Remote Proofing. Are You Ready?
Imagine a perfect digital world in which "faster, better, cheaper" are daily achievements. All quality-control checks and balances are performed on the digital file; the file (including all supporting documentation, purchase orders and insertion orders) is transmitted to and from all those involved in the manufacturing process, with any reference material—specifically, the contract proof—pulled at a remote location. A perfect system? Yes, but it's not yet a practical reality for the entire industry.
Of course, there's no question that most of this can be done today, and, depending on what product is being manufactured, the remote proofing process works. However, contrary to the spiel you'll hear from some of the proofing manufacturers and high-speed transmission companies, there are bigger issues wrapped around remote proofing that must be discussed and resolved before proofing remotely becomes one size fits all.
Vendor role playing
If you're dealing with one printer—be it at one location or several locations—the remote proofing issues are greatly diminished. If standards and calibration are monitored and controlled, the process will prove itself in the long run. But, if the product is being shipped to several printers, the problem is instantly amplified. This is most apparent in the production of advertisements but is equally relevant to the manufacturing of any product, when the original producer works with a multitude of printing companies.
From an advertising agency perspective, even if digital files were shipped to every publication today, one set of separations would still be needed to produce the ink-on-paper, contract, press proofs. It's not that we don't use digital proofs—we most certainly do, and every day—but, as a large advertising agency, coupled with demanding turnaround times, ink-on-paper press proofs are still the most viable, cost-effective medium.
For argument's sake, and the sake of this story, let's remove these two issues from the equation. After all, they are both technicalities that are sure to be resolved at some point.