Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
NAPL

I just completed a series of presentations on web-to-print and had to face the inevitable question, “Why does it work for some companies and not others?” If you ask the vendors about the rate of web-to-print adoption or use, they may say it’s high or low, depending on their product and their blood alcohol content. But according to the latest InfoTrends research, the share of web-purchased commercial print volume will double from 15% in 2009 to 30% in 2014. When I am asked, I generally say we still have not seen the momentum needed to create mass-market adoption. In other words, it’s slow. The question is why?

First, it would be naïve not to consider the cost of entry. While there are some low cost alternatives, more feature-laden systems will cost $10-$40K. In an economy where sales are declining and profitability is low, this alone is a significant challenge because it is harder to argue ROI. But if you have enough demand and a good web-to-print solution, you can reduce estimator and CSR time.

Second, not everyone is happy and the overall impression is not always positive.  In our 2012 NAPL Digital Services Survey, when we asked “Has web-to-print increased sales” we found that 52% reported yes, 20% said no and 28% said they were not sure or that it was too early to tell. When we asked for more details about the challenges people experienced, we heard:

  • the long sales process;
  • the difficulty of getting clients to commit;
  • Web-to-print is very expensive to create and then the customer may not use it;
  • the tendency of clients to use only a few of the features ;
  • automated job ticket creation, job scheduling, job tracking, shipping, and billing are available but unused;
  • upgrades and keeping various software communicating properly and constant IT maintenance; and
  • it doesn’t integrate with our MIS as promised.

The two most common reasons I see for limited success are issues with system integration and a lack of awareness for customers or poor perception by sales staff. The integration issues have to do with web-to-print solutions not talking to other systems such as MIS and prepress PDF workflow systems. Older MIS or prepress PDF packages may not communicate with the web-to-print system. This may mean that you need to update the MIS or PDF workflow software or buy a web-to-print solution that includes those outdated modules. In some companies, the web-to-print solution is not promoted by the sales staff. In fact it can be discouraged because they may consider web-to-print to be a job threat.

For web-to-print adoption to grow and succeed more, we need to overcome four basic issues.

  • First, you have to get it working. If it’s sitting in a box or installed and not in use then you have to get it installed, get staff trained and start talking to the sales force about the advantages.
  • Second, if you are introducing it, you should start with some beta testing on a limited number of customers. Ask for their feedback and refine the system to overcome their objections.
  • Third, once you work out the bugs you need to create a go-to-market strategy and get staff buy-in.
  • And forth, you have to overcome the system integration issues. It may take time to overcome them all. For those you can’t solve, you need “band-aids” or work-around solutions.

Where are you in the adoption of web-to-print? Are you stuck because of poor implementation, staff issues or a lack of promotion?

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Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.