By Melissa Donovan
Digital print providers rely on sophisticated productivity software to run their operations. The latest tools incorporate core aspects of a workflow from end to end, including online ordering, print management, management information systems (MIS), production workflow, and output workflow.
Analyst firm InfoTrends refers to this as a compact workflow. According the company, instead of trying to satisfy every technical or business need with singular focus software, compact workflows integrate with existing software solutions or implement the correct feature set required for high-volume, on demand work.
Print providers are considering implementing a compact or end-to-end workflow into existing digital and hybrid operations today more than ever as the need for greater efficiency becomes paramount in an increasingly competitive market. These same organizations may have legacy, on premise solutions in place, but must see past the challenges of overhauling their established processes to benefit in the long term.
Based on InfoTrends’ definition of a compact workflow, this solution is typically delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS). It is built upon the premise that jobs originate online—sometimes from multiple sources—and are then standardized in a single, backend production system.
Incoming orders are preflighted, routed, imposed, and batched to streamline production. These orders are tagged with print management functions like job ticketing and scheduling and can be output to a variety of digital front ends. Shop floor data collection is available with live updates on job status that can be consolidated into user-friendly dashboard viewing. Additional integrations to other online platforms like third-party shipping or accounting are usually available.
The act of automation from end to end streamlines production. According to Carol Andersen, chairman, EPMS, the need for a compact workflow takes precedent over standalone solutions in today’s world. “Driving this preference is the need for greater efficiencies with less manual intervention in the entire job planning/job production process,” she says.
Print providers continue to update their analog facilities with digital printers, which creates a hybrid of technologies, but room for error increases due to more touchpoints, or as Joanne Gore, director of marketing, Avanti Systems, refers to them, “breakpoints.”
“A breakpoint in the workflow is where data has been entered in one system and has to be re-entered into another system, resulting in duplicate data entry and the potential for costly errors. We call this ‘islands of automation’ throughout the print shop and it is becoming more prevalent as printers take a hybrid approach by offering a mix of digital and offset presses in addition to other products and services offered,” she continues.
“It has become more commonplace to have print shops with a mixture of print vendor equipment, so it has become important that an end-to-end workflow solution support direct ticketing to the various print vendor’s production equipment,” agrees Vincent Tutino, senior product manager, Rochester Software Associates, Inc.
Print providers with legacy, on premise workflow systems—whether homegrown or individual solutions cobbled together to create a total solution—are taking advantage of compact or end-to-end workflow.
“Most print providers are jumping at the thought of speeding up their shop workflow. For those who are a little more resistant, their biggest complaint is the amount of time and support they get when putting a new system in place,” explains Morrie Brown, owner, PrintPoint, Inc.
According to Jordan Melick, business development manager, Accura MIS, Data Design Services Ltd, most print providers are “amazed at the power and simplicity of end-to-end solutions and the ability to do many things with the data once it is fully integrated into the system.”
Joseph Lehn, director of product management, PressWise by SmartSoft, argues that while most print providers want to take advantage of these types of solutions, the level of trust isn’t yet there. “Often times there are challenges with existing long-term personnel that have been doing their job effectively and well from their perspective for many years. They don’t have a level of trust that an automated solution can provide the same level of productivity. Once users gain confidence, it becomes more cost effective to handle a larger volume of orders.”
“Utilizing a cloud-based solution or SaaS model offers short implementation times, lower upfront costs, and subscription-based payments. If you combine this with shorter, less costly development cycles and simplified functionality updates, it’s not surprising that end-to-end solutions are replacing many of the traditional MIS and legacy systems,” comments Mick Rowan, director and head of R&D, IQ.
Online ordering is an essential component of a compact or end-to-end workflow. Most, if not all, cater to online or Web to print (W2P) ordering solutions.
Nick Benkovich, senior director, EPS portfolio management, EFI, says it is impossible to understate how important W2P and e-commerce is to many commercial print businesses. It is so common, that having a basic W2P submission offering is essential to competing with other printers.
“A complete integration of W2P with an end-to-end automated workflow takes some companies to a higher level of near lights out automation for many jobs and that often helps printing companies turn small dollar jobs like business cards from loss leaders to sources of incremental profit,” shares Benkovich.
Implementing an online ordering component institutes a trickledown effect. “Having a bi-directional solution enables W2P workflow to become the pricing engine, meaning from the time the job is requested, to the time the job is shipped and the invoice created, cost integrity is maintained, and actual costs reflected,” adds Gore.
Commonly, W2P includes components that enable increased interaction on the customer’s part. “Using intelligent document setup rules and visual on-screen document previews helps automate document setup for customers and shows them what their document will look like in real time as they place their order,” shares Tutino.
A compact or end-to-end workflow can be challenging compared to singular-focused solutions like strict print MIS offerings. The idea of integrating so many processes can be overwhelming.
“Strict MIS offerings operate in a contained, defined environment. End-to-end workflow solutions need to integrate the online solution with MIS order management; order management with prepress and imposition solutions; imposition with the printing; printing with finishing; finishing with shipping; and shipping with shipping providers like UPS, FedEx, and USPS. End-to-end solutions have to provide the integration between these evolving areas of the workflow without adding user-interaction overhead,” shares Lehn.
Sometimes the challenges aren’t so much in the actual implementation, but more of a mindset to overcome. “The challenge is really the buy-in and ownership of the organization and the willingness and ability to move through change management. An end-to-end workflow by its nature means change, and change is often difficult for an organization to adapt to. But the ones that do change see the benefits of improved profit per order, increased customer satisfaction, faster turn times, and improved morale within the organization,” shares Benkovich.
“It’s all about having one system of record. One place to go for the truth. The key to increased productivity is efficiency and automation. Anytime that data, previously entered, can be passed seamlessly and automatically between departments, equipment, and applications, you reduce turnaround time. You also reduce the chance for transcription errors resulting in increased profitability and customer satisfaction,” agrees Gore.
Managing It All
For most print providers, is not a question of whether to integrate an end-to-end or compact workflow solution, but when to do so. Proper planning is recommended, with a good cost analysis on what it can achieve for your organization, as each one is different. However, if you find yourself in a digital or hybrid print environment, constantly moving disjointed pieces of information across the production floor and creating opportunity for error, it might be time to consider a compact workflow. These solutions increase shop efficiency and eliminate unnecessary touchpoints. dps
May2016, DPS Magazine