The Right W2P Provider For Your Business

How should you determine the right W2P provider for your business?

That’s really a subjective question. You may base who your provider is based on price without much consideration for anything else. You may also want to consider someone that comes recommended by someone you know or close to your operation. If you are going to make a sound decision that will last in the long term, then here are some questions that you might want to ask:

  1. How long have you been in business?

This is probably one of the most logical questions and one of the questions most frequently asked. This question is generally an indication of whether the company you’re speaking to knows what they’re doing in either web development or the print industry. People seem to take comfort in knowing a company has been around for a substantial amount of time. Although a word of warning. There are web to print providers that have been grandfathered into the industry, yet they can’t keep the pace of modern technologies. They have massive infrastructures and their technologies are too cluttered to be able to clean up and get current. Meanwhile you have some hot technologies that look great, but lack the sophistication to accommodate different scenarios within the print industry. Therefore, if you think you received a satisfactory answer with respect to the age of the company, the next question should be…

  1. What advancements have you done most recently?

You want to avoid a situation where you are subscribed to a technology which is boxing you in to a specific look or limited functionality.   The ideal provider has enough experience under their belt to know how to cater to your needs in print, while providing proficient understanding of the web to keep the technology current and relevant to your needs.

  1. Do you have Saas and Enterprise offerings?

Says (software as a service) offerings allow you to utilize their providers environment so that you don’t necessarily have to invest in a hardware and environment infrastructure. You share cost with others so that your solution is affordable. You may have a growth plan if successful in which case you may want an enterprise option. If so, you want to make sure there is an upgrade path with the same provider so that growth will be seamless and they can transition you from a Saas solution to an enterprise solution – or vice-versa for whatever reason you may need to downgrade.

  1. Do you integrate with 3rd Party Solutions? Do you do customizations?

In my experience, close to 40% of our customer base request customizations. You want a provider that is not shy or intimidated to create custom solutions or custom widgets to fit within their existing solutions. If they are, then you need to re-consider your options – especially if you envision requiring custom development or custom interfaces etc.

  1. Do you have DIY and/or service options?

If the answer to both of these is yes, then you are looking at a really flexible solution. DIY (Do-it-yourself) options means that the system is flexible enough that you can control many (or most) of the elements on your own should you have the infrastructure to accommodate it. If you don’t, then you may want to outsource the services of your website and online stores to the W2P provider. If they have a services department, then they can effectively behave as your own graphics and technology HR. A reasonable way to go about technology investment since you only pay for the services as you require them.

  1. Do you integrate with 3rd party systems?

If the answer is “no”, then my advice is generally to stay away. The reason is, because there is no perfect system out there. But there is a perfect solution for your business and that solution may be a combination of many different system. If the providers of all these differing systems can “talk to each other” to create the solution you need, then you’re golden. If you find yourself already with a W2Pprovider that does not integrate with 3rd party systems, then start speaking up. They obviously are doing things to keep business in house. But that is at your expense. Consider making a switch because it shows a large elements of closed mindedness and lack of continuity.

  1. Can I see sample customer sites / demo sites?

A picture is a thousand words and a fully functional web site with online ordering and web to print is probably your best indication that the W2P provider that you are speaking to can do what you are asking. Look at the differing sites. If they are broad in their capabilities, then that’s good. If they are all looking quite similar, be cautious. Don’t hesitate to call up companies to ask for their feedback.

  1. Is your technology cross-browser compatible?

You want to make sure that regardless of your choice of web to print platform, that there are no issues in displaying the web to print solution on all browsers – be they computers or tablets. As mentioned above, you want to stay away from Flash as well as any other outdated mediums that people might be selling.

  1. What are your pricing options? Do you have any payment plans?
This is probably a question on the checklist that needed no mentioning. It is at the top of everyone’s mind. The 2 general considerations is whether you are getting a system that you “own” and hosting on your server (traditionally referred to as an “enterprise” solution) which is typically particularly expensive as outlined above. Or whether you are subscribing to a technology that will be hosted and managed with your provider, while you pay a more nominal fee.

Even under the Saas options, there are set up fees that may apply. Even under those scenarios, it is not outside the realm of reasonable, to request that the set up be divided so that you can see that the deliverables are actually delivered while you take the chance on a company you may not yet be familiar with. Of course, there are those that offer their technologies without any set up or for a free trial which may be a worthwhile research exercise.

When it comes to pricing though, keep in mind what we said above. Your web to print service provider is your technology partner to a large extent. They are doing the research and on-going development which can get costly if they are progressive.

