By Melissa Donovan
Workflow software typically encompasses estimating, ordering, job scheduling, inventory, proofing, shipping, and fulfillment. An integrated solution can provide all of these elements while communicating clearly with a RIP and working cohesively with color management software tools.
The major reasons a print service provider (PSP) considers an automated workflow center around increasing efficiency in the workplace, which in turn presents other opportunities. Efficiency means lower labor costs and increased profitability. Taking this a step further, implementing an automated solution that reaches from end to end of a workflow provides an additional level of organization.
A PSP needs both short- and long-term goals to ensure return on investment. These objectives address both the shop itself and how the changes affect customers. As each is achieved, the print shop can focus on growth and not the more mundane practices of maintaining a business.
Making Business Better
Automation helps a business succeed. Implementing a fraction of automation minimizes human errors and multiple touch points found throughout the workflow.
“Most print providers are using three to six different ‘systems’ to run their business,” admits Denise Brooks, sales coordinator, ShopWorks. This includes paperwork for orders, spreadsheets, and other software for quoting, scheduling, and accounting. Since none of these systems properly “talk” to each other, challenges occur such as employees repeatedly entering the same information. “This means more time doing paperwork and the chances of a mistake being made on an order are increased.”
One of the main reasons a PSP should integrate an automated workflow, according to Ellen Faith Hurwitch, director of operations – the Americas, RedTie Inc., is because a company’s biggest hidden cost is labor. “An automated solution reduces that part of your overhead dramatically.”
“Printing is a manufacturing business that highly depends on yield. In other words, creating the most consistent and automated process possible to avoid costly errors, delays, and human intervention directly affects profit margins and being able to compete in the marketplace at all,” explains Vitaly M. Golomb, CEO, Keen Systems, Inc.
It’s all about reducing touches on a job, admits Stephen McWilliam, EVP of marketing, Avanti Systems. He points out that customers have twice as many jobs coming through their shops then two years ago—however, run lengths are shorter, which means there is less revenue per order.
“As one of our customers keeps telling us, ‘you can’t touch a $500 job ten times and expect to make money,’” he adds.
Liana Calicchia, global communications specialist, ONYX Graphics, Inc., suggests that repetitive tasks such as applying color management, rendering files, and basic job set-up benefit from a highly automated workflow solution. “Automation enhancements within a wide format workflow help achieve sellable prints faster,” she explains.
“When wide format print providers realize that the time spent—often hours—fixing problems with transparency, image quality, white channels, and cut files can be drastically reduced through an automated PDF workflow with preflight and correction, they recognize the positive impact that can have on their business,” shares Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa Graphics.
Because an automated solution eliminates the need for manual touches and streamlines repetitive, time-consuming tasks, it frees up employees for ‘more productive, revenue-producing activities,’ says Tony Tarpey, VP marketing, PressWise by SmartSoft Inc.
As employees refocus their efforts this simultaneously allows management to focus on the bigger picture, comments Alex Ravari, VP of operations, Cloud 7 Systems Inc.
Another reason to automate, according to Jan De Roeck, director, solutions management, Esko, is what he refers to as “customer stickiness”—or loyalty. “With a good automated workflow, your customer is completely integrated into the order process, including job specifications, uploading the job, and online approval. With automation you make it sticky for the customer to walk away from you.”
Steve Ciesemier, account manager, Aleyant Systems, LLC, takes us through the lifecycle of an automated workflow. It starts with a customer-facing online order entry system and progresses to automating the flow of jobs from the website to prepress to production to shipping and accounting. The order entry storefront can auto-push jobs to an online proofing, preflighting, and order approval system. Approved jobs are automatically fed to an imposition system or to a product workflow management system that ultimately feeds a RIP.
The shipping software can be automatically fed to the shipping data, auto-posting shipping details back to the customer’s order history in the storefront, initiating an email status update to the print buyer. Meanwhile, the accounting or estimating system can auto-retrieve order details from the online ordering system.
