Much has been said on the topic of workflow over the years, and even more on the promises made by technology providers claiming to help companies better manage it. But, before another solution hits the market, I’d like to offer some guidance as to what workflow is, while addressing the following:
• How can you drive costs out of your operation, introduce new levels of automation, and reduce redundant tasks with workflow?
• How can you integrate existing/new products into your existing workflow?
What is Workflow?
At the risk of oversimplifying, workflow is a series of tasks designed to complete a function. Workflows vary from the simple—comprising one party or device—to the complicated, which can involve multiple steps and numerous personnel or pieces of equipment. Depending on the environment, other critical factors in managing workflow include: information and documents that are mandated by government compliance, regulatory issues, research and development, legal processes, and audit systems issues. This shows us why managing workflow is a critical component of successful businesses ranging from sole proprietorships to diversified, global enterprises.
For the digital imaging industry and today’s print service providers specifically, we typically think of workflow in broad terms as any tool that facilitates file management through the print production process with greater efficiency, lower cost, better device/service integration, and value-added services. For example, some tasks that are performed within a workflow may include file pre-flighting, imposition, proofing, and output. Existing software tools allow the automation of workflow so that tasks can be performed on files, automatically ensuring that similar files are processed in the same way, time-after-time, without user intervention.
When used appropriately, workflow is more than just a buzzword, offering providers significant business implications and productivity gains. For small print shops and quick printers just starting out, to diversified print operators expanding their range of services, approaching and managing workflow can become easier with a few key understandings of trends, tools, and guiding principles.
Who Needs Workflow?
According to InfoTrends’ Production Software Investment Outlook 2010, almost 60% of establishments polled have already adopted some form of workflow management system. Their findings suggest that the adoption rate of these tools is highest in mid-sized and larger establishments, while investment by smaller firms has remained low. While that may currently be the case, smaller companies will likely find that in today’s digital printing environment, workflow systems are crucial to keeping efficiency up and maintaining consistent quality.
As the dynamics of our industry continue to change, with Web-to-print applications increasing and run lengths declining, workflow is an important factor in generating greater productivity and improved profitability across a broad spectrum of business models. As many companies have made significant capital investments over the years in their equipment—and are certainly not looking to start over—it is essential that they adopt a workflow system with the flexibility to fit their existing infrastructure.
What’s in It for Me?
As workflow encompasses a range of tools that allow print service providers better, more sophisticated services to help them improve their businesses, the benefits of a workflow management system can be found in both time and monetary savings. For example, the pre-flight tool, mentioned above, can be used to triage digital files coming into a print shop by running “good” files through the complete workflow and outputting them as productively as possible. The same pre-flight tool can also be set-up to catch “bad” files that require further evaluation and treatment before they can be sent to output.