Anyone with a passing familiarity regarding the success of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. understands the importance that efficiency brings to a business’ bottom line. By streamlining and automating processes, a business can not only save on labor costs but enjoy better execution. In the print world, offset printers were the first to reap the benefits of a more automated workflow and now, many of the same software solutions that helped them cut costs are migrating into the world of large format digital printing.
The transition is gradual as solutions are tailored to meet the unique demands of this specific market, but software vendors see a future where print service providers (PSPs) enjoy a much more standardized workflow process.
Software to the Rescue
“Software is the nervous system of any workflow,” says Sebastien Hanssens, VP of marketing, Caldera Graphics.
The goal of workflow software is to automate manual processes and to centralize what is currently dispersed. From estimating job costs, order entry, prepress, RIPping, printing, finishing, billing, to customer management, a robust workflow suite empowers PSPs of any size to save.
A number of solutions are on the market—some focus on business management and job costing, others on the prepress, RIP, and finishing processes. “Every business, no matter the size, experiences bottlenecks,” explains Kristen Simmons, marketing department, Cyrious Software. “For some it occurs while estimating, taking hours to come up with a price, dealing with scribbled pieces of paper everywhere, and losing follow up information. For others a bottleneck occurs in production—spending time confirming order details with sales, while trying to optimize machine and labor time and avoid errors.”
Increasingly, software firms are trying to merge these functions to provide a true end-to-end solution that helps a PSP organize and expedite orders on the one hand and ensure high-quality, color-accurate output on the other.
EFI offers a portfolio that Roland Campa, inkjet printing applications, EFI, classifies as solution-oriented. Instead of a PSP implementing different products from different vendors, and seeing if they work together after the fact; EFI’s workflow products are strictly for digital print production.
It helps when a solution is modular, or scalable; allowing a PSP to grow. Campa notes that EFI provides entry-level RIPs for social photographers to high-end RIPs for proofing, print-for-pay, and sign and display. In addition, the company’s management information system (MIS) line up ranges from PrintSmith for copy shops to Monarch, a scalable solution for numbers like 5,000 users.
Behind the drive to automate is a transforming print market, shares Eric Wold, VP, Datatech SmartSoft, Inc. “Print jobs are getting smaller, and if they’re getting smaller we have to ask; how much smaller can they get and can you be profitable tackling even smaller jobs?” Building a system to wring profits from smaller orders was the driving force behind the company’s PressWise program.
“There were a lot of silo solutions for PSPs in the past,” continues Wold. A PSP would have a program for order management, another for preflight, a third for finishing. “We throw those distinctions out the window, why does a printer need five different software platforms to manage these different functions,” he asks. Wold—who in a previous life owned a print shop—notes that the glue tying the different software together was people.
PressWise aims, among other things, to slash the amount of labor a PSP requires. The value is simple, if you shed employees during the downturn, you won’t have to re-hire them as volume and business returns. The company believes a PSP can achieve a ten percent workforce reduction if software is implemented properly.
The system creates an online tool for customer order entry and then “the only other touches are the strategic points—the press person who scans the job bar code and the person in the bindery who confirms what finishing is required. Any personnel inputs are related to value-add activity,” adds Wold.
Workflow software not only controls costs on the labor side, it provides business intelligence. Firms such as Cyrious and Estimator Corp. offer tools to estimate the profitability of a job, so PSPs only accept offers that will contribute to the bottom line. “A consistent, detailed quote is produced in minutes and all of this information automatically appears on work orders and invoices,” explains Simmons. “From the beginning, a business owner knows they’re making a profit, can win more jobs, save time, and reduce errors.”
Sometimes there’s resistance in the marketplace to adopting a software solution, she adds. “First, there’s an aversion to the time and effort it will take to get the system up and running. Second, some find it difficult to trust a software program to accurately estimate a job and manage information along the multiple steps in the order process.” However, if a PSP takes the leap, they usually enjoy a full return on investment in six to 12 months.