As Internet bandwidth expands. more mobile apps and more portable cloud connections lead to easier ordering of printed products.
From healthcare, finance and insurance companies to hardcore manufacturers, marketing executives across America have revealed what they want from print service providers (PSPs). Whether or not they print “in house,” nearly half of all firms agree that printing from the cloud would be useful.
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It is clear that companies want more technology in their printing. Some 48% say the ability to print from the cloud is desired (for example, simplifying the ordering process by submitting files via a website). More than one-third (35%) would find useful the ability to digitally manage their print orders and related assets (that is, using a website to securely store, manage and retrieve media content). And, nearly one-third of companies (32%) want a dedicated project representative from their commercial printer.
Print firm owners and production managers have increasingly realized that managing information technology (IT) in the cloud makes good business sense. Cloud-based services are a microcosm of the core-competency outsourcing strategy. Offers such as web-to-print, job management and document scanning free up resources, allowing marketers to focus on what they do best.
Online interactions in our increasingly connected world continue to grow, from now-commonplace electronic banking and bill payment to the record-breaking $3 billion ca-ching in sales this past Cyber Monday (up 16% from 2014, according to Adobe data based on 200 million visits to 4,500 retail sites). Smartphone mobile traffic accounted for nearly 28% of those post-Thanksgiving online sales, reports transaction tracker IBM Watson Trend. As consumers and the general public have become more comfortable with “cloud computing” and cloud storage, so too have businesses and the marketers who promote them on multiple media channels, including in print.
Consider that a decade ago, digital video transmission was a legitimate concern due to online bandwidth constraints. (Remember gamer lag and seemingly endless video buffering that tested our patience?) Today, YouTube estimates that 300 hours of new videos are uploaded every minute.
Players such as Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM and Microsoft have invested substantially in their datacenter infrastructures. Google’s in-house datacenter network, for example, now is fifth-generation technology called Jupiter fabrics. As of this past June, the network has 100 times more capacity than the original iteration. It can deliver more than 1 petabyte (1,000 terabytes) per second of total bisection bandwidth. To put this in perspective, such capacity would be enough for 100,000 servers to exchange information at 10 gigabytes per second each: enough to read the entire scanned contents of the Library of Congress in less than 1/10th of a second, according to Google.
Despite a recent 70-minute Google Cloud outage in Europe caused by capacity overload, public cloud platforms
have evolved and improved over the past few years — from better security and enhanced performance to storage wars (up to 1 terabyte and even unlimited, in some cases) and more flexible pricing options.
Apple has embarked on an ambitious project to create a new high-speed private network between its datacenters in an effort to deal with the constantly-increasing demand for storage and transfer capacity in the cloud. The iPhone maker is spending several billion dollars to link its datacenters in the U.S. to each other and directly to major Internet exchanges, Bloomberg and Apple Insider reported in June. (One new $2 billion facility will be constructed in Arizona.) In addition, Apple is exploring ways to design and build its own switching hardware that could expand the capacity of its fiber optic links to “hundreds of gigabits per second.” Similarly, Google owns thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable that runs between its own datacenters, and uses a combination of custom-designed software and hardware to automatically handle scaling and capacity issues.
Why invest such substantial capital in infrastructure? Because the cloud can be a “beast business” money-maker. Amazon has revealed that its cloud computing service, Amazon Web Services, will pull in approximately $6 billion in 2015, Business Insider reported in April; $1 billion of that is expected to be profit. Microsoft and IBM’s annual cloud revenues, meanwhile, hover just over $6 billion and under $4 billion, respectively.
Printing in the Cloud
Print service providers have figured out the dynamics. Cloud packages vary depending on the vertical markets served by the print customer choosing them. Retail end-customer needs are quite different from those of the medical industry, real estate, or higher education, for example.
“Printers need to find a niche to sell to in an open [online] storefront, whether they’re selling to the world with their own [brand] or alias branding,” Gary Marron told Quick Printing magazine. “They need to make it part of their eMarketing strategy,” advised Marron, the former CEO of Hiflex, a web-to-print software specialist that Hewlett-Packard purchased four years ago. “HP’s cloud strategy was a big part of the acquisition requirement,” he shared.
There are other variables for printers to consider, of course, including the size of their cloud offering. The key for web-to-print, according to Marron, is built-in automated order entry that limits the number of touches.
Some print firms have been known to go to the cloud extreme, hosting not only web-to-print but also management information systems (MIS) and even entire systems. Monthly fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. EFI’s cloud-based Fiery Dashboard is a subscription workflow product that takes digital print management a step further by providing metrics in such areas as staffing, print engine investments, and color quality. Some have used EFI’s cloud-based Digital StoreFront to launch branded sites for customers, while cutting administrative time on print jobs by as much as 50 percent.
The PIA Survey
Marketers’ business printing needs were studied in research conducted in September by the Printing Industries of America (PIA) on behalf of FedEx Office. (More than 400 marketing executives completed a seven-minute telephone survey.) Participants included marketing vice presidents, CMOs and other senior-level marketing officers at mid- to large-sized companies, the majority posting annual revenues between $10 million and $50 million with 100 to 500 employees. Notably, half of the respondents are under 35 years of age.
Only 14% of these marketing executives said they use internal or “in-house” printing capabilities exclusively. Nearly one-third (31%) said that most of their printing is done by commercial printers. Fully 90 percent of these marketers also revealed that they have purchased outside commercial printing services in the past 12 months; 72% of them also employed internal printing. The types of print jobs they outsourced primarily included business cards, direct mail, brochures, signage, banners and menus.
Photo credit: Cloud Printing Alliance