By Olivia Cahoon
Workflow software offers a broad spectrum of features from color correction to inventory and job management tools. Often, print service providers (PSPs) are overwhelmed with selecting an ideal software due to a variety of considerations, essential features, and value-added modules.
Before investing in a workflow solution, PSPs should first look at their current workflow and decide which processes need automation. From there, they can browse software that is specific to their needs and expertise levels.
Above: Automation Engine is Esko’s workflow server that automates prepress tasks to reduce error rates and the need for operator intervention.
When selecting a workflow software, PSPs should determine what critical areas the solution needs to target. This includes functions that reduce bottlenecks, increase automation, and offer valued resources.
Many PSPs share common challenges when investing in new technology that handles the production process. Over time, carefully designed practices tend to give way as software is upgraded, new equipment becomes available, new staff is hired, and processes are overlaid with email, shares Mick Rowan, product director, printIQ. “The work doesn’t flow as smoothly, putting the business at risk,” he adds.
When the work stops flowing, it’s time to look at new solutions that manage the printing process from point of sale to delivery. “The solution should be efficient, scale with the business, and add new capabilities,” suggests Rowan.
To find the ideal workflow, determine what functions need automation. Due to a variety of available software, some solutions perform certain functions better than others. Few are available that perform all of the requirements one PSP specifically seeks, comments Paul Land, product manager, Automation Engine, Esko. “You should decide which functions are most important to you.”
This starts with understanding all of the print shop’s processes by identifying production bottlenecks and where quality needs improvement. According to Land, some workflow vendors offer scoping or value stream mapping sessions, which can prove to be invaluable not only in workflow selection but also in driving continuous improvement within the business.
“Understanding how a workflow solution fits into the bigger picture of automating the business and not just workflow is just as important,” he offers.
Effectively implementing workflow software requires several resources, including employees and time. It’s important that PSPs determine if those resources can be available when required. “Typically, employees are already busy. Expecting that they can somehow find more time in a day to implement the workflow solution—in addition to their usual responsibilities—can be unreasonable,” suggests Kevin Shaw, head of marketing, product and customer experience, Avanti. “Without the necessary resources an efficient implementation is difficult.”
Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, Caldera, agrees. “A successful implementation of workflow software not only depends on the features but how the people using it will maximize the value they will get from them.” PSPs should identify the workflow stakeholders, implementation plan, and if the processes are clear so the team is on board with the solution.
Otherwise, complexity may be a challenge. While some workflows are relatively simple, others are complex sequences of processes running parallel to each other or may involve elaborate process tiers that require a defined order for completion, comments Douglas Gibson, CEO/founder, Infigo Software. To avoid complications, he suggests PSPs ensure the solution meets all of the business needs, but is also understood and manageable by all the employees during the purchasing process.
Questions to Ask
To find the best solution, PSPs should ask questions before investing. These questions are almost always based on the PSP’s business needs, including shop size and application niches.
However, some general rules still apply. “PSPs are all trying to reach the same set of goals with automation software—to be profitable and efficient; to be fast, accurate, and consistent in meeting print buyer deadlines; and to minimize human error and reduce ink and media waste,” shares Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc. The selected workflow software should meet these goals by providing the necessary automation to remain competitive.
To ensure this, PSPs can ask if the software is hosted on premise or in the cloud, which creates a different set of questions depending on the answer. For example, non-cloud versions require users to purchase and maintain servers and look into those options, says David J. Rudolph, founder, Pixta, Inc.
For cloud-based systems, users should inquire about any downtime in the last year of service and how often the workflow vendor performs security and feature updates. “Check and see if the workflow vendor has a security/privacy statement that expands on its security and privacy stance,” advises Rudolph.
It’s also important to determine if support is available and at what cost—a one-time fee or recurring payment. This is crucial for busy wide format PSPs and signmakers with little time to spare. Gudrun Bonte, VP of product management, SA International, explains, “support teams don’t exist just to fix unexpected problems, though how fast and how well they do it is extremely important.”
