Of Piggly Wiggly, CHILI Publish and the Fourth Wave of the Industrial Revolution

by Sean O’Leary
CTO, PrintPlanet

It is not every day that one has the privilege of attending an event that kicks off with a discussion of how the Fourth Wave of the Industrial Revolution traces back to the 1916 self-service grocery innovations of PigglyWiggly. Nevertheless, that was how CHILI CEO Kevin Goeminne opened his talk at the Spicy Talk ‘18 Chicago Workplace on February 15. CHILI, of course, is the creator of a surging browser-based document editing platform that allows users to create documents and generate a print-ready PDF.

Goeminne was providing an overview and update of CHILI Publish for a roomful of commercial printers from around the Chicago region. The event also marked a semi-official launch for the company’s new North American headquarters, which opened about six months ago. CHILI’s Global headquarters are in Aalst, Belgium, with a third regional hub in Singapore. As Goeminne noted, CHILI has been on something of a roll, with 30% average growth over the past eight years and more than 70 customers in the US alone.


Self Service Takes Over the World

Goeminne expanded his remarks by extrapolating the Piggly Wiggly concept out to 2018 in the form of Amazon Go, a prototype convenience store with no lines and no checkout. His point was that self-service as a cultural and economic driver is evolving exponentially; self-service has now reached a tipping point at which it is extensible into every area of human commerce. In fact, in Goeminne’s opinion, self-service as a business concept has evolved from innovation into necessity.

“B to B is disappearing,” said Goeminne. “B to C is disappearing.”

Certainly when effectively executed, online self-service editing platforms have demonstrable benefits, most obviously the opening up of document design and preparation to an ever-broadening user base. But while empowering Joe Consumer to compose decent looking flyers and door hangers is mostly a good thing, it is also just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the emerging print communications world is already demanding more comprehensive, data driven approaches to implementing printing jobs that go far beyond web-to-print applications. That is the space CHILI Publish occupies.

In the supercharged environment of the evolving future, the real paradigm shift for commercial printing is the extension of self-service into data driven personalization and customization for virtually any print media, including packaging and non-graphics applications such as labeling and couponing (the “izations” according to Goeminne’s nomenclature). Properly deployed, increasingly sophisticated template-driven editing tools enable brands and organizations to democratize design and pre-press production while managing format, corporate identity and other protocols. Non-professional employees have access to professional images and design elements but are precluded from working outside the elusive quality standards box.

But in Goeminne’s eyes, the real excitement lies at the locus where big data technology meets up with browser-based design and output management. When an online editor is integrated with variable data, a user with minimum training can confidently generate on-demand printed output in compliance with such intractable parameters as legal protocols, regulatory standards, local market expectation and multi-language challenges. That end, CHILI Publish is able to link up with external data from digital asset management or XML feeds as well as conventional spreadsheets.

Maximum Adaptability As A Leveling Force

After spending a few hours at the Spicy Talks workshop, it occurred to me that a fundamental aspect of the CHILI platform may not be completely clear to a segment of the PrintPlanet audience. While CHILI Publish provides the infrastructure for online editing tools, the user interface is not built into the platform. It is not intended to be an out-of-the box, plug and play web-to-print solution. Rather, CHILI from the beginning has focused on developing a data driven framework and leaving the customer-facing workspace component to its customers.

And therein lie any number of advantages, not the least of which is the flexibility to exist in an incredibly wide range of business spaces. As an open API, CHILI Publish can be integrated with web-to-print platforms such as magazine publishing, packaging, brand management, document creation, yearbook applications, and photobooks, but also with more esoteric applications such as digital asset management, e-commerce, language translation utilities and so on.

So for commercial printers, the highly technical nature of the CHILI platform could seem daunting, more suitable for large corporations with large IT departments. But according to Goeminne, the opposite is true. It is the inherent flexibility of CHILI Publish that makes it a match for any type of enterprise with the moxy and vision to glue something great on top of it and deploy it creatively. Not only are there third-party developers available within the CHILI ecosystem, but many smaller players have had success using their own in-house talent to create custom workspaces for whatever the particular vision might be. In fact, the potential to create custom templates for any market is key for leveraging this technology. Part of CHILI’s claim to fame is a suite of creative tools that makes integration into existing web portals relatively seamless.

At the Chicago workshop, exhibit A for this assertion was Jason Frueh, President of My Creative Shop. Founded in 2009, his consumer-centric editing platform has evolved into a major player in the template-based consumer niche with over 5.5 million projects created. The thing about My Creative Shop is this: it is a two person operation in which neither partner had a background in printing or software development. The key to the CHILI relationship is that My Creative Shop focuses on their business and relies on CHILI to keep improving the plumbing.

“Every iteration of our Chili editor moves us forward, even if it’s only a little bit,” said Freuh. “We know our customers and the pain points. Chili keeps coming up with new releases with new features.”

The message from Freuh to the printers in the audience was clear: “If we can do it, you can do it.”

In the course of his presentation, Freuh emphasized the dictum that seems to also drive Goeminne: the fundamentals of success in this emerging self-service world are the passion to find your own vision, and an ongoing commitment to improving your product. In the Fourth Wave, creating a product and resting on your laurels is not going to be enough.

“It’s like a poker player: if you stop studying, the other players will get better and you will start losing,” said Goeminne. “It’s a non-stop fight.”

As the Fourth Wave crashes down upon the industry, small-to-mid-sized printing operation might well want to consider how they plan to meet self-service demand for their own customer base.

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