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Workflow and the Internet

Aug 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Applications include file transfer, proofing, image editing, database and job management, print procurement

The Internet is more than a good content distribution medium — it's also an excellent facilitator for publishing workflows.

With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population reportedly accessing the Web, the cost of higher bandwidth is decreasing. Cable, DSL and even satellite are enabling graphic arts service providers to bring customers and process partners closer to the production workflow.

While job submission is probably the most popular application, it is not the only one. Internet-enabled workflow solutions can also include file management and transfer utilities, collaboration facilitators or remote output conduits. These solutions come in locally controlled, local-area network- (LAN) and wide-area network- (WAN) based software, as well as application service provider (ASP) models. For this article, we'll concentrate on key developments in file transfer, group project collaboration, process task support, gateways to integrated Internet workflows, and print management and procurement.

REDEFINING FILE TRANSFER

Moving files between process partners was once the exclusive territory of WAM!NET, Digital Art Exchange (DAX) and Vio. As the telecommunication companies have entered the higher bandwidth marketplace with cheaper cable and DSL, these three companies have been forced to redefine their offerings. WAM!NET (Eagan, MN) seems to have the best prospects — it has a diverse client base beyond the graphic arts. It is a significant player in the entertainment and healthcare industries, and last year won a long-term contract from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Both DAX and Vio have new owners (see “E-news of note” on p. 22).

THE GREAT COLLABORATORS

As the Internet evolves beyond a file-transfer tool, solutions that facilitate collaboration are emerging. These include job tracking, hard and soft proofing, and centralized storage. Group Logic (Arlington, VA) is finding success outside the ASP space. Its MassTransit software allows for Internet file transfer or transfers using a variety of telecommunication as well as WAM!NET services. It supports file-transfer tracking, e-mail notification and remote proofing.

Sprockets (Boston) offers an expanded service and software for Internet workflow collaboration. In addition to file transfer and job tracking, this ASP service also provides a suite of process collaboration tools, including online discussion rooms and group-based planning and schedule management. Users can also track and manage project costs and billings, as well as perform stock photography searches. The service targets creative professionals.

Convoq.com (New York City) offers a similar service. Starting with TeamSpace, a collaborative playground, you can coordinate projects and exchange information and files. The company offers an online conference service, as well as a tool for collaborative annotation and proofing, scheduling and media specifications.

There are also tools for international projects. Convoq offers a portal to Shira's (Kfar-Saba, Israel) eP2 prepress toolset, which handles some of the localization requirements of global projects.

Just as there are Internet-based, non-ASP software solutions for file transfer, there is a new generation of software for group project collaboration. Delano, collaborative software developed by Agfa (Ridgefield Park, NJ), Quebecor World (Montreal) and Image Building (a Belgian design, prepress and development company) is one such example. Designed specifically for customer service reps, it provides status, tracking and scheduling options. Delano is likely to be offered as both an ASP service as well as standalone software. The product, announced at Drupa 2000, is expected to be released soon.

IDEAL INTERNET APPLICATION

Proofing is an application seemingly tailor-made for the Internet. There is a definite need, and, relatively speaking, implementation isn't complex.

RealTimeProof from RealTimeImage (San Bruno, CA) was one of the first Internet-based collaborative proofing solutions on the graphic arts scene. Using unique pixel-on-demand technology, users download enough information to view a specific area of the image, rather than the entire image. RealTimeImage has addressed most of the crucial Internet-based proofing requirements, including ICC color management using Apple ColorSync, a densitometer to read values of specific areas and a tool for annotating the image. It accepts all popular file formats. A free downloadable extension provides file compression and other tools.

Group Logic's ImageExpo is a software-based, non-ASP solution that facilitates remote-proofing collaboration. It offers color management, annotations, an online densitometer and management tools.

At Seybold Boston, BestColor (West Chester, OH) announced a remote-proofing feature for its inkjet proofer RIP. It supports proofing over the Internet by providing spectrophotometric information to verify that each printer is producing the same color output.

Look for significant remote-proofing announcements at Print 01 next month. Imation (Oakdale, MN) will demonstrate its Virtual Proofing system, said to deliver accurate CMYK color to the monitor. It combines Imation's color technology with RealTimeImage's full-resolution image streaming and collaboration innovations. The hardware/software color-proofing system reportedly will let high-end, color-critical customers simulate color targets in a collaborative online application environment.

DuPont Color Proofing (Wilmington, DE) will introduce a remote-proofing solution based on its CromaNet color-management technology. (We'll take a closer look at remote proofing in the September issue of AMERICAN PRINTER.)

PROCESS TASKS

An increasing number of prepress and/or premedia service providers are offering online services ranging from scanning and color correction to retouching and preflight. An Online Services section on Adobe's (San Jose, CA) website offers a host of Internet-based workflow solutions, including design, stock photography, PDF and Web form creation.

Creativepro.com (Portland, OR), has a similar section on its site that includes preflight, color correction and watermarking images.

