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Workflow Software Provides Solutions

Improve Efficiency and Address Mobility

By Amber E. Watson

Despite the many benefits of automated workflow software, some print service providers (PSPs) are hesitant to implement. This is often due to a lack of capital to invest, limited knowledge, or resistance to the learning curve. Software vendors hope that more education on the topic will lead to a better understanding of the benefits.

 

A number of solutions are available, some basic and others integrating within multiple parts of workflow. Once a PSP determines that their production warrants automation and which type fits their needs, they embrace features such as new applications (apps) addressing mobility.

 

The Price Hurdle

Concern about price is understandable, but many vendors work to ease the burden. Datatech SmartSoft, Inc.’s PressWise, for instance, offers Software as a Service (SaaS) so customers only commit to a small setup cost and monthly fee. If they do not feel as though they are benefitting from the software, they can walk away at any time, offering a less risk-free approach.

 

There is also a hesitation from PSPs upgrading to automated workflow because of the cost to train, which is why vendors like SA International (SAi) offer a product line that allows users to automate at a low cost and grow the product with their business. Training assistance, such as the addition of a print wizard to SAi Flexi, helps operators quickly learn the workflow; from there, they can gradually transition to more automation.

 

“Workflow software is and was expensive,” says Rao Meka, co-founder, TechVOX Inc. SignVOX’s SaaS and pay-as-you-go model provides PSPs with monthly subscriptions.

 

For many, the adoption of automation depends on volume. Smaller shops cannot justify the investment. According to Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG Americas, many print providers invest in expensive machines, but still conduct business with a manual production workflow. “In general, it is a bigger leap for them to invest in an automated workflow.”

 

Fear of Change

The fear of change and an overall discomfort with implementing new systems is another challenge. “Changing to a new system, technology, or method of operating requires time and discipline from owners, managers, and employees. A number of PSPs are not convinced that a new system would allow them to replicate their current processes,” notes Joe Chanes, business software consultant, Cyrious Software.

 

Mark L. Myers, CEO, Estimator Corp., finds that some PSPs place too much emphasis on the development of a Microsoft Excel database or similar solution.

 

There is a level of caution about making a decision that involves the entire business. “Even if the desire for change is there, people tend to back down thinking it involves too many changes; afraid their system will become too heavy to manage,” notes Sébastien Hanssens, VP marketing & communication, Caldera.

 

PSPs sometimes feel they are too busy to make the necessary investment to implement and learn. “The irony here is that one of the reasons they feel so busy is because of their current workflow. Automation would allow them to free up limited resources and concentrate on more revenue-generating tasks,” points out Eric Wold, VP, Datatech SmartSoft.

 

Better Understanding

Some PSPs are hindered by a general lack of knowledge about the overall benefits of workflow software, which is why vendors feel it important to educate customers on the topic. “Many operate margins that are comfortable for their business and do not realize that increased efficiency would inflate existing profit margins,” explains Dan Crnarich, director of product marketing, EFI.

 

Vendors must be persistent in showing print providers what is possible with automated workflows. Many agree that seminars or breakout sessions on workflow/business management software at industry trade shows would be helpful.

 

“We, as an industry, must help PSPs understand what is possible and that through workflow tools they can dramatically improve their efficiency, resulting in higher profits and reduced costs. We must also help them to understand how to practically implement these tools into their business,” says Bryan Manwaring, director of product management, ONYX Graphics, Inc.

 

Mark Smith, president, EstiMate Software, recommends class demonstrations on how automated tools work, perhaps taking place at industry events.

 

Case studies highlight companies of varying sizes and product offerings that made successful transitions to automated workflow systems. Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, Esko, agrees that user testimonials are often the best method. “Nothing is more convincing than learning from peers,” he says.

 

Divide and Classify

Today’s solutions range in price depending on the needs of the shop and the number of users. Many options are available and investment helps wide format shops improve overall efficiency. We’ve classified workflow solutions in four categories—job management, job management RIP, server/client relationship, and end-to-end solution.

 

Job management includes job tracking and ticketing software. Some tracking software works in tandem with accounting and billing solutions, providing expense reports, estimates, tasks, and invoices. There is even software specifically designed to estimate the profitability of a job.

 

Job management with RIP benefits from a RIP’s ability to calibrate and profile each printer to achieve accurate and consistent color between all connected printers.

 

Server/client relationship allows bottlenecks to be tackled in the preflight and design stages by moving file preparation upstream. In addition, RIPs providing a server/client relationship enable customers to send the printer a PDF file from a design application. This means the user does not have to go back to the native design program to make changes.

 

End-to-end solutions merge a RIP with the many functions associated with production and business management so that PSPs do not have to piecemeal a solution from different products or vendors. The ability to automate and centralize all features reduces the possibility of significant error and creates one touch point.

 

Below are products by vendor, with notes regarding which apply to each of the above categories.

 

Caldera offers Flow+, an end-to-end solution for managing a wide format printing business from quote to delivery. The solution is modular and scalable to better fit a large format print business’ needs. The first level sells for $10,000.

 

Cyrious Control job management software eliminates duplicate entry and missing information. It allows users to create custom dashboards and explorer screens to easily determine where a job is at any point in the production process. As an employee completes a task with an order, he or she can move it to the next station for completion with a few clicks. Starting price for Control is $2,400.

 

Datatech SmartSoft PressWise is a browser-based, all-in-one, Web to print digital workflow automation and print management information system (MIS). It is available as a SaaS model, either cloud or self hosted, with no long-term contracts. Price ranges from $695 to $1,795 per month.