Software support teams provide expert configuration knowledge, workflow efficiency, industry trends information, business development consultancy, and application and product advice. “A good software reseller will want to build a relationship, not just send you some CDs and move on to the next sale,” adds Bonte. “Learning about the support offering before investing should be high on the check list of things to ask.”
Overall, the software should address the PSP’s specific needs in signage and graphics applications, says David Lindsay, PR manager, EFI. “Particularly with key factors such as managing media because it is an area where any mistakes that lead to using the wrong media or using it inefficiently can jeopardize the profitability of a job.”
A variety of workflow software is available. It can be difficult to determine which features are essential and which are value added. Generally, must-have features include customer relationship management (CRM), job management, inventory modules, and the ability to handle large file sizes.
File size is a considerable concern for wide format PSPs who often have clients that require this feature. To avoid ordering delays or customer frustration, PSPs should look at their current workflow and determine what the average file size is. “They absolutely must look at what is the largest file size that can be uploaded, in case they have customers who design their own banners,” says Ellen Hurwitch, VP operations the Americas, RedTie Inc.
In addition to large file sizes, the software should offer storefronts that display a large number of products. Otherwise, PSPs with a variety of products may limit themselves if every item cannot be displayed. According to Hurwitch, PSPs also need to determine if they require unlimited storefront features for customers’ sites.
While CRM is important for sales and marketing, it’s also essential in the printing industry. “If you don’t use a CRM that’s part of your management information system (MIS), it means you don’t have the ability to see which products your customers and prospects are interested in,” explains Marcus Smith, consultant, Tharstern. Sales teams can then use this information to personalize communications, enabling a better product offering.
Other features like estimating modules are not only found in workflow software but more specifically, print MIS systems. According to Smith, an estimating module is known as the brains behind the workflow, which captures the print shop’s experienced estimator’s knowledge and production staff to create a system that provides instantaneous estimates.
Job management modules act as a central hub to capture and display all job information. “Your whole team will be able to view shipping and billing information, material allocation and status, and actual estimated activities,” explains Smith. This works together to improve the customer experience and help the print staff.
Efficient inventory management ensures PSPs have the right balance of materials in the right place at the right time—ensuring jobs aren’t delayed and unnecessary capital isn’t tied up, says Smith. Select workflow software offers inventory modules that work together with purchasing modules to achieve this, which supports both raw materials and finished goods.
The print shop’s production, administrative, and customer service employees can help determine which features are essential and which are likely to go unused.
“A feature that you might consider a luxury could be extremely useful to the individual who handles the work every day,” says Usman Ali, principal, Ordant. Sales teams and customer service representatives can also help identify features that customers might appreciate. According to him, many professionals in marketing organizations, retail, and creative agencies are becoming proficient in emerging technology and may expect vendors to be equally tech-savvy.
If a software developer offers features that seem irrelevant to the print shop, Ali advises PSPs to ask why it’s included and how other customers benefit from it. “Many software vendors are ahead of the curve and incorporating features that are likely to become widely adopted as standard practice within two or three years,” he offers.
Features that are critical to some users but not required by all include integrated spot color matching tools and custom color libraries. Mark Gallucci, technology marketing manager, commercial software and CTP, Agfa Graphics, says these tools are critical to PSPs offering precise brand colors and spot color matching across devices and substrates.
Support for color proofers are also considered a value-added tool. It allows PSPs to print a color managed hardcopy proof without consuming an expensive or limited supply substrate. “The ability to simulate substrate color and even texture is important,” adds Gallucci.
According to Gallucci, additional value-added features in workflow software include integrated tiling support with the ability to save and re-use tiling setups, the ability to create and save extensions that are automatically applied to new jobs, a management interface to view and create ink and media use reports, cloud services integration, web to print integration, and XML or JDF integration capabilities.
Purchased & Ready
Once the PSP selects a workflow software, several steps help prepare the print shop for implementation.