Even Better Business
Many vendors argue that at the heart of a successful implementation is the requirement for end-to-end automation—whether done at once or piecemeal over a period of time. “Only an end-to-end solution can deliver such an automated flow of processes. Without it, the efficiency and repeatability go out the door,” argues Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG.
Why spend money on multiple systems and tools, asks Tarpey, only to spend more time making them communicate with each other? Or worse still, he adds, not having those separate solutions sync up and having to rekey information multiple times.
“Investing in one solution eliminates complications that result from separate tools,” agrees Calicchia. “Sending files through one RIP engine eliminates late stage surprises and provides confidence in predictable output. Confidence in printed output allows users to achieve fewer prepress cycles and reduce the overhead costs of each job.”
“Adopting an end-to-end solution is about control and productivity. By managing the production flux from start to finish, a PSP has complete control of the jobs they are printing and all the statistics to fine tune their print business,” says Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, Caldera.
An end-to-end program not only provides productivity and efficiency in the workflow process, the benefits trickle down to employees and customers. “With a system like this in place, the learning curve for new employees is shortened because it is easier to train and educate someone when all business processes flow through one system,” explains Kristen Simmons, marketing associate, Cyrious Software.
“Because employees are using the same system, your presentation of information is consistent as well. Getting the status on a sales order is as simple as looking up the details,” adds Brooks.
“Keeping all of this is one system gives a single point of reference for everyone in the shop,” concurs Mark Smith, president, EstiMate Software Corp.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Myers, president, Estimator Corp., believes that a PSP should look for an integrated automated workflow system only if it can justify the expense and maintenance. “This is usually the venue for very large companies who need to automate as much of the workflow as possible to eliminate errors and communications with a very large staff in a multi-plant operation.”
Set Goals and Keep Them
Each PSP experiences a different reason that pushes them to institute an automated, end-to-end workflow. This initial reason should be followed by goals—both short and long term—that help to achieve the most gain in implementing the solution.
In the short term, Brooks advises making a smooth transition to the system, with a clear commitment to setting it up properly, training employees, and implementing new procedures.
Part of the set up should involve the PSP focusing on identifying labor-intensive workflow bottlenecks with the idea of using automation to reduce or eliminate them, says Ciesemier. “Attack one workflow bottleneck at a time; avoid trying to implement too many new systems all at once. Get up to speed on one before starting on the next,” he recommends.
“There is an immediate need to set up an inventory of where a print provider thinks it needs to improve and what the objectives for improvement are. The key is not only setting up the process but making sure the staff is sticking to it. Once it has been adopted there will be significant results,” explains Hanssens.
Myers says a short-term objective should solve the most important part first. In his experience, that involves estimating. “Estimating can be very complex with so many variables that it can take months to years to get it properly installed with the company’s information. Once the basic estimating software is accurately running, the printer should then slowly add those features to allow for a smooth transition without interrupting the normal workflow of the staff,” he recommends.
A crucial element includes proper training of employees. A common failure in workflow software implementation, according to Ravari, is the tremendous cut in productivity that occurs as the software is being understood and embraced by employees. This can be remedied by feeding them a limited subset of features in the initial stages of implementation and as they become more familiar, advanced features are then introduced.
“Establish a champion within the business that understands the value of workflow automation and is motivated by implementing. That person will become the business go-to guy with the workflow system and directly solve problems that employees have while they get started with it,” advises David Rudolph, founder, Pixta, Inc.
McWilliams suggests building templates for the most profitable, repeatable business that runs through the shop. “That is the key to the ultimate goal of ‘zero touch workflows’—jobs that can make their way through the shop automatically without anyone needing to touch them.”
According to Dean Derhak, product director, SA International, after a solution is in place, a great consideration to help grow business further is to add a Web to print (W2P) solution. “A W2P site can get new customers. This is a relatively easy short-term project once a production workflow is in place.”
Tarpey says that because jobs are touched less in an automated workflow, the time it takes to complete them is shortened and opens up additional opportunities. This is a goal many of PressWise by SmartSoft’s customers set at time of purchase.
