Workflow Technology that Works for You
Workflow — we know what it is, but how do we define it? A quick glance at Merriam-Webster tells us that the definition of workflow is "the sequence of steps involved in moving from the beginning to the end of a working process." As we know, in the broad church of print, it isn’t that simple. The huge variation in work produced and industries served make PSP’s workflows individual and multifaceted when compared with many other manufacturing processes.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to maximizing workflow efficiency, but there are common pitfalls PSPs face — and tried and tested methods to identify them — which of course makes overcoming those challenges a whole lot simpler.
Connecting the Dots
The silo effect is the enemy of efficiency. Even with the best workflow solutions, your operations won’t be optimized if they aren’t talking to each other and sharing vital data. Siloes result in the duplication of efforts as well as time-consuming errors as you perform tasks from accepting orders and job ticketing, to shipping and invoicing.
The ideal workflow moves seamlessly from initial administration to design, through pre-press, through production itself, all the way through to job delivery. Over the years you may have implemented a color management solution, web-to-print, perhaps prepress automation — there are exceptional solutions on the market for each stage of the business and production elements of print. But is the right communication between all of those various moving parts happening?
A good place to start is looking into how you can join up the dots and connect your solutions — many software providers highlight their ability to integrate seamlessly with third party systems, so the first step is to get in touch and find out where those interconnectivity opportunities lie. Discussing your challenges with your providers can be mutually beneficial, helping you resolve issues, and helping those developers improve their product offering.
It can also lead to innovations in integration. For example, workflow solutions provider Esko collaborated with MIS developer CERM to deliver a world-first workflow optimization after Belgian printer Accent discussed its challenges around complex jobs. Speaking about the partnership, Lowie-Pascal Geerinck, product manager, CERM, explains, “All individual pieces of software and workflow systems offer an interesting set of functionalities and can improve productivity, but we strongly believe that it is the interaction between those systems that creates the extra dimension, and opens up a huge amount of possibilities.
“You could say that it’s like a team sport,” Geerinck continues. “It’s the way all players play together that makes the team win, and brings the team to its highest level. And that is why we strongly believe in integrating with our partners to make sure all those systems get connected. That’s when the real magic happens!”
Innovative ERP software solutions such as LiftERP can play a key role in helping PSPs manage both business and production tasks using a single integrated platform. As hybrid work environments endure even as COVID lockdowns fade, a solution that allows users to access the system and manage the business from anywhere is increasingly desirable.
Zaikio, a Heidelberg-owned cloud-based platform, is also working to optimize workflows with its connected apps, both from Zaikio and third parties. The inclusive nature of Zaikio’s platform eliminates the challenges that come with using multiple proprietary solutions, aiming to make workflow more streamlined for print businesses, and ultimately benefitting print software and hardware vendors as well.
Cutting down on manual touchpoints from job initiation to completion is the ultimate goal of workflow automation. Again, the variable nature of print jobs can make getting a handle on all your touchpoints a challenge, so the key is to heavily scrutinize your workflow to note each touchpoint of your regular jobs — when really paying attention, you may be surprised by how much manual intervention is going on in your automation! It ties in with connecting the dots and standardizing processes where possible.
As runs become shorter, eliminating as many touchpoints as possible is even more crucial when it comes to holding on to as much margin as possible. “When you have short runs, that automation becomes really important, because you can only charge so much for that job, and that margin for that shorter run job gets thinner and thinner,” explains Joe Marin, senior VP, Education and Training at PRINTING United Alliance. “The more you touch that job, the smaller that profit margin gets.”
Standardization can be a key driver for reducing touchpoints. It may be a familiar story — different members of staff within a print shop have different ways of carrying out tasks, which can lead to inconsistencies and errors. After all, human beings aren’t robots, so it stands to reason that there will be some individuality to our habits. But for seamless workflow, that can quickly become a problem. In addition, many of the stakeholders in a print project are only focused on their stage of the process, such as a designer not designing with all the components of a finished print product in mind.
Sebastien Hanssens, VP of marketing and communications at Caldera, recalls a particular customer challenge. “The customer explained, ‘I have nine different people working in my company, and everybody has a different recipe for preparing files for production. How can I standardize this? We have tried everything — Excel spreadsheets, extra training.’ The problem is, staff are on different shift patterns and they do things differently. If one is incorrect, then nobody is correct.”
Caldera assisted the customer in overcoming the issues with PrimeCentre, helping prepress operators optimize job preparation for digital printing and cutting. “It enables people to set up standardized recipes, so everybody’s doing things the same way,” explains Hanssens. “It’s something everybody can reproduce — they can simply go to the recipe.”
Despite the distinct difference in PSP workflows, there are standardization opportunities; there are many common challenges across businesses that provide developers with useful data, improving their ability to solve those problems. “We go out and find customers that are actually having to deal with the challenges that we see, and we try to build a solution which is as generic as possible,” explains Ken Polspoel, global solutions manager, Esko. “We look at the foundational layer — is there a way to deploy at scale at multiple companies?”
Now is the Time
Bill Pope, VP technical services, PRINTING United Alliance, advises that looking for the streamlining opportunities yourself and taking advantage of some outside consultancy can both be beneficial. “If you are looking to automate as much as you can, start with asking, where is the low hanging fruit? Where are the big opportunity areas? However, if you can find the right person that can look at your workflow holistically and give you some input, that may be time and money well spent.”
In the COVID era, amid inflation, staffing challenges, soaring energy prices, and the prospect of a recession looming, every wasted moment recovered and job margin maximized is crucial for PSPs. As businesses evolve and adapt to the current climate, operational processes, job administrators, and production itself must evolve too. Print businesses can’t afford not to ensure that their workflow is working for them.
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.