Grease the Wheels with Workflow Software

The purpose of workflow software is to automate and streamline the movement of jobs through the printing company, with the resulting benefits of time, labor, and money savings and increased productivity and efficiency.

For many print shops, the benefits make the investment well worthwhile. But is workflow software the right investment for every shop? And if so, how much time does it take to get the system up and running? Who in the company should be responsible for managing the workflow software system? And what special skills are necessary to keep the workflow system operating optimally?

This month, QP looks at all these issues in an effort to help you make a reasoned decision if you choose to invest in workflow software.


Right for You?

The question most company owners ask when considering an investment in workflow software is whether the many benefits justify the cost.

According to Bryan Hughes, product marketing manager for Workflow Products with Fujifilm North America Corporation, much depends on the size of your firm, as well as its functionality requirements. “A RIP takes files and renders them to output to computer-to-plate or proofing,” he says. “Now, I define workflow as a step above that, where the software is providing the automation. There are so many factors that you can’t do anything but evaluate each one of them individually.”

A very forward-thinking company looking to automate as much as it can will use all the tools provided in a modern day workflow software system, Hughes says. But in a very small operation with few files, the ends may not justify the expense. In other words, an owner of one shop may say it’s worth it to pay $40,000 to automate processes, Hughes says. Another owner may not agree.

One of the most important keys to a software system’s applicability to a particular shop is its scalability, as well as its ability to interact with or integrate with other software systems the shop may be using. “As a printer, I want to grow my business without adding to direct labor,” Hughes says. “I do that by having the processes and the tools to increase efficiency without adding labor.”

Other experts believe there isn’t a printing business, regardless of size, that doesn’t need workflow software. One such expert is Udi Arieli, Chicago-based senior director of product management for EFI. “Everyone needs more efficiencies,” he says. “Competition is greater, and there’s greater cost to hire. Everything is more expensive, from good people to running your business to renting a place. The cost of business is going up because of regulations, raw materials, energy prices, and more. But there are few areas in printing where the prices you get are high and going higher.”

The only response for a responsible business owner or manager is to reduce costs. Costs can be trimmed in conventional ways, like reducing labor or salaries, Arieli says. A better way to cut costs is to grow efficiency and reduce touch points, which can be done with the right workflow software, he adds