You are now equipped with enough information to find the right solution for you. Ask the right questions. Take the facts and compare. Make a decision that will be worthwhile for you in the short and long-term, and get your on-line solution launched. Once your website and online ordering portal are floating in cyber-space, be sure to check back with us in the next journal to learn the 101 on how to get your website marketed and found on the web.

Open Source Web to Print Data

Typically, when investing in a Web to Print technology, even an affordable Saas-based technology, you are buying into a system that is completely “closed” in that the only human resources that can support your technology investment is the company familiar with it. Once you decide to stop paying that support fee, or if that group disappears or stops supporting their technology, your data, your templates, order history and your time investment alone is at risk of disappearing altogether. There is virtually no-where that can accommodate your data and your product templates. The portals that house them as well also run the risk of disappearing. When you tie your open source Web to Print data / WordPress website, even if you discontinue the use of your web to print plug-in, the set up of your product catalog and information remains with you thereafter. The value goes far beyond your initial investment – and certainly further than the investment that closed systems can offer.

Again, to put things in perspective, there are certainly some things that open-source systems can not do. And you have to rely on some of the more proprietary systems out there. At that point you want to make sure you are speaking to the right people. If they are forward thinking enough, then they will have provisions for you and/or they will get their technology there eventually. But for now, those looking for the best of both worlds better do some homework.

WordPress Usage Statistics

While on the subject of statistics, there are close to 1 Billion websites on the internet. WordPress powers close to 100 Million of them. That being the case, anyone with a bit of proficiency can now go to WordPress (or any of the other website & e-commerce platforms) and set up their own website, integrate an e-commerce plug-in with the payment and shipping gateways of their choice – and be off to the races to make some money online. That was not so do-able in the print industry until most recently. Now, even printers can set up their WordPress websites and find Web to Print technologies that can be embedded and appended within their website within minutes.

Whereas in the past, someone had to take the risk of paying upwards of $50,000 to buy a software that would take a month to deliver which would ultimately end up as shelf-ware, (and if it didn’t, they were likely hiring a full time salary to operate the damned thing). Now, by spending a couple hundred dollars and spending no more than a week or 2 you will know if the solution is worthwhile. Note the difference in savings of time, money and aggravation. Aside from the time, money and frustration savings, there is another element worth noting.

Open Source Web to Print

Having said that, where would the uninitiated go from here?   For starters, if your web initiatives were to follow the stats, and you want to create a open source Web to Print infrastructure that will be supportable in the long term, you want to choose a website platform that is used by the majority and has a large development base of contributors. That only guarantees that the technology will have a stronger likelihood of continuity due to the investment and adoption of the majority. Of course, important criteria would be considered as well such as technological objectives, customer convenience, efficient processes etc. But that will generally be covered anyway, if you follow the stats. Indisputably, the most popular website platform is WordPress. As of July 2015, WordPress powers at least 24.2% of the websites published on the internet (Source: http://w3techs.com/technologies/history_overview/content_management/all/y). While there are other systems for consideration such as Joomla, Drupal, CMS Made Simple, Open Cart, ZenCart, OS Commerce, PrestaShop, Shopify, Magento, Volusion and Big Commerce to name a few – WordPress dominates the open source community as the CMS of choice by over 60%. (Source: http://trends.builtwith.com/cms). To put things in perspective, a really popular and like-able website and e-commerce system is Shopify which has a user base of 165,000 users. WordPress being a popular website, blogging and e-commerce platform has 600 times more websites using its platform than Shopify. (Source: http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all)


Need A Widget? Here it is!

In the past, if you wanted to add a feature to your website or change the look, it took substantial coding and customizations plus a lot of time before it could be delivered. On an open source Web to Print website platform, you can access HUNDRED or THOUSANDS of plug-ins for a less than a few hundred dollars – and plug them in INSTANTLY! Because of the broad variety of plug-ins and modules available, websites can differentiate themselves substantially as far as their offerings and presentations go, that would make the companies that they represent more memorable and differentiated.

Open Source Web to Print Expenses

The previous article: Proprietary vs. Open Source needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There are some people that delude themselves into thinking that an entire web based print conglomerate can be formed without spending a penny. That is certainly not the case as there are open source Web to Print expenses. Perhaps if you happen to be a printer who is also a programmer. Even if that were the case, you have to start judging as to where you want to invest your time and what is more worthwhile for you and your business? To sell and print? Or to program a solution that only you will use? If the answer is to program, then you may get away with spending nominal amounts. But if you ultimately need to tend to your printing business, someone then needs to tend to the programming and web development. So keep in mind, that even when utilizing open source platforms that are virtually free, there are other required expenses, such as to host, create a redundant environment, buy plug-ins for necessary widgets and of course – spend the necessary time (or money) to design, populate and publish your web site (or portal) with designs, information and products. If you are not spending the time, then someone can obviously do it for you. And that “someone” has to eat as well. That will cost money. But it will not cost the amounts of money that traditionally needed to be spent.

