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Printing Impressions-September 2004 Column
JDF: to Be or Not to Be

To thine own self be true and thou cannot be false to any other printer. A little twist on Shakespeare to remind me that if I am going to write a column, it should be as truthful as possible, particularly in the case of critical issues where all sides should be presented. In the past, I have written much about JDF (Job Definition Format) and the enormous impact I believe it will have on our industry. Am I caught up in all the hype? My passion is evident, thus I am being true to my own self, so Shakespeare can rest easy. But have I fairly explored the issue of whether JDF is to be or not to be? Well no, because I haven’t presented all sides.

In my last column, I wrote about how DRUPA was going to be a huge coming out party for JDF. But, because of prior commitments, I couldn’t make the trip. So after it was over, I eagerly communicated with many industry friends to get the lowdown. Well, I wasn’t totally wrong about the JDF hoopla at DRUPA. But I have to say the response I got was mixed—with true JDF believers, like me, some doubters and some in the middle. Chief among those who are not riding the JDF bandwagon is “His Print Industryness”, Frank Romano. I have known and respected Frank for more than 25 years, so I took it seriously when he sent me his 10 point JDF epistle. Space is limited so I can’t reprint all of his points, but I will try to summarize his views.

The foundation of my belief in the importance of JDF lies with CIM or computer-integrated manufacturing. I strongly believe that print is facing serious pressure from electronic media, which is both fast and economical. CIM will help print face this threat more effectively. While many other industries have automated, print still has a long way to go. Mark Michelson, editor in-chief of Printing Impressions, put it this way: “Business success for printers will increasingly require more automated workflows, even quicker job turnarounds and less human intervention. That is one of the only ways to carve out a profit in an industry where margins remain razor thin.” Romano doesn’t disagree with Michelson, but believes that CIM is already in practice, JDF has been over-hyped and is not necessarily needed for CIM, and that many printers already have CIM without JDF. However, he does feel that JDF may increase the functionality of printing systems in the future.

Perhaps the crux of the issue comes down to interoperability or a world where all equipment from all printing industry suppliers can talk the same language and work together. Romano believes that CIP4, the JDF association that oversees all of this, has over-hyped JDF as an instant solution for solving print’s Tower of Babel problems. As a 40-year observer of the printing industry, he feels suppliers apply standards as they see fit. “What happens when there are revisions to the specification and Supplier A implements them and Supplier B does not? Interoperability is then not operable,” Romano says. “CIP4 has said that JDF is a constantly evolving standard. Who then will pay for the constantly evolving upgrades? Printers, that’s who”.

Romano is not alone in his misgivings about the industry-wide success of interoperability. My good friend, industry expert Steven Schnoll , is also pessimistic. “While standards are critical, I don’t see JDF as a panacea for much,” argues Schnoll. “We are years away from any credible standard that will be useful in the print media industry. By the way, while JDF is a subset of XML I think the future lies in a more expansive application of XML across multimedia platforms.”

Romano feels that the CIP4 group is on a bandwagon fueled by their own convictions—leaving contrary viewpoints at the station. Other industry experts have similar misgivings. So, am I blindly riding on that bandwagon? While I admit to being on the bandwagon I do have my eyes open and realize that JDF is not a slam-dunk. It will take an almost unprecedented industry effort to turn the hype into reality which, I think, is happening. I have worked with and talked to many who are making that effort. And it doesn’t matter that there are some industry suppliers making little to no effort. As long as the firms that make up the core of what we do work together, all else will eventually fall in place. James Mauro of Heidelberg —one of the industry’s important suppliers working hard on JDF—feels the same way I do. “As JDF becomes an accepted and accredited standard, many more suppliers will conform with the specification, making CIM a reality instead of a dream,” Mauro contends. “The momentum is already evident with over 250 members of the CIP4 organization. Even though JDF is still a new subject that meets with some skepticism, it will ultimately be received with the same high regard as other well-accepted standards like PPF (Print Production Format) and PDF (Portable Document Format)—all standards that are contributing to and paving the way for JDF’s success.”

Larry Zusman of Xerox, another top supplier devoting considerable resources toward JDF, summed it up nicely. “Will it be adopted immediately? Standards never are,” he notes. “But with the incorporation of JDF into our Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection and offerings from our strategic partners Adobe, Creo and EFI, we are confident that the adoption of the standard throughout the graphic arts industry is much closer than anyone ever imagined.”

Note that Zusman mentions a few other companies that are also working hard on JDF. Adobe, with its PostScript, PDF and creation applications that will eventually bring JDF initiation to the customer, is a key player. Plus knowing Robin Tobin of Adobe as well as I do, I can almost hear her energetic affirmation as to the breadth of Adobe’s commitment. In fact, James Harvey, CIP4’s executive director, believes that investment in JDF may be as high as $1 billion, an astounding figure for our industry. Call me an optimist, especially when I see the willingness to work together coupled with the dedication and enthusiasm generated by all of these top companies. Perhaps not exactly as imagined, but I am certain that JDF will dramatically effect our industry.

I have also heard that printers aren’t really interested in JDF. So I wanted to get some comments from a long-time printer who was president of a division at one the country’s largest companies. His response; “What’s JDF”? Funny, we so-called experts and industry insiders feel the hype is overpowering. Yet most printers know little to nothing about JDF. Recent surveys have shown that printers don’t even have CIM on their radar screen. CIP4’s Harvey feels that if you ask printers, “Have you or do you expect to implement CIM?” the answer is almost always “no.” But if you ask the same group “Have you or do you expect to automate your production processes to improve throughput and improve efficiencies?” the answer is almost always “yes.” In Harvey’s opinion, “CIM brings images of robots tending press where it should bring to mind things like in-line and closed-loop color control, hot folder-driven prepress workflows, automated plate changing, automatic roll splicers, prepress-driven press presettings, automated bindery setup on stitching lines, and so on. But for most folks there’s no connection there... yet those are all examples of CIM out on the shop floor today.”

Perhaps printers are acronym shy and want solid names to which they can relate. More realistically printers need to take off the blinders, avoid the hype and pursue solid education. They have to progress from a myopic look at their immediate environment to a more inclusive picture of market forces that will effect customer decisions. I remember the same scenario during the desktop publishing revolution. It was largely ignored by most typographers and printers until they were either forced in or, in some cases, forced out. In the case of desktop publishing customers led the way. It won’t exactly be the same with JDF. However, similarities will become apparent as customer creation applications begin to feature JDF and other process automation innovations. Customers in their constant quest to demand more, faster and for less, will want to capitalize on the benefits of initiating automation at their stage. They will look for progressive printers that can respond with JDF-based systems which start with the customer. Other printers will eventually follow, one way or another.

Don’t believe it? Once again think of the typographers who thought customers would never set their own type. Ask unemployed scanner operators who believed that customers would never scan their own images and that digital cameras would never be good enough. Ask the stockbrokers who thought investors would never buy stock online. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As for me, I have fulfilled my Shakespearean quest—“with full truth to my own self I believe JDF to be (or will be).” As for you, my fellow printers, keep learning, keep your eyes open and develop a plan. In time, JDF will become a reality. When it does, you want to be ready.     

Harry Waldman

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