Prolatus' (Minneapolis) solution, which grew out of Colorcentric.com, made its debut at Seybold Boston. Its server software products let printers and agencies offer remote color correction and image editing to their own clients.

Its products, Courier, Expert and WebConnect, enable fast transmission of large image files on any Internet connection. All three are based on the company's bandwidth-independent Catalyst technology. Using Courier, a content creator drags and drops image files onto the product's icon. The software then prepares a .cxm file packet, including a virtual job ticket, and leaves the original, unaltered image on the computer or network. The .cxm file is then transmitted over a standard Internet connection to the printer or prepress production facility.

At the production site, Expert software uses the .cxm file to create an original-quality image file, which can then be edited. When image editing has been completed, Expert software creates a custom .cxp correction packet that includes only the image edits done at the production site.

At the creator's end, Courier software applies the .cxp correction packet instructions to the original image and creates the corrected image. WebConnect software includes security, account management, registration, invoicing, e-mail notification, production and archiving systems.

CREATING A GATEWAY

Output workflow packages from CreoScitex, Heidelberg, Screen USA and Fuji support a browser-based interface, but not all facilitate an integrated, Internet-based workflow. A number of products, however, have begun to bridge that divide. These types of Internet workflow solutions create a gateway or direct link between process partners. They range from relatively simple solutions that allow file sharing on a partner's server, to more comprehensive solutions that integrate with a production system.

Xinet's (Berkeley, CA) WebNative is an example of a simple non-ASP solution. WebNative allows access to the provider's (or image bank owner's) image database so that the data and images can be searched and retrieved from any Internet connection.

It also supports remote proofing, and when used in conjunction with the Xinet FullPress server, it can be an excellent way to integrate the creative and production process partners into an end-to-end cooperative workflow. For extra-strength applications, WebNative Venture supplies a fully relational database that also handles asset check-in and check-out.

CreoScitex's Insight offers an even more integrated solution, allowing customers to connect to their service providers' Prinergy and Brisque workflow output systems. It supports file-submission job status, remote proofing, annotations, and proof approval and rejection. It demonstrates the potential of a fully integrated print production workflow. Over time, further implementation of the proposed JDF standard will undoubtedly allow this type of solution to offer even further integration into the print production workflow.

Shira's eP2 is another output workflow product built from the ground up to allow client/provider integration. Similar to some other output solutions, it handles the internal integration of tasks, but it also allows Internet-based client integration.

Heidelberg is rebuilding its prepress workflow product offerings under the Prinect umbrella. It has already announced MetaDimension, its automated PDF output workflow — pundits predict that Internet-based extensions of this workflow, on both the client and print production side, will be announced soon.

Fujifilm's myfujifilm.com provides job and asset management tools to printers, prepress companies and their clients. In addition to asset management, it offers preflighting, file transfer, soft proofing and hard (remote) proofing. The service is offered on a subscription basis with additional online services paid for as required. Users are provided with a 24-hour help and customer support desk, and reportedly can customize the site's appearance.

Myfujifilm.com incorporates Group Logic's MassTransit service provider edition (SPE) 4.0 and Imagexpo SPE 3.0 software as well as Markzware's (Santa Ana, CA) online preflighting application.

Myfujifilm.com is working with four beta sites for version 1. It expects to release the product to the general market soon.

INTERNET-BASED PRINTING

As PDF adoption increases, the core technology developers are offering expanded Internet-based workflow development tools. There is also increasing support for printer control via IP addresses and, consequently, growing support of Internet-based printing.

Consider Webprint's (San Bruno, CA) ASP-based service, which allows printers to give the appearance of publishing print jobs online. Customers can actually print directly from their desktop applications to the print shop. The job actually goes through the ASP's service, but there is convenience on both ends. This service includes direct client job preparation, submission and tracking. Quick-print franchisers Sir Speedy and PIP Printing have already signed up for this service. The concept has a lot of potential in the general commercial print arena, too.

Undoubtedly, this basic workflow model will ultimately expand to include integration with existing output workflow systems as well as standalone software. Adobe is rumored to release an Internet print solution soon. It's a logical move, considering PostScript 3 now features the ability to do Internet URL-based printing.

One company sure to offer a range of Internet-based workflow solutions is UK-based Global Graphics and its software group (the companies formerly known as Harlequin and 5D JAWS). Global Graphics has already introduced Digital Courier, browser-based software that lets users print “quality-controlled,” encrypted PDF files to a central server for tracking, processing and printing.

These are only a sampling of tools and services facilitating Internet-based workflows. Despite the dot-com bust, there is a real need for these Web solutions — they will help drive us into the future.

Internet-based print management, procurement

Although many print management/procurement players have disappeared, some viable contenders remain.