 

Open Source vs. Proprietary Web to Print

Open Source vs. Proprietary

Technology practices varied between the print industry and the general web population because print technology is highly technical. The culture within the larger web development community was substantially different and generally more efficient. The print technology industry, because of its highly technical nature, was generally a proprietary nature and “closed” environment, originally monopolized by companies that wished to drive value to their existing products or machines. Original Web to Print solutions were sold as enterprise solutions upward of $50,000.

General web development culture is generally more open and collaborative. For those who don’t yet know, there are collaborative “open source” communities that developers turn to supplement their development skills to accomplish development feats that would otherwise take a substantial amount of time if ventured through trial and error. The term “open source”, as far as it applies in the software industry, denotes a software development culture in which original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Indeed, developers can now access code libraries and development kits that evolved over years – propelling their web projects to completion in weeks or months when taking the likes of the traditional technology providers years and years (if at all).

Having been involved with Web to Print for over a decade and a half, attending trade shows and visiting production centers, I still experience a light shock when I take a brief look at some of the expensive systems in the market, old and new, and find that they do not have much more to them to warrant their price tag except for maybe over-architecture and a heavy infrastructure to support. Given the inefficiency of the technologies, I am not surprised when companies such as iWay / Press-Sense, HiFlex and BlueTree disappear – no longer to be supported. Considering the monies invested, would have thought that the technological advancements could have been afforded.

Despite the self-destruction of these proprietary Web to Print systems, these 2 cultures have been converging over the years to the point that it has proliferated within the industry to give the more established players food for thought. Whereas more established print companies and conglomerates turn to the big established names to provide big enterprise solutions to help achieve their online objectives, the smaller and more nimble print shops and brokers (where owners are often sellers and operators) have blazed a different path to achieve similar objectives.

As an amusing side point, at times I get approached by small shops or print brokers that will browse through some of our client websites. Some will remark, “oh, I like that website. That must be a large company.”, not knowing that the website belongs to a print broker just like them.

Certainly for some, proprietary systems did the job they were supposed to do by being first in the market and hopefully allowed some to generate money and repeat business over their competitors. And certainly, having a Web to Print solution has become almost a requirement in winning repeat business. Traditional enterprise solutions such as those available through EFI (Digital Store Front – PrintSmith), Marcom (formerly Printable), OPS, Pageflex and even Racad Tech’s ePOWER Online (GOePOWER.com) – involve massive development initiatives that cover nearly every aspect of web development required in order to create a web to print system. Accounts, e-commerce, payment integrations, shipping integrations, product catalogs, PDF rendering, variable data integration, hierarchy permissions, production backends, file routing, order status updates, QR codes, impositioning, product groupings, reporting and the list goes on and on.

Modern Web to print Technologies no longer require large teams of developers to create these massive solutions. Why? Because the entire open source world has THOUSANDS or MILLIONS of developers working for YOU doing all the general work that every enterprise solution was once doing for themselves. These days, any person wanting a website with e-commerce widgets can do some basic browsing and discover that the platforms that power most of the websites in the world today, are all FREE. That is to say that all the basic Web to Print functionalities can be found somewhere in the open source world without the need of investing large sums of money. In so far as Web to Print is the medium of facilitating print ordering through the web, what was once the domain of the select few has become accessible to every print infrastructure no matter how small.

I remember sitting in the offices of Konica Minolta in Canada as they were having a brain picking session when they compared their closed PDF driver solutions, that only worked with their machines, with Racad Tech’s GoPrint2 Drivers that accomplished the same – were easy to set up and worked with any solution – for only $50 per month. They were amazed and laughing at their own technology.

Web to Print as an Investment

In explaining the dynamics of successful business, a successful businessman taught his young son a basic principle in making wise investments. 1 – Buy low, sell high. 2 – Invest in what will make you the greatest return over the longest period of time. With that in mind, we will venture off in to the world of Web to Print technology and how we should be approaching Web to Print as an investment.

To put things in perspective however, we will give some brief background of the evolution of web-based print initiatives over the years and compare it with where we are at today.