“We have customers that cut the number of times a job was manually touched from over 15 steps to three or four. They now produce more orders, in smaller quantities, with faster delivery times, and higher margins. It opened up the number of types of jobs they accept so that not only can they attract new customers by offering more services, they also offer more services to their existing customers,” shares Tarpey.
Looking further down the road, Simmons says long-term goals should focus on increasing the bottom line. PSPs should think of ways the system can increase sales dollars beyond just creating productivity and efficiency on existing jobs.
“Look to marketing. Use the data you have about your prospects and customers to create specific campaigns. You can target based on location, their last purchase, or types of products they typically purchase. All of this information is captured and ready for you to use,” she continues.
Naresh Bordia, VP of business development, OnPrintShop, agrees that growth is a key focus during long-term planning. “Expand reach to local and international clients via multiple niche storefronts that are managed centrally,” he suggests.
“Long-term goals that a provider could aspire to would be security in knowing that jobs are accurately priced, confidence that the shop is running smoothly, and being able to take a more hands-off approach to running their business,” shares Smith.
Better planning, increased capacity, and potential for growth are three goals Darrian A. Young, director, Tucanna Software & Development, suggests for those PSPs after implementing an automated solution.
Initial goals are not the ones you are left with forever. Tulin Edev, VP, Printer’s Plan by SoftUSE, Inc., believes thorough and ongoing training is essential in the implementation of workflow solutions. Specific short- and long-term goals must be set and evaluated regularly.
In Sync Thanks to EFI Pace
Category 5, based in ON, Canada, is a full-service wide format printer. Established in 2006, the PSP designs, prints, and installs a range of applications from retail point of purchase to transit. Four years ago, Greg Priede, GM, Category 5, traveled to the SGIA trade show with the goal of finding an automated workflow solution.
At the time, Category 5 was running Microsoft Word and Excel to manage production and as Priede describes the process, “it led to double entry, no accountability, and was very tedious.” With previous knowledge about workflow solutions thanks to past employment, he traveled to the show with a good idea of what he wanted. Priede decided on EFI Pace because of the robust nature of the print management system.
Once Priede owned EFI Pace, he dove into the program, turning modules on and off to see how certain parts of the workflow would be effected. “I wanted to be hands on in the process and understand the ways the program could work best for us,” he explains. The implementation went well, albeit slowly, as the program rolled out across the entire operation. One benefit was that the PSP did not have to go through migrating from a previous MIS, since it did not have one in place prior to EFI Pace.
As EFI Pace got up and running, its organization of the shop’s production process directly affected productivity. Category 5 invested in four more printers from EFI to keep up with job orders. “Wide format is fast paced. Most of our jobs are done in one and a half days, at most four days for a nationwide campaign,” cites Priede.
Today the shop’s print equipment includes an EFI VUTEk GS5000, GS3200, GS3250, GS3250R, another GS3250R, and PressVu 3360.
Simultaneously, the PSP added the EFI JDF Pace/Fiery/VUTEk Integration module to its workflow, which tracks how much ink and media are used per job in real time. The new module drives intelligent pricing decisions.
“Before EFI Pace, a sales representative would come to me with a job quote and ask if we could do it. If it was some large, crazy number, I would say no way. But with EFI Pace, I have the analytics in front of me to measure what I can and cannot do and if it is worth the risk,” shares Priede.
While Priede is thrilled with the results of the EFI Pace product in the four years since they have owned it, there are a few things he would like addressed in the future. Since the printers are steadily outputting work and operating at their most efficient pace, the bottlenecks are in prepress and finishing/cutting.
Priede hopes that there will be some sort of integration module that can funnel the prepress work all the way through to the printer and then out to finishing. As of now, each job that comes through Category 5 is set up in prepress to finish on all three of its cutters—an Esko Kongsberg, Fotoba, and guillotine cutter—because they don’t know which device will be used until the end.
Automated workflow provides a core infrastructure in a print shop. Implementation is a process, which requires all-in from staff. When choosing a solution, look at the provider in question and realize you will be working with them for many years.
Learn about available workflow solutions by visiting digitaloutput.net and searching keyword “DOMarch15Workflow” for more information.
Mar2015, Digital Output