By Cassandra Balentine
Part one of two
The right software tools streamline a print operation’s workflow to improve productivity and efficiency. A range of solutions are available, tackling everything from order entry to preflight and verification of delivery. Print providers should consistently reevaluate production workflow to ensure optimal performance.
“Digital workflow software has a huge impact on the productivity of both a print engine and an entire print shop,” comments Jeffrey Piestrak, product manager, Xitron. “Even the best, new printing technology can’t produce sellable work without having a workflow with great screening technology, rendering accuracy, and color management.” The ability to integrate with other systems also affords new benefits for digital print providers.
In the July issue of DPS Magazine, All About Workflow offers best practices on when and why print providers should reevaluate workflow needs. Here, we discuss the benefits and challenges of production software.
Why Worry about Workflow?
From improved customer service for better productivity and efficiency, there are many benefits of implementing workflow software.
“It’s no longer possible to be competitive in the high-volume, short-run digital print and web to print (W2P) market without a comprehensive digital production workflow,” shares Goldberg.
Implementing ecommerce and W2P modules can dramatically shorten the prepress process and save both time and money for printers. “This will increase the overall satisfaction level for business to consumer and business to business customers,” points out Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma, Inc.. For business printing, workflow automation facilitates repeat orders that increase customer loyalty. More benefits come from the production side. “For example, workflow automation software can increase the efficiency of digital printing equipment, which reduces the time to market for new printed products. It also leverages features unique to digital printing equipment like variable data printing.”
With select workflow tools, businesses control waste and non-value-added touch points as well as solidify the ability to increase volume without increasing capital costs, shares Erik Holdo, VP, graphic communications and industrial print line of business, Konica Minolta.
Optimizing the output for the device, from page handling and color/resolution settings to efficient load balancing for various print conditions is something a workflow software solution can provide, adds Shaundra Toy, PMP, sales engineer, high-speed inkjet, Screen Americas.
Speed and asset utilization are the name of the game with digital print. “The faster you prepare jobs for print the more you keep the press running and the greater revenues will be,” suggests Jan De Roeck, managing director, industry relations and strategy, Esko.
Bryan Hughes, product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, notes that increasing efficiency, adding more jobs into the system without adding direct labor, and improving customer relationships are achieved when workflow software is implemented correctly.
Scott Scheidenhelm, senior channel manager, software and solutions, Commercial and Industrial Printing Group, Ricoh USA, Inc., suggests that production workflow tools aid in transparency by facilitating job reporting and management. A robust workflow solution gathers data at every juncture—from the point of submission through completion—whether that’s email, web presentation, physical print, or anything else. The ability to collect, dashboard, and cross-section data throughout your operation presents a clearer sense of where a business excels and where the problems tend to occur. “This also allows for in-depth, aggregated comparisons of quotes versus final costs and market value/competitor pricing,” he adds.
Ernie Crawford, president/CEO, Crawford Technologies, agrees, noting that production workflow tools enable visibility into all facets of the operation, increase automation, reduce the chance for human error, automate error notification, eliminate mail integrity breaches, and provide complete reporting capabilities.
With the help of select tools, data is captured at all stages or milestones of a job. “There is now a single version of the truth with a print MIS database that can answer all sorts of valuable customer and business operation related questions—such as the status of the job or job costing,” offers Kevin Shaw, director of marketing, product management, and customer experience, Avanti.
Joseph Rouhana, VP/GM, Software Business Group, Xerox Corporation, believes that digital presses perform better when workflow software is integrated as it promotes uniform and consistent quality. Additionally, the ability to further integrate workflows upstream from the printer—including W2P—automates hundreds of hours of manual work.
With all of the benefits it brings, implementing the right production workflow tools is a challenge. With a variety of areas to consider, it is a daunting task for print providers to reevaluate a workflow, and change is never easy.
Elisha Kasinskas, marketing director, Rochester Software Associates, points out trends impacting adoption include the scarcity of human and financial resources, specifically in IT, production, and sales; buy-in, and sometimes equipment or solution support given changing delivery models.