One of the best things a PSP can do is conduct a needs analysis and current workflow audit so that automated workflow can be customized to the print shop’s vision of doing business, rather than the way things are currently completed, recommends Erik Schmitt, director of sales, Canada and wide format product specialist, GMG Americas. Once the work scope is determined, PSPs can begin to design the business’ new processes. “It is also important to identify key IT players as resources, or engage other vendors or third party integrators.”
When identifying current workflow, print shops should view how long each process takes and where errors occur. It’s important PSPs have staff to help implement and appoint a person with X amount of time per week to spend on the process, suggests Greg Salzman, president, Aleyant. “It’s also important to have internal recurring meetings to discuss and track implementation progress.”
When setting up new workflow software, there will often be downtime but the amount can be controlled. To be safe, PSPs can bring one printer online at a time, ensuring existing systems are not retired until the new system is fully implemented, advises Schmitt. Another option is utilizing a testing procedure and implementing the test system as a proof of concept before the workflow is put online.
“Most programs are time consuming in the preparation and implementation, however there are a few that require practically no implementation stress,” shares Mark Myers, CEO, Estimator Corp. For example, select software solutions are available that require 30 minutes and a short training period. To keep downtime low, he suggests print providers have all company personnel involved in the workflow processes to participate in a webinar presentation where all items are explained and specific questions answered by a knowledgeable company representative.
Despite best practices, downtime is typically a pre-installation requirement. According to Myers, it often occurs with server-based systems as each user is implicated in computer settings with server-required connectivity and ensuring computers with different operating systems are compatible. In this instance, he believes a cloud-based system has multiple advantages with easy access from any smartphone, tablet, Mac, or PC platform.
“Printers can avoid costly downtime and interference by purchasing a cloud-based program, which is installed and setup offline with the company’s equipment and pricing,” comments Myers.
Training for Success
A significant part of any new workflow deployment entails documentation and training. The amount of time it takes to train often depends on the new workflow deployment’s scope and depth.
“The level of integration with other systems and sophistication of the workflows have a significant influence on the time required to get staff members up to speed,” says Graham Blanks, director business operations North America, Dalim Software GmbH.
Vendors typically expect PSPs to first designate and train the trainer. According to Blanks, the trainer likely takes the lead in terms of deployment and subsequently training other staff members on the new solution. “Then you must consider who takes responsibility for the change management as the business requirements evolve.”
The implementation process typically begins with a one-on-one session to introduce the training guides, path, and to set expectations. The PSP can then focus on making the system their own, which includes inputting commonly used parts and setting up pricing, explains Kristen Licursi, marketing director, Cyrious Software. “Once data is ready and testing is complete, the PSP can begin using the workflow software live in their business.”
Training comprises of individual training sessions, group classes, video training, and how-to guides. Licursi advises PSPs take advantage of any and all types of available training. “Group Q&A sessions are an ideal way to learn from others going through the same process,” she offers.
Up and Running
While training and after-purchasing steps require additional time, what’s truly important to PSPs is how long it takes to be fully up and running after the software is in place.
Liesbet Olbrechts, director of product management, Enfocus, sees PSPs with a thorough as-is analysis and good view on phase one deliverables up and running with the new workflow in less than a week. “This doesn’t mean that they have a week of downtime, it just means that after that they can start automating the manual tasks.”
Setting up the workflow is often easier than getting the print shop adapted to it. To help, Olbrechts says adoption should be made very visible to all employees, including how much time it frees to perform real value-added tasks.
Also, an important concept to enforce is that the system will start small and simple. “Develop a strategic implantation plan to phase in different features/capabilities of the workflow. That way businesses can start tackling some of the problem areas where they have the most challenges in service delivery, turnaround time, or profitability, and then move on to implement additional aspects of their workflow to further improve operations,” comments Lindsay.
“It will grow to encompass more types of work and satisfy more outlying technology as comfort levels advance,” agrees Olbrechts.
PSPs considering new workflow software to automate printing processes should distinguish which features are essential and which are value added. After selecting a solution, PSPs can then focus on training personnel and customizing the solution to reduce downtime and get the software up and running.
Mar2019, Digital Output