Printing, despite its defiantly analog origins, has not been immune to a wave of user-friendly technological transformation. Print service providers have to serve a modern, connected clientele and should therefore adapt their solutions to fit this idiom. Nowhere is the evolution of the industry clearer than in the realm of web-to-print solutions, a new frontier in client convenience that has seen growth of its own over the past few years.

The current state of web-to-print
A recent WhatTheyThink column by Cary Sherburne explained that users have become more attuned to the cloud and have come to demand more from print service providers. Sherburne pointed out that printers with these solutions in place should assess whether their offerings stack up with the needs of their audiences. Even if this was true when they first adopted web-to-print portals, they may have fallen behind the curve over time.

The online world of consumer technology is setting standards now. As Sherburne pointed out, clients aren't just thinking about self-service portals in the context of the printing business. They're also considering experiences they've had with consumer-facing sites such as Amazon. These convenient sites make it easy to access products and services through the web, mobile devices and more, and they possess intuitive interfaces.

Companies that are still insisting customers use clunky or outdated web-to-print portals may discover that their clientele is no longer impressed by these offerings. The cloud is now a natural part of the business world, and self-service tools are common. Standing out in such an ingrained marketplace means adding real value, rather than simply having a product. Print service providers that can make the leap to actively helpful status may thrive in the years ahead.

Sherburne compiled advice from a number of print industry luminaries to help service providers get on the right track with their self-service portals. This included a key design philosophy: Effective solutions must be easy enough for neophytes to use without getting frustrated, yet still pack enough features that experts will be able to get what they want. This balance between accessibility and power will separate the impressive web-to-print products from those that are just getting by.

Time to upgrade
There's no time like the present for print service providers to upgrade their self-service offerings. Printing Impressions contributor Mark Michelson recently listed a few important reasons why this is the case. For instance, brands that have strong web-to-print products have effectively shaken off the relatively slow basic sales process. Now, an order can come in at any hour, with customers finding their own way to the organization, finding options they like and buying them, with little or no hands-on action by the service provider's sales team.

When web-to-print solutions support the creation of recurring and long-term orders, they're especially useful. Michelson specified that this kind of revenue is exactly what service providers need to survive in a post-print world. One-off projects are not reliable enough to pay the bills for years to come. If customers have a way to pick out every detail of an order and set it to recur – through a self-service portal that suits their needs – they can become valuable long-term partners for printers, all with a minimum of complications.

New technology keeps printers around
The fear that IT upgrades would do away with the printing industry might be keeping some companies stuck in an old-fashioned mindset. This is a mistake, however, as an infusion of technology that can make a print service provider suit the modern market.

In a world that is dominated by the cloud and easy, self-service online ordering methods, it makes sense for printers to suit these expectations rather than defying them by insisting on legacy communications with customers. Remaining behind the curve on this would seem to prove that printers aren't part of the modern business ecosystem – not a healthy message to send.

Companies' relationships with one another are the glue that holds any industry together. Print is no different. If service providers want to reach their customers, they have to speak with them in a language they understand. That means giving them top-notch accessibility solutions that mirror the power and convenience seen in consumer web portals such as the Amazon storefront. This experience can bring print's image into a digitally dominated era.