 

EFI offers a variety of end-to-end workflows, encompassing job/customer acquisition and complete job management, including options for digital RIP or traditional prepress workflows. Consistency of order form entry reduces the need to stop processing to gather more information internally or from a customer. Automated feedback offers information for time on press, actual materials usage, and overall effort expended.

 

Esko’s i-cut Suite with i-cut Automate manages the server/client relationship. i-cut Suite automates prepress functions and the movement of files throughout the workflow process. It is sold in modular components. The cost of i-cut Preflight is $1,300. The complete software, with i-cut Automate and training, is $40,000. Prices vary depending upon the number of users.

 

EstiMate is primarily pricing software, but contributes to workflow with job management tools in the Enterprise edition. Job management tools track work in progress, note jobs with custom status tags, and review materials needed for a job before production. File attachments to jobs also keep paperwork in one digital location. In addition, an integrated job timer allows users to log in and track time spent working on a project. EstiMate offers pricing plans from $69 to $199 per month, depending on the number of users.

 

Estimator’s wide format solution automatically calculates the best layout for roll stock and sheets, providing Dutch or right angle layout, ideal for job management. It also offers two-sided printing with separate laminating and a number of finishing operations. All necessary reports, including profitability, work ticket, PO scheduling, and invoicing with connectivity to QuickBooks are included. Estimator’s solution is available with three price categories from $900 to $2,950.

 

GMG’s end-to-end solution, ProductionSuite, automates prepress to streamline the whole production process. It minimizes downtime and increases machine uptime. ProductionSuite starts at $15,000, with pricing depending on optional modules, additional seats, or additional printers or cutting machines.

 

ONYX Thrive software, considered in the server/client relationship category, scales across multiple production stations and grows along with the print provider. The program features 100 percent Adobe workflow for accurate, predictable, high-quality printing. It starts at $3,295.

 

SAi FlexiSIGN-PRO offers job management with a RIP. It drives efficiency with tools that reduce time—like RIP-and-Print on the fly, and it reduces waste with advanced job nesting algorithms. SAi FlexiSIGN-PRO for the server/client is an all-in-one solution that includes wide format sign design and print and cut. SAi Flexi products range in price from $995 to $4,295 depending on the tools and devices needed.

 

TechVOX currently provides all necessary workflow management other than RIP management, which it plans to include in 2013. The collaboration software, called SignVOX, is $130 for ten users, and ten dollars per additional user.

 

TradeSoft Inc. offers estimating, project management, shop control, and job costing software. ProjectPAK is an estimating solution that allows users to take off jobs by unit, component, or parametric means up front. After it automatically configures products and calculates cost as each product is added to the estimate. ShopPAK reads the information from ProjectPAK and then automatically creates work orders with budgeted labor and a preliminary bill of materials. ShopPAK can link to accounting and CAD/CAM engineering packages as well, allowing for the export of invoices, purchase orders, and payroll hours to accounting solutions.

 

Cloud and Mobility Trends

New features found in workflow solutions complement the current trend of the cloud and mobility.

 

Many companies access and store information in the cloud. TechVOX understands the benefits of this. “We have employees located from ME to CA to India, and without the cloud and mobile capabilities we could not do what we do today with our staff,” imparts Meka. With all kinds of data, including emails, support, and software, employees work on planes, at home, and in between meetings.

 

Bringing the transformative technologies of the cloud to the wide format industry is one of SAi’s main focuses. For example, nearly all PSP business owners have a smartphone, and with the free SAi Flexi Cloud mobile app they view production details and trends while on the go.

 

“We upgraded our SAi workflow software with a cloud platform in order to drive new business to PSPs,” says Dean Derhak, product director, SAi. “Our first cloud tool is for job approval, which lets shops collaborate with customers to get print jobs approved sooner. Over the coming months, we will add other cloud-based tools that enable fast and easy insourcing and outsourcing with other PSPs and a free PSP Web storefront.”

 

Datatech SmartSoft’s PressWise software was built as a cloud-based workflow solution, accessible anywhere and anytime via a browser. Shop owners or production managers know they can log into the system using their mobile devices wherever they are and get an accurate, real-time picture of their current production situation.

 

Most of EFI’s workflow solutions leverage the cloud infrastructure. From eCommerce to MIS to workflow, the solutions are capable of operating in the cloud.

 

Estimator spearheaded the development of Microsoft’s new RDP cloud solution, which allows non-browser-based, low-cost access to company information with the ability to perform quotes and provide all workflow options remotely from a computer or mobile device.

 

Esko offers connectivity to Pantone colors in the cloud and through WebCenter software, which is always available if users wish to extend the i-cut Suite system. In this case, customers automatically track files through approval points, review proofs and comment on them, or reroute the customer to different facets of job production depending on the nature of the file. They may do this through the use of mobile systems.

 

As the print industry continues to cross lines and expand, vendors agree there will be more need for cloud applications. As a generation, we require information anywhere at anytime, and cloud and mobility make that possible. It also provides an increase in productivity while allowing for flexibility. People have access on the go and do not have to be shop locked.

 

Improve Overall Efficiency

An efficient automated workflow solution helps PSPs manage production and generate accurate pricing, costing, and quotation. All of this leads to less errors and better productivity on a daily basis. While there are various reasons PSPs are hesitant to move to automated systems, there is no denying automated workflow software boosts efficiency and reduces the possibility of significant error. Real savings and ROI are achieved with a more efficient workflow.

 

For the most part, education on the topic comes from the vendors themselves, but certainly those using the software in their everyday work are some of the most trusted advocates. Some PSPs may find it useful to speak with others firsthand about their experience implementing workflow software. With the ability to yield more jobs with less room for error, it is worthy of consideration.

 

Apr2013, Digital Output

 
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