Joerg Palmer and Harald Grumser, CDO and CEO, respectively, of AFPC participating member Compart talked with us about AFP’s impressive unique capabilities and how the AFPC works to promote them.
Q: What do you see as the single most important value AFP capabilities bring to an organization?
Harald Grumser: We can compare AFP with PDF, and I think that’s mainly what people are thinking about when they’re considering AFP. PDF was invented to serve as a document presentation data stream. AFP is, to a very high extent, a printing data stream and has a lot of capabilities PDF just doesn’t have. For example, if you use AFP to print a check, and for some reason one digit falls off the page, you would get an alert from the AFP printer or the IPDS printer. That’s a functionality that’s unique in the marketplace, one that PDF hasn’t even thought about doing. So AFP printing means quality printing. That security and integrity is the biggest advantage AFP has over all other data streams.
Q: Why do you feel the AFPC is important to the print industry?
Joerg Palmer: With the members spread out globally, we are trying to pick up all of the voices from the market and from our customers and bring that all to the table. If you compare that to the old days, when IBM alone was responsible for that, they, of course, had fewer customers to draw information from and were very America-focused. Now, acting as a global consortium, we’re able to bring more to the discussion in terms of seeing what people want and need.
Q: Do you see AFP becoming more broadly deployed beyond transactional print? If so, in which types of output?
Joerg: Well, I think the question is not so much about transactional print as opposed to graphic arts and things like that, but the convergence of those things. If a customer pays a six- or even a seven-figure amount for a high-performance printer, he basically doesn’t want to be restricted in what he does with it. The more options the better. It’s not about being limited to transactional printing or focusing on one specific other market to move into. It’s about AFP embracing other standards and becoming more flexible and widely useful.
Q: How do you see the marketplace in ten years? How will AFP and PDF work together? WIll there be more options for organizations to look to?
Harald: That’s a very hard question to answer. If we could answer that, we’d probably be hailed as prophets. [laughs] I think ten years from now, the only data streams that will remain will be AFP and PDF. AFP will continue to play a role in production printing, quality printing, and all areas where speed and integrity are issues. But I think what we’ll see is more PDF content in AFP data streams. You may be aware AFP is able to incorporate PDF, and I think that’s something we’ll see more often in the future. We’ll see more applications that’ll produce PDF and combine that with AFP to get the best of both worlds. But I, as opposed to some other members of the Consortium, doubt AFP will make it as a fully interactive document data stream. I think PDF will keep its edge there, and AFP will instead be a final data stream for printing.
Q: What is the one thing about AFP that you think we should know that we likely don’t today?
Joerg: I think the most amazing thing about AFP is its workflow capabilities. Because really from the beginning, the architecture was modeled in a way that you can, for instance, differentiate between statements in a big print spool, so you can split them by customer numbers or invoice numbers. I think this is a very common application for AFP, making use of its workflow capabilities. It’s not only about printing. It also enables people to model their workflows around it. I’d say that’s something a lot of people aren’t aware of, and it is, by the way, something PDF is lacking.
Q: In your opinion, what was the most important evolution of AFP you’ve seen over the years?
Harald: First of all, color. AFP has had color for 10 or 15 years, but the moves it’s made in the last 5 to 7 years have been huge strides. The AFP Consortium was originally the AFP Color Consortium. Only now that collaboration within the industry has made color implementation very successful recently did they decide to make it simply the AFP Consortium. Next, though, is the AFP’s interaction with object containers. Opening AFP up regarding object containers, especially PDF objects, was a very big move, because that made AFP flexible. It combined the best of two worlds. You can use the AFP architecture and still use the data streams that some applications, such as PDF, that are not designed with AFP in mind, use. When AFP first came out, it was defined as a self-contained data stream that had all its objects defined in and by itself. Many years ago, maybe 15 years, AFP opened the door to other object types. For instance, you could incorporate .TIFF files into AFP. At first it was only images, and then, in the last few years, AFP said, “OK, we cannot disregard PDF.” PDF was and is so commonly used. There are thousands of applications that can produce PDF and only hundreds of them that can produce AFP. So AFP opened itself to incorporate other data streams. That’s one of the coolest features of AFP.
Q: Do you see adoption of AFP into more cutsheet shops, or is it still primarily leveraged in continuous feed organizations?
Joerg: That’s hard for us to judge, because we at Compart, we don’t typically know exactly what our customers send the files to. It comes more down to what do customers expect from a printer nowadays, so I’d say they like multipurpose devices they can use for any application. And whether that’s cutsheet or continuous feed, I don’t know. It’s only a secondary question if AFP comes to play with it. I think AFP is mainly used in continuous feed environments, high-volume printing. I’d say cutsheet is less likely to use AFP because there’s not as high of demand for the type of security features AFP delivers.
Q: What, in your mind, sets AFP apart from other presentation architectures?
Harald: I would say its capabilities to embed or embrace other architectures so you can create your own blend of best-of architectures, like using PDF for full color pieces and AFP capabilities for workflow systems, things like that. AFP comes with a huge toolbox to find just the right solution.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts with the AFPC?
Joerg: We spend money and time on the AFP Consortium because we think AFP is a good data stream. We strongly believe AFP is the best data stream for printing, and we think that if we want to make sure the world is running on the best components and best technology, we have to make sure that AFP doesn’t go away. Part of it is making sure there is an alternative to PDF available in the marketplace, for areas where PDF just is not the right choice. As we strongly believe we should use the right technology in the right situation, we think we have a responsibility to ensure AFP remains an option. If only one company still represented AFP, we might see AFP fade. But with the AFP Consortium, with its nearly 40 supportive vendors, there’s a greater likelihood that this great data stream will remain in the marketplace.
Q: What would you like to see AFP do that it isn’t doing right now?
Joerg: I think our primary intention is to promote AFP in a better way. It has been around for 20 years now, and we had people coming up to the AFPC booth at 2008’s Drupa, and one of the most asked questions was, “AFP is still around?” This, from our point of view, has been an important issue.
Harald: If I may add to Joerg’s answer, what we see is the data streams need to be more intelligent. For example, if you send a document to a customer and you have an http address in the text, the customer would typically like to click on that and open it. Now AFP, being a more or less print-centric data stream, doesn’t really care about hyperlinks. PDF, on the other hand, does. We’d like to see AFP prepared to address some of these issues. We’ve just said metadata is important. Another example would be some interactive components. It’s to make sure that someone who chooses AFP as their primary architecture can use it in other environments than just printing. If you’re using AFP, it’d be very nice to use a hyperlink. Of course, the printer doesn’t care about that, but if you use AFP for something else, it would be good if you could then move that into a PDF document and not lose any of that complexity.