  • Noosh (Palo Alto, CA) has taken its lumps as one of the early entrants into the print management and procurement space. It has already picked up some displaced Impresse customers, however, and because of its time in market, offers a mature product.
  • PrintChannel (San Francisco), another early player, offers job order-entry and lets users build a catalog of products. Other production tools include order tracking and management, imposition management and grouping, as well as job dockets, shipping and even PDF output.
  • Printable (San Diego) offers a different type of Internet-based workflow solution. Its solution, which includes the creation of a site for the user, isn't an ASP. It includes a number of options that facilitate collaboration, including sales management, order management, asset management, preflight, proofing and a host of other production tools.
  • Httprint (San Francisco) evolved from Landmark Productions, a brick-and-mortar print-procurement management company founded in 1996. It offers diverse e-commerce, print management and promotional marketing services. At Print 01, it will partner with press manufacturer KBA to demonstrate an integrated Web workflow (see “Httprint & KBA demonstrate Web workflow” on p. 22).
  • Quebecor World, through its Que-Net Media group (Schaumburg, IL), offers a portfolio of automated publishing and content-management solutions that facilitate cross-media publishing for catalog, retail, magazine, book and commercial customers. Its suite of CoFicio workflow tools are available through a virtual private network or the Internet.
    The first offering under the CoFicio banner is I-Ficient, which makes images and files available on a desktop directly from the Que-Net Media server. It provides production teams with real-time access to work in progress.
  • PrintCafe (Pittsburgh) is attempting to take the Internet-based collaborative workflow to new heights. It has built its own Internet-based print procurement software and recently purchased Impresse's code (see box on p. 22). Its affiliation with CreoScitex gives it a potential link to the installed base of output production systems such as Brisque and Prinergy. Once JDF enters the mainstream, printers could have a significant Internet-based workflow option.
  • IKON (Malvern, PA), a $5.4 billion global company, is another potential big player in the Internet-based workflow area, with its expanded Digital Express 2000. Initially, this network was developed to connect IKON's print production sites. IKON recently started offering a portal to that network to its corporate business customers to handle overflow from locally installed business printers. This also gave IKON's customers a way to expand their print capabilities without adding any capital equipment.

Now IKON clients can include their own choice of print shops to the network. In addition to handling the order entry, tracking and distribution of jobs, IKON is including other collaborative tools.

HTTPRINT & KBA DEMONSTRATE WEB WORKFLOW

Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA) (Radebeul, Germany) and httprint (San Francisco) will offer an Internet-based e-commerce solution. Httprint, using its e-commerce front end and color-management software tools tailored to KBA's 74 Karat presses, will deliver an integrated, Web-based workflow. KBA and httprint will set up two beta sites in Germany; KBA also has six Karat presses at beta sites in the U.S.

KBA's 74 Karat digital press features online plate imaging and waterless printing. A laser in the press engraves the plate, rather than the drum, reportedly enabling press operators to change printing jobs in minutes. Customers can send digital files to the presses themselves, eliminating the need for prepress departments.

Httprint has partnered with software and hardware suppliers to deliver the front-end software. GretagMacbeth provides color management, Markzware supplies preflighting and BestColor supplies the RIP. The KBA-httprint system will be demonstrated at KBA's booth at Print 01.

E-news of note

PRINTCAFE PURCHASES IMPRESSE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Print management software provider printCafe (Pittsburgh) has purchased all intellectual property assets formerly owned by Impresse Corp. (Sunnyvale, CA), which offered business-to-business collaboration and e-commerce services. Details of the agreement were not disclosed; printCafe states, however, that it did not assume any Impresse obligations or liabilities.

TORQUE SYSTEMS ACQUIRES DAX

Torque Systems, Inc. (San Francisco) has acquired Digital Art Exchange (DAX) (Boston). Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but it does not include the PrintPlanet.com spin-off. DAX employees will now form Torque Systems' Boston office. DAX network products will be offered and supported by Torque Systems nationwide.

Torque Systems previously focused on storage, asset management and local-area networking (LAN) for the graphic arts industry, while DAX's emphasis has been on wide-area networking (WAN) for the same vertical market. Torque Systems contrasts its range of offerings from proprietary WANs such as WAM!NET and the recently acquired Vio, as well as proprietary LAN storage systems from CreoScitex and Heidelberg.

PRINTABLE ACQUIRES COLLABRIA ASSETS

Printable Technologies, Inc. (San Diego) has acquired core assets of Collabria, Inc. (San Mateo, CA), which in June announced it was shutting down operations. Part of the purchase includes PrintCommerce 3.0 software and Collabria's installed customer base, which will be able to maintain their services through Printable. Printable is expected to introduce its own branded version of Collabria's PrintCommerce application.

VIO FINDS A BUYER

After initially declaring it would cease operations, Vio Worldwide found a buyer. The application service provider, formed by a joint venture between British Telecom (London) and Scitex Corp. Ltd. (Herzlia, Israel), has been sold to UK-based Citizen Ltd. Citizen now owns all of Vio's businesses throughout the world, including operations in the UK, France, Japan and the U.S. Miranda Clegg continues in her role as managing director, sales and marketing. Scitex announced in February that it was concluding its equity involvement in Vio.