The relationship between print service providers and the technology they use is evolving as these companies realize the many ways in which IT deployments can connect them with their customers and enhance their internal processes. The process will be necessarily complicated and far-reaching for an industry that remains, in many ways, decidedly focused on analog, physical objects.

Web-to-print software is one of the defining tech tools included in the printing business's digital revolution. A successful deployment of a W2P portal can positively change the relationship between printers and their customers, making it easier and quicker to place an order and thus encouraging purchases. For shops that haven't used systems like these in the past, however, incorporating the software can be more challenging than predicted.

Adding a web-to-print option, as with any other transformative business endeavor, should be considered in strategic and logistical contexts. There are a host of products to choose from, and print service providers' needs will vary based on their main products and target audiences. With due consideration and caution from business leaders, the transformation can lead to new channels for value.

Surveying the market
A recent SpendEdge survey of the web-to-print software market exposed a few of the preferences and worries affecting service providers today. For example, the research pointed out that the overall complexity of software is improving, and shops now have the opportunity to enhance their digital ecosystems with new and better capabilities. When printing becomes easier and more affordable through the addition of better inventory and vendor management, the orders placed through web-to-print portals can emerge more efficiently.

Not every web-to-print platform meets expectations, however. SpendEdge noted that there is an advantage in technology suppliers offering their tools on a trial basis. This may help promote trust among print service providers. No leader wants to add a new, flashy IT system, only to find that it isn't actually improving the workflow or consumer interactions in any meaningful way.

Being ready to adapt
Of course, browsing for and buying a software solution is only one part of the overall adoption process. Some of the evolution that must accompany a new software deployment has nothing to do with the web-to-print portal itself and is more based on the print shop's ability to mold its tactics and techniques to compensate for the new and different source of orders. Having requests rolling in directly from consumers is potentially a major change to print workflows and demands a response.

WhatTheyThink contributors Chris Bondy and Cary Sherburne specifically called for this kind of preparation as an example of upstream response to tech deployment. They noted that when a company first opens up the floodgates of clients' direct orders, it may receive many more requests than it is used to. Whether it will be able to produce these orders with any kind of positive profit margin is an open question, and one that will likely be determined by employees' readiness to adapt their workflows to the new business.

The jobs that come with a web-to-print portal may each be smaller than the contracts that have been negotiated through more conventional means. Whether this limits a print shop's effectiveness or opens a valuable new chapter in its customer interactions could come down to preparations that have no direct connection to software.

Not every type of printer
Printing Impressions pointed out that the packaging sector isn't ready to jump into web-to-print use, putting this specialized market slightly out of step with the general direction of the print service provider world. That doesn't mean this lack of direct customer input is the permanent state of IT in packaging, however. As the source pointed out, the issues keeping packaging and web-to-print apart are logistical rather than philosophical. The unique dimensions of packages are hard to deal with through a web-to-print interface, but that may soon change.

The need for expert input in the packaging creation process could fade as software becomes more powerful and intuitive, and Printing Impressions suggested that it's probably wise for industry observers to assume that this change will take place. This convergence of capabilities and interests will allow companies that primarily provide packaging to see whether a direct, consumer-driven sales model works for them.

Open the floodgates
Changing print from a market defined by negotiated deals with clients to one that can be driven with a single click is a major moment. The fact that this movement is taking hold across the sector shows that demand does exist for such convenience and direct connection. In a world increasingly driven by e-commerce, the printing industry is making a move in a digital direction.