Print & Workflow Automation: Trends in Front- and Back-End Systems

July 18, 2017

Blog-IntegratedServicesPrint and workflow automation are at the forefront of all discussions surrounding the print shop of the future — particularly regarding the front and back end systems. In the past, the front- and back-end have been two distinct systems, basically what you see and what you don’t see. Now, they are converging together driven by the need for print automation solutions. A better understanding of these trends can help you when working with a customer and presenting print shop automation solutions and services. Today, we explain a brief overview of these industry changes.

Front-End Automation

In front-end automation, there are new developments allowing bi-directional connectivity between front and back-end systems. These developments are bringing to market new software platforms that openly integrate into a print shop and handle print production jobs more efficiently.

Typically when we talk about front-end systems, we’re referencing web-to-print solutions and services. The discussion on this typically extends to the section of the web that consumers and/or clients see and interact with. For example, creating a photo book online or going to Vista Print and ordering business cards. The greatest improvement on this has occurred over the past decade where we’ve seen web design and front-end development get combined to deliver an exceptional user experience.

When discussing development, it’s usually referred to the back-end. But lately, there’s been a need to differentiate between designers who worked strictly in Photoshop and those who could code and design a user experience. With designers expanding their skillsets, we’re seeing lines crossed where they are both front-end coders and proficient working with JavaScript and jQuery. This allows them to create dynamic interactive web sites for front-ends.

Back-End Automation

In back-end automation, we’re seeing the convergence of back-end systems integrate more efficiently. Commonly, the back end consists of a server, an application, and a database. So, if a print job is ordered through a web portal, an end-user would open a website and interact with the front-end. Once the information is entered, the application stores it in a database. The information is then automatically sent to the manufacturing line eliminating the steps in between. This is where back-end and front-end systems converge, at the finishing automation forefront, ultimately improving profits for the printer by automating the order to manufacturing steps.

Looking forward, there is a growing adoption towards various back-ends being deployed via the cloud. These deployments change the architecture where the server, the application and database now exist in a hosted environment as opposed to onsite. This allows ease of use and lower cost for the deployment and management of web portals.  This expansion has driven improved automation. As a result, further developments allow content and orders to be linked with Pre-Press Systems, Management Information Systems (MIS) or Output Management Systems as well as extending to Logistic applications. This is an exciting area and it is no wonder many in Graphic Communications are talking about it. As costs of manufacturing and further price pressure on the printer is squeezing profit its understandable that technology and innovation is converging.

Today, one could say that not a single area or process in a print shop is not considered for automation. We’re getting more sophisticated and ultimately eliminating technical complexity by combining front- and back-end systems to drive automation.  Anywhere we see a way to eliminate waste and errors can be driven through logical automation and soon artificial intelligence. As this further automates the decision making process, efficiencies are gained and costs can be lowered.

Printers are always looking for greater visibility to the business as their clients are increasingly requesting better service levels. Printers today are not solely judged on what they deliver but also how they deliver. Whether through an exceptional user interface experience on the web portal or via a manufacturing user experience for tracking and delivering work on time at the lowest cost. These are all value drivers for a successful printer today and helps retain customers as well as provide ways to maintain margins.

Gavin Jordan-Smith
VP/GM, Industrial Print and Graphic Communications

Gavin Jordan-Smith is responsible for developing the strategic direction to grow Konica Minolta’s solutions business in graphic communications, general office and vertical markets, including oversight of software planning, vertical market strategy, engineering and production print business planning and software development. In his spare time, he enjoys many activities, from hurling tennis rackets with deadly accuracy at small moving objects or jumping off a bridge with a thick elastic rubber band tied to his ankles.