," the marketing director acknowledges, "and it's important to show leadership in the printing space. But we think that the technologies are converging."

As part of its print-related applications, WAM!NET will offer remote proofing through RealTimeImage's RealTimeProof product. (For a discussion of RealTimeProof, see "The Web in your workflow," June 2000, p. 68.) The official unveiling is expected at Seybold San Francisco.

The Minnesota vendor will also integrate Markzware's preflight applications into its services and has a standing agreement with Impresse in the print procurement space. Elliott hints at some software collaboration announcements between WAM!NET and Impresse at Seybold. According to him, other partners will be "plugging into" the WAMNET. com portal and workspace at Graph Expo as well.

WAM!NET is also exploring the opportunity with Heidelberg to host its DaVinci product for file conversion and trapping. At Drupa, such a demo took PostScript files and converted them into Tiff-IT files.

"The DaVinci server contains a lot of product capabilities," observes Elliott. "We're looking to explore it on a subscription or transaction basis and are currently testing that implementation."

Expected announcements DAX, meanwhile, is running a pilot of its DAXProof service-its implementation of the RealTimeProof product-with ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Though not yet in general availability, DAX customers can still access and pay to use DAXProof. Chuck Gehman, DAX vice president of technology, promises there will be more features when it becomes commercially available sometime between Seybold and Graph Expo.

DAX previously customized an image database management system for Newsweek and is developing a more general digital asset management service for existing customers. According to Gehman, customers using the managed FTP product (called DAX managedFTP) can opt to pay a larger monthly fee for access to the asset management solution. He adds that DAX will likely announce the DAXAssetManager service at Graph Expo.

Also at Graph Expo, Gehman says DAX management expects to announce a preflighting service in partnership with another vendor. "We can't say right now who the company is... but there are only a few preflighting products in the industry, so you can probably guess," he hints.

DAX also claims as part of its services an e-community portal, PrintPlanet.com, which offers 13 discussion forums on various aspects of the graphic arts (including a popular computer-to-plate forum), and a co-marketing partnership with vendor Noosh.

Vio's array of services includes an image archiving and retrieval solution, M-cast; remote proof and print options, called Vio Render Proof (based on RealTimeImage's RenderView product) and Vio Remote Print, respectively; and preflighting capabilities through partnerships with Enfocus and Markzware.

At Drupa, the firm announced a partnership with BEST GmbH to link Vio to BESTColor software, a PostScript RIP designed to turn inkjet printers into professional proofing systems.

Ian Ehrenberg, the recently appointed CEO of Vio North America, anticipates having more offerings and partnership announcements by Graph Expo or Seybold Boston. "By the end of the year, our intention is to have the number to about 10," he says.

The CEO expects that Vio's offerings will eventually be numerous enough that customers will be able to pick and choose what services they'd like to subscribe to, with "a la carte or package pricing."

Both Vio and WAM!NET have also announced distribute-and-print capabilities through separate agreements with Xerox. Vio and Xerox have created a global link between their networked customers. In the longer term, Vio will create and later beta test an online directory of Xerox digital printing sites and approved graphic arts partners that can be accessed worldwide by clients.

WAM!NET has linked its network to Xerox's global document services network, a print and distribute service. A WAM!NET announcement says this will link high-end printers with print buyers, reportedly offering WAM!NET's customers full-service resources to print and distribute to the global network of Xerox printers.

Ehrenberg points out that printers could offer many of these services on their own-but not without substantial human and financial capital. That's the benefit of the ASP model, he says.

"What would you have to put in place to offer digital asset management, preflighting, 24 x 7 service? Do you really want to invest in all the backroom technologies to offer all of these services?" asks Ehrenberg. "Why not use the economies of scale of an ASP instead? You can dip your toe in the water and swim a little."

Telecom roots Which is not to say that the vendors' telecom roots have completely disappeared.

"We still do a tremendous amount of telecommunications connections," acknowledges Gehman. "There's need for our Internet service because printers don't have a lot of IT infrastructure or a big staff to take care of an Internet connection."

Gehman notes that DAX has encountered $30 million printers whose Internet strategies consist only of five modems with five America OnLine accounts. But the need to evangelize connectivity is no longer there, he says.

"There's now a demand for what we do instead of the visionary selling that we've had to do in the past," Gehman observes.

"Communication will remain a key component in the graphic arts," opines Ehrenberg. "Digital data is absolutely useless in one place. Digital data has value if it can be moved, accessed, relocated, repurposed, changed and turned around. With the advent of people working from home, wide business communities and a larger collaborative environment, the ability to move data efficiently will be a core component of any graphic communications industry solution.

"Telecommunications is a means but it's not the end. It's a means to get to the end. The end is a more efficient, robust workflow that is taking away human inefficiencies. This allows companies to have their employees do what they're known for doing well."

Digital Art Exchange, Inc. (DAX), WAM!NET and Vio started out as telecommunications providers and moved into the application service provider (ASP) space. A handful of others in the graphic arts, however, are moving into telecom from other specialties.

Graphic arts giant Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, for example, announced at Drupa that it is working on a concept for a global Internet transaction platform for the graphic arts industry with Deutsche Telekom AG. According to a Heidelberg announcement, this venture will allow printers and their partners to apply the latest e-business technologies to their workflows.

Coming from the ASP side is Convoq (www.convoq.com), an Internet portal community that recently formed a technology partnership with networking and telecommunications software provider Group Logic. The partnership allows for Convoq to offer an interactive soft-proofing service. Convoq, formerly DGNonline, also provides file transfer and online conferencing and workspace services.

Group Logic, for its part, recently released version 3.6 of its MassTransit software, said to be a high-speed digital file transfer, remote proofing and remote workflow solution.

On the e-commerce side, PagePath's MyOrderDesk service caters to small and midsize printers by stressing its file transfer and compression features (see "Who's who in e-commerce," June 2000, p. 60). Another Internet-based ASP model is Sprockets, a project management system that incorporates file sharing, bandwidth and delivery capabilities, and other features conducive to Web-based collaboration (see "Project management-not just for printers," June 2000, p. 68).

And as the industry continues to change, more telecom-related announcements will likely arise.