Holdo sees two primary challenges when it comes to workflow. Culture is a big challenge—“the way we’ve always done it” attitude he says. The other is existing vendor-specific workflows that are manufacturer dependent. “Breaking away from these two paradigms is essential.”
“Operations managers sometimes resist the onboarding of new technology because there is an investment of time to become familiar with workflow logic,” adds Rouhana.
Sevostyanov admits that implementing workflow can be both financially and managerially challenging. “Print providers are not software developers, so it is difficult for them to develop a solution in house unless they have strong programming resources. Another obstacle is furnishing the internal processes and formalizing them to create a full set of specifications for vendors to ensure that the final solution will work properly.”
Technological differences are another consideration. “Print shops have a multitude of technologies and some that speak different languages,” says Shaw. These include new presses, old presses, W2P software, accounting software, and shipping/distribution software. Rekeying information is prone to errors and while some systems and hardware talk to one another, others do not—creating islands or gaps in automation, decreasing the value when human interaction is required to move a job along the workflow path.
Scheidenhelm says an unsuccessful or incomplete deployment or production workflow software can cause problems. “A lot of this stems from spend-averse businesses looking to defray costs by implementing solutions themselves, and all too often that means not committing the necessary resources for a timely, successful deployment. Beyond delaying rollout, a poorly handled implementation can result in serious and sometimes costly workflow snags—what happens when two solutions in a workflow don’t play well together and you don’t find out until it’s backing up your queue and endangering deadlines?”
Toy believes that unless running extremely large files, there aren’t many challenges with production workflow solutions as vendors configure, train, and support those solutions under the parameters of a service contract. “Even with extremely large files, workflow can easily be managed so long as the vendor provides adequate hardware to support the RIP at engine speed. When we start to talk about integrative workflow solutions, the main challenge is finding good people with the right experience in knowing what to do and how to do it, basically having a working understanding of manual production requirements and also having the technical ability to get the systems to talk to each other with IT connections or programming.”
De Roeck says one challenge is relevant to how far one has progressed into the journey of digital transformation. “Knowing where you are and especially knowing where you want to be mid- to longer-term is a strategically important exercise for any printer/converter.”
Crawford admits that understanding the current processes in many shops can be a significant challenge when it comes to implementing workflow tools. “Many print shops rely on the knowledge of individual employees to ensure jobs are completed properly and on time. This tribal knowledge is seldom—if ever—documented and workflow automation can fail because the methods used are not documented when constructing automation workflows.”
Jane Nerf, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America, says uncovering and assessing the exact requirements requires time and effort across multiple departments, in many cases, to ensure the final solution implemented is optimized and meets the needs of an organization. Sometimes having to involve instruments adds a layer of complexity to implementing a solution. “It’s important that when a workflow solution is considered that all the necessary stakeholders are on board and that individuals receive clearly defined roles as it relates to ensuring a smooth deployment. Fully documenting the current versus future desired state is important for avoiding challenges throughout the process. Understanding where you want your business to go in the future ensures that a solution is implemented that allows growth and avoids it from being obsolete as soon as it’s installed.”
Error handling is another challenge. “The software needs to recognize when an error has occurred and take the proper action depending on the nature of the error,” shares Crawford. “Documenting the proper actions to take can be very difficult without manual intervention. However, proper planning allows users to design proper error handling into the workflows.”
The challenge is to select solutions that really target your customers and their key requirements, says Goldberg. How technical/print savvy are they? How can you make it easy for them to buy from you? “If an online ordering and estimating system is not totally user friendly and simple to use then customers will go elsewhere,” he stresses.
Digital print technology brings many benefits. At the same time, challenges like shortened turnaround times; frequent smaller, low-margin work; and the task of managing data all come with the territory. Luckily, advanced software tools are available to target problem areas within a print provider’s production workflow to enable efficiency and profitability.
In part two of this workflow series we highlight a range of production workflow solutions from order entry through tracking delivery. dps
Jul2019, DPS Magazine