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For maximum productivity in web-to-print (W2P) it’s necessary to integrate the online sales portal with other business management systems. In some cases these will already exist within the print service provider’s business, and in others they may be added subsequently, but either way, it’s valuable to understand how they function and what benefits integration with W2P would bring.

CRM:

Customer Relationship Management tools support the sales role by recording all customer contact whether it is sales or service related. From this information a CRM system can prompt follow-up calls or other contacts and generate promotional offers for both existing and prospective customers, backed by a record of previous purchase history and notes on any problems.

Feeding W2P activity information into a CRM system is an obvious move as it’s important that all customer interaction and purchasing activity should be visible within the print service provider’s organisation. This not only gives sales and management staff a more complete view of how much business a customer is doing with the printer, but also a sense of how they prefer to interact – do W2P sales follow sales visits, calls or email promotions, for example, or do they tend to occur independently of them?

This information can also provide pointers for the maintenance and development of the W2P portal itself. If initial W2P orders are followed by a reversion to phone, fax or email ordering, for example, this may mean that the portal is not sufficiently easy to use or doesn’t support the type of work that the customer wants to place.

DAM:

Digital Asset Management systems have been around for a while, pre-dating widespread broadband internet, and were often used to provide access to hi-res picture libraries for graphic designers, ad agencies and magazine or catalogue publishers, with on-line interfaces for image selection. Nowadays they may also store master layout documents, images and graphics that are frequently used by customers of template-based W2P.

A value-added service that can tie customers in to their printer, a DAM system can be integrated with a W2P portal to enable the correct templates, images and graphics to be accessed during online construction of template-based jobs. For speed of display, often low resolution RGB images are used to provide the customer preview; when the job is approved for print, these are replaced with high resolution print-ready CMYK versions, a task that can be automated with the correct integration between W2P portal and DAM.

Any W2P system that includes template-based job creation will by default have some degree of DAM functionality, which should be sufficient if you’re starting from scratch. If there’s an existing DAM system, integration with the W2P portal may be possible to save duplication, or it may be simpler to transfer the relevant files into the W2P system.

ERP and MIS:

Often used interchangeably, Enterprise Resource Planning and Management Information Systems largely overlap in planning and executing jobs more efficiently, managing quoting, job numbering, planning and scheduling, allocation and use of resources – both mechanical and human – and consumables and stock replenishment, finishing, shipping and invoicing. In addition to improving customer service through more accurate quoting and job tracking, ERP and MIS help printers gather business intelligence via analysis of customer data and can play a useful role in achieving compliance with quality and environmental standards.

MIS solutions, the type more familiar to most printers, provide analysis of costs based on ink usage, production time, media use and wastage. This analysis may extend to material, equipment and operator performance, in addition to stock management and generation of invoices and delivery notes. Some MIS vendors provide CRM functionality as a module, or web-to-MIS connectivity. Sales staff are also supported via mobile access to MIS, making it possible to quote and book jobs from the customer’s site.

While MIS offerings generally provide outputs that can be used with financial systems, ERP solutions differ in that they generally provide the financial tools as well, which may include CRM, human resources and payroll. ERP proponents point out that this all-in-one approach avoids the potential difficulties inherent in connecting disparate systems from multiple vendors and can avoid problems by alerting users to situations such as customers having exceeded their credit limits or payment terms before further jobs are accepted, for example.

Close integration of either MIS or ERP systems with W2P allows online customers to benefit from automated pricing, ordering, job scheduling and status visibility, while giving the printer reliable information about work in progress for production control, profitability analysis and cashflow planning.

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