Software-as-a-Service in the Printing Industry

By on November 8th, 2010

There has been a lot written recently about changes in printing technology and the transformation of the printing industry, but I have seen little written about one of the other key drivers impacting our industry – software, and more specifically, SAAS or Software-as-a-Service.

As print technology has gotten “better, faster and cheaper” it has caused a shift in the types of companies that are offering specific services along the Marketing Services Value Chain.  Service providers are trying to both demonstrate value to customers through broader offerings and also want to get more volume onto new, more flexible print equipment. Many times, new software is considered when purchasing new printing equipment – perhaps composition software or content management software or web-2-print technology- but, even after acquiring the printer and the software, you still have to invest time and money to develop applications on the new platform – or do you?

There are many SAAS solutions available on the market today specifically geared to getting new print applications up and running fast, without direct investment in the underlying software. While many service providers have jumped on the SAAS band-wagon for delivering white-labeled e-presentment or archiving solutions, few have leveraged SAAS to broaden their print capabilities or offer Transpromo solutions. Below are just a few of the independent  SAAS solutions available on the market today:

There are also hosted solutions for fulfillment management, various vertical market statement and confirmation applications and integrated marketing solutions available. The applications and software represented by these platforms would cost a million, or many millions, to replicate – but are typically offered at a very reasonable monthly subscription cost that grows with the number of applications and volume of production used.

In many cases, the key benefit of these solutions to service providers trying to transition to new markets is that they offer the ability to tap into expertise and services as opposed to simply software. Having great power tools (particularly rented ones) doesn’t make you a master carpenter any more than having the top software makes you a programmer – or a vertical business expert. Access to proven platforms, customizable applications ready-to-run, expert consulting support and a price based on actual usage seems like a great way to broaden services without breaking the bank.

If you haven’t considered SAAS yet, why not? If you have, what has your experience been?

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    5 Responses to “Software-as-a-Service in the Printing Industry”

    1. Gee Ranasinha Says:

      Well said, Elizabeth. Too few companies consider SaaS-based offerings when looking to broaden their business value proposition – and they’re missing out.

      As an example, our company offers a SaaS-based system (it’s a portal that simplifies and standardizes the translation / localization of global communications). While most of our users are brands, a growing number can be classified as print services providers who have re-invented themselves by extending their offering to services such as facilities management, asset management, or web-to-print services. Companies that I have spoken with inform me that their decision to go with a SaaS-based solution was as much an affordable way to dip their toes into uncharted waters (i.e. explore new markets) as it was the reduced IT dependency.

      I think that there’s an element of the “not invented here” syndrome that prohibits SaaS-based software adoption. As service providers have become more technologically-savvy in delivering their value offering, they’ve become – dare I say it – blasé about new services that they see. It’s easy to dismiss a potential application on the grounds of “We could develop something like that ourselves and not have to pay someone else.” Extrapolating that argument to its (ill)logical extreme, no-one would stop off at the local coffee shop for their morning Latte, since they would make their own cup of Joe at home!

      Just because, technically, you COULD do it doesn’t mean that, commercially, you SHOULD do it.

      Having no hardware or software to maintain, reduced deployment and training times, higher adoption rates, lower initial costs and seamless parallel systems integration allows companies to concentrate on important stuff like revenue-generation, rather than the resource-depleting activity of continually playing technological leap-frog.

    2. Elizabeth Gooding Says:

      Well said yourself! I agree that there is often a “not invented here” issue – but even with very technically savvy organizations it takes time to move into new areas and SAAS can get you there faster with less risk.

      At certain volumes it makes sense to be able to manage applications in house (or it may make sense depending on the organization and its core competencies) so the ideal option is to be able to transfer technology in-house at the end of a mutually agreeable term. I managed a SAAS offering for financial services communications for nearly a decade and in that time only had one client transfer the solution in house – but the option made it a lot easier to say “yes” to SAAS in the early days.

      I’m going to put together some more posts on specific SAAS offers and service providers who are using them successfully. I know of several but more case examples would be very welcome.

    3. Bryan Yeager Says:

      At InfoTrends, we’ve been covering the Software-as-a-Service trend related to print production software over the past few years. I wrote about it as one of the top five trends to watch for at Graph Expo. We’ve also been doing some research related to SaaS investment by printers, which will be coming out before the end of the year.

      Ultimately, if you’re a printer, there are a variety of factors that go into choosing which deployment model you acquire software through. Regarding SaaS, security and quality of service are issues that printers have voiced their concern about, as well as not having a clear picture about the cost savings that could be derived from utilizing SaaS. In addition, some products are better-suited for SaaS deployment than others. We see significant adoption of Web-to-print and cross-media marketing automation solutions (pURLs, microsites, campaign tracking) via Software-as-a-Service models. Products that rely on other desktop applications (such as variable data plug-ins) are not ideal for SaaS deployment, although the customization of VDP templates through Web storefronts is becoming more common, whether SaaS or licensed.

      My advice for printers is to approach SaaS cautiously where a SaaS product is appropriate, but certainly do not discount it as an option. Amazon.com runs its Elastic Cloud Computing service on the same servers in the same data centers where it runs its regular eCommerce operations from. If you trust doing eBusiness with Amazon, it’s not much of a stretch to extend your business to the cloud. EFI also runs its Digital StoreFront deployment for Staples’ retail print storefront in the cloud, which speaks to the level of trust major companies have placed in SaaS. If security, quality of service, SLAs, and the like are concerns, make sure you do your due diligence to check if a vendor meets your requirements.

      Additionally, my view is that printers should not be outsourcing their IT expertise entirely. The most successful printers I’ve met with have core competencies in IT and a penchant for technology innovation, whether using SaaS or not. Software is a great enabler, but it’s up to the printer to take that software to the next level and make a truly valuable, unique offering for its clients.

    4. Russ Gimson Says:

      We’ve actually branched out to use our software to help other printers save money. A lot of processes that have been traditionally time consuming can now be automated and in helping other printers cut costs, overhead and speed their workflows software is a great way to take steps out of a process that is not value added. We also show printers how to use these type of software to get more out of their equipment and people without sacrificing service or quality. It just makes sense to use these types of solutions to better compete in the new economic reality we are all facing.

    5. Elizabeth Gooding Says:

      Russ thanks for your post. If I’m reading this right, you are with a printing company which has developed software and processes and set themselves up as a consultant to other printers. Sounds brilliant.

      Do you run into any issues with your customers being concerned about working with a potential competitor? Are you offering your solution in a SaaS environment or selling them the solution outright?