The breadth and depth of online resources available to enhance the education and performance of production professionals seems to stretch to infinity. Added to the mix of trade publications, industry organizations, vendor and corporate Web sites, is a new category of online production tools: application service providers (ASPs).
As the name implies, ASPs provide software applications that are usually bundled together to improve workflow productivity and efficiency. While most ASPs target printers and prepress providers, many have modules that directly benefit print customers, too, making production operations smoother, faster, more accurate and more predictable. Some ASPs deal with the complete operations chain—from creative through distribution—while others pick up links of the chain at specific points in the process. Most applications are accessed online, capitalizing on the speed and volume capabilities of the Internet and are either hosted and serviced by an ASP or reside on a users server. The following list provides a handful of diverse ASPs and their offerings:
Digital Art Exchange (DAX) was the first managed Internet and ASP for the graphic communications industry. It offers ad agencies, creators, designers, printers, publishers, separators and their clients scalable solutions enabling the im-plementation of a variety of digital technologies. DAX-It's managed FTP (file transfer protocol), for example, affords customers unlimited transfers and storage capacity in secure, bi-directional folders. It comes standard with robust e-mail hosting, with plenty of e-mail addresses, and the capability to accept very large e-mail attachments. DAX charges a monthly fee and maintains 24/7 tech support.
Impoze is the granddaddy of all production planning software and the forerunner of similar programs now being packaged by ASPs. Truly a publisher's tool, Impoze automates the magazine production process, from issue layout to billing estimates, from edition management to print optimization, and from binding instructions to postage calculations. Impoze recently introduced a new Web-based communication platform, www.impozeonline.com, a service that visually connects a publisher's production team, ad sales staff, printer and other authorized users with shared issue plans, thumbnails, production data, bindery instructions or an XML summary of an entire magazine, catalog or book. The solution, which is priced on a per-title, per-month basis with no minimum contract term, also features interactive chats and notes.
FlightCheck has long been one of my favorite and least-expensive
production tools. Now, Markzware has taken the concept one step
further with MarkzNet, an online preflighting tool. As with much of the software developed today, the first commercial release of MarkzNet was directed to an ASP, Print-able.com's PrintFlight, an online service that automatically delivers collected and preflighted digital files via FTP.
printCafe is one of the evolving mega-ASPs, with several applications available online for subscribers. Two, in particular, printellect and Proteus, promise enhanced workflows to print buyers. To assist in specifying and procuring print jobs, printellect prompts users to input job specs. Once job specifications are confirmed, the information is sent to the network for RFQs (request for quotes). The second application, Proteus, allows editors, art directors, sales managers, production managers and printers to collaborate on publication assembly and prod-uction. Proteus may be customized for size, color scheme, pagination and special job production requirements. It also offers conflict checking, support for an unlimited number of inserts; bind-ins and blow-ins; on-the-fly refolio/repagination; real-time ad/edit ratio
calculations and a CostOdometer that estimates based on predefined print contract parameters.
Shira's latest offering is eP2 Online, an Internet-based technology for prepress and PDF production workflows. The integrated, modular e-service solution for document originators, printers, prepress trade shops, publishers and customers offers customized prepress Web servers for prepress and print production; automated RIPing, trapping, digital proofing, OPI, impositioning and file con-version; print project management and online job tracking.
Vio provides a range of advanced workflow applications on a pay-
as-you-go basis, combined with a fully managed, fast and secure
file transfer service. Vio's also partnered with software providers to offer online asset management, preflight software to ensure ads are created to specifications, and collaborative soft and remote proofing.
In addition to investigating ASPs for your own organization, check out the following resource: www.printplanet.com. The site offers 15 e-communities, each related to a specific digital workflow topic, including computer-to-plate, e-production, asset management and digital proofing—all free of charge to print buyers, thanks to the support of industry vendors. The depth of the participants' knowledge is extraordinary, and more than 20 percent of the members hail from outside of the U.S., making for an interesting global perspective. Stay tuned for next month's column on soft and remote proofing.
Kathy Reilly (email@example.com) is president of Print Production Advisory, a Milwaukee-based consultancy. She has been actively engaged in magazine production for more than 28 years.