Packaging tools in the cloud: what benefits does Cloudflow provide?

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I have been monitoring Hybrid Software for a long time. The company is now enabling packaging providers to make use of its cloud services. A conversation with Christopher Graf, the CEO of Hybrid Software in Germany.

Bernd Zipper: Christopher, you recently unveiled an extensive cloud solution for your workflow solutions, including for Packz. How is the system structured and is it really a cloud solution?

Christopher Graf: from the very beginning we have focused our software architecture on providing users with a maximum of flexibility and scalability, that’s why all the essential backend components have been designed as web services and the user interfaces are basically browser-based. Many Hybrid clients have operated their solutions in data centers or, for example, in the Amazon Cloud for some considerable time. Our new offerings now enable all clients to make use of modern cloud architecture. Clients can in future establish and grow their own clouds.

Bernd Zipper: but that also means that you don’t offer your own cloud, but offer to install your applications in each client cloud. Doesn’t that harbor risks?

Christopher Graf: Yes, you are right, but here too there are solutions. We are not a provider of datacenter services and don’t want to be one. These days we don’t have our own IT infrastructure, but revert to commercial offerings that we are keen to recommend to our clients. Generally speaking our clients, who operate multisite solutions, have a superb range of resources and facilities at their disposal. However what’s important here are clear rules governing our access to their environments. Nevertheless typical risks can be preempted with our support.

Bernd Zipper: at the same time Hybrid is partnering with Global Graphics – does that mean that you are also placing your RIP in the cloud?

Christopher Graf: Cloudflow is a modular system where the RIP, which we developed based on the Global Graphics Harlequin Library, the Host Renderer, represents one option. This “service” is therefore also available in the context of a cloud solution and enables clients to use it in their own clouds. Very efficient architectures can be constructed using Global Graphics technologies.

Bernd Zipper: …but then you are to a large extent dependent on the speed of your internet connection, right?

Christopher Graf: in order to avoid this dependency, many clients these days still prefer to implement solutions in local networks. Furthermore we are now launching a new technology, called “Share”, which enables Cloudflow users to share data and files between production facilities using less efficient and yet stable Internet connections. Nevertheless this does not relieve clients of their obligation to upgrade and enhance their infrastructures – this should be a given in the digital transformation era.

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Bernd Zipper: if you use Global Graphics’ RIP solutions, are you also able to apply PDF/VT?

Christopher Graf: the RIP supports this technology, however at the moment there is a lack of practical applications in our market segment. I have been monitoring PDF/VT – i.e. the mass customization of PDF files – for a while now and definitely believe this approach has its appeal. We will be seeing the first applications at drupa – if this innovation can be actioned to the benefit of our clients, we will certainly evaluate it.

Bernd Zipper: OK, but how should I picture this working in practice?

Christopher Graf: well now, as soon as we see that it really makes sense to implement PDF/VT, we will get involved. However this standard has existed for some time now, but there are no applications. That’s why I am still only cautiously euphoric.

Bernd Zipper: but that also means that you have developed a standard packaging solution for mass customization in the packaging sector. What does this solution involve?

Christopher Graf: this is where Packz comes into play. Packz is a high-performance PDF editor for print editing. We have incorporated a wide range of functions to create dynamic content, to enable, for example, grade changes, individual barcodes or similar to be actioned based on external data sources. We have now accommodated the editor’s features in an automation module for Cloudflow called Packzflow. Therefore our users can already enjoy the benefits of mass customization. Furthermore we can also create 3D renderings, which can be used independently.

Source: Screenshot www.hybridsoftware.com
Source: Screenshot www.hybridsoftware.com

Bernd Zipper: but that would also mean that I could incorporate the 3D renderings on demand into my online store – do you have the appropriate APIs?

Christopher Graf: Right. Initially we are developing the core functions as components and the associated API calls at the same time. We will then activate these functions in our applications via documented interfaces. A brilliant exercise to ensure simple usability for the integration process. For that reason our users will soon be able to use our renderings in external web applications as well. However this won’t be “out-of-the-box” – an adjustment to our API will always be necessary.

Bernd Zipper: cloud solutions are often structured on a “pay-per-use” basis – what the story with your license and usage fees?
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Christopher Graf: let me answer this question professionally: the fee consists of a license utilization component and a component based on required processing performance. Since this is calculated from a range of items, I can’t break this down into a standard formula.

Bernd Zipper: I believe that the thoughts of certain gentlemen in Belgium are currently very much occupied by a new competitor – where do you differ from the major established solutions.

Christopher Graf: (smiles) it is what we term our “DNA”: we are IT experts with substantial experience in the graphic arts industry – that is an attractive combination of skills. Our biggest asset is our willingness and ability to listen to our clients and to act accordingly. We have created a series of applications that other providers do not deliver – we have thus secured our place in the market and are now specifically developing applications, which enable our clients to create smart solutions for consumers.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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