By Melissa Donovan
The majority of print service providers (PSPs) haven’t yet embraced automated workflow solutions—but they should. Part of the hesitation stems from sticker shock, seeing past a large initial investment can be difficult. Additionally, the time it takes to implement an automated system into a company’s current processes may be daunting to the prospective user.
The result is a PSP who thinks they aren’t a candidate. However, the continued use of antiquated workflows can cause greater risks for error and increase time spent on unnecessary tasks. Those who implement an automated workflow at any stage in their production process benefit from efficiency and consistency.
Vendors know their products, and more importantly, know how they can help PSPs thrive. They are appointed to educate wide format print providers on the benefits of an automated workflow and how to see past the initial investment, so it will positively affect the future of their shops.
David Cranage, display graphics workflow specialist, EFI, says that his role at the company was specifically created to help inkjet customers better understand automation and integration and how it applies to business and production workflow.
“Business automation focuses on the efficient capture and use of information in all phases of the workflow, including sales, estimating, planning, scheduling, preparation, and production. One of the signs automation is needed is the sharing of information in one direction with little or no validation. An example might be the collection of specifications by a salesperson with validation. This can lead to delays in estimating, order entry, and/or the production of an unacceptable job,” shares Cranage.
To illustrate to prospective customers just how necessary automation is, EFI’s team conducts on-site audits. One of the exercises involves tracking the number of touches on a job by each department with the use of colored stickers per touch.
Live demonstrations with real data are the preferred method to drive the point home. “We show the customer what the difference would be by demonstrating to them how fast real job files are done with our workflow and then compare to their existing process. This is specifically based upon what they are doing, tailor made to their processes. Then we take the data we’ve gained to calculate return on investment (ROI),” says Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG.
Tucanna Software & Development focuses on two principal areas when working with PSPs—automation of repetitive tasks and enhancing the collaboration and communication cycle. “A great deal of time is lost by files which have not been prepared properly, and in questions and revisions between the customer, customer service representative, and prepress,” admits Darrian Young, CEO, Tucanna.
“By providing tools to check files and provide a collaborative platform between customer and provider, the result is better customer service and enhanced productivity for the print provider,” he continues.
Elementary to Collegiate
Whether just starting out with a staff of two or a large, multi-locale organization generating annual revenue into the millions, the need for automation is there. Out of all the reasons one might move to an automated workflow, size—or lack of—is not one of them, as agreed upon by many of the vendors interviewed here.
“Size does not matter, but what does is how complex it is in managing the existing processes. Small shops are sometimes busy with their organic growth and will use a workflow to shorten the processes and deflect some of them through automation to ease the sales overload,” says Joseph Mergui, CEO, Caldera.
According to Cranage, the impetuous for considering automation comes out of aggravation. “It has more to do with a business’ desire for process improvement and efficiency, as well as the foresight to see the financial benefits of automation and integration. In fact, it is often the simple frustration within a management team of ‘knowing we can do things better than this’ that drives that change.”
While the size of a shop—specifically in regards to annual revenue—doesn’t define whether or not it should automate, it can determine the ROI. “A shop that is smaller—like a tiny mall shop—would not benefit as much from a workflow, where the payback period could be defined in years. With a $1M shop, the payback period is typically around nine months,” cites Steve Bennett, VP sales – North America Central, Esko.
Full Course Load or One Class Integrating an entirely new workflow process end to end may be ideal, but not realistic. Placing a PSP on self-imposed downtime, no matter how much of a benefit the intended result will bring, is simply not good for business. Most print shops integrate into their existing systems on a modular basis to achieve the best results.
Frederic Soulier, CTO, Caldera, believes the implementation of automation is efficiently carried out step by step for each stage independently, while simultaneously looking at it with a global perspective.
Young agrees that it is important to understand the bigger picture, so that the planning and ultimate goal are appropriately defined. That said, he states that even if a fully automated system is purchased or subscribed to all at once, it is generally implemented in parts.
“It really is analogous to a lean startup approach that has proven to be effective in other industries, where a business addresses some of the pain points that are easier to fix first and then, as the signage workflow starts to generate more of a ROI, there are opportunities to bring additional automation features on line,” adds Cranage.
Bennett argues that in most scenarios, the PSP has to buy an entire base level workflow to get started—so why utilize less of it when you can automate it all upfront?
Fret concurs, explaining that it is difficult to reap the benefits of an automated workflow if many of the pieces are still done manually.
At the end of the day, it depends on the print shop and its individual needs. According to Tony Tarpey, marketing director, SmartSoft Inc., although solutions may make it easy to implement everything through the entire workflow at once, that isn’t practical for all PSPs. “This is sometimes because of available resources, or due to the specific nature of the types of jobs they are running,” he shares.
“The best approach depends on an individual shop’s business model. Pre-production should be simplified to increase productive output and eliminate bottlenecks. Applying color management, rendering files, nesting, and basic job set up should be automated whenever possible. When print shops automate repetitive tasks, operational performance improves and the ability to generate more revenue increases,” recommends Bryan Manwaring, director of product management, ONYX Graphics, Inc.
S2K Goes to School
S2K Graphics, with two production facilities in CA and TN, has developed, managed, and delivered point of purchase and other services to national multi-site retailers since 1989. The company, which was founded by Dan Pulos, today employs 50 staff members spread out between not only the production locations but five sales offices as well.
The PSP has experienced significant growth over the last few years and with it came some growing pains. “Digital asset management (DAM) became a big challenge. The process from the initiation of a job through production involved numerous file exchange cycles via email, FTP, or shipping DVDs to clients, account executives, and product coordinators,” explains Philip Garcia, VP/GM, S2K.
To combat the disorganization, the company turned to an automated workflow solution. According to Garcia, the initial investment did not appear as daunting as one might think. After careful analysis, S2K calculated the ROI for the system to be less than six months.
Completing its homework, the PSP looked at a number of different packages before ultimately deciding on Tucanna. The main reason, the software company was able to customize a solution that fit S2K’s specific production workflow.
Integration of the new system began with the front end portion of the workflow, addressing the DAM concerns that spurred it to initially investigate implementing a system. “This gave us our biggest and most immediate bang for the buck. We are currently working with Tucanna to develop the next phase, which will include a number of new features to continue streamlining our workflow,” admits Garcia.
The success of an automated workflow is apparent. The company has experienced a 25 percent improvement in efficiency in both order processing and pre-media departments. Paperwork generated in the factory is reduced and turnaround times are drastically improved.
Head of the Class
Research from Caldera estimates that less than five percent of print providers use an automated or semi-automated workflow. When broken out between commercial printers and dedicated wide format, the higher number includes those in the commercial space. What will it take to get wide format PSPs on board with automated workflow? Education by vendors and example-leading peers, such as S2K, for starters. From there, time will only tell just how much of an uphill trek the adoption of automation will be.
Sep2014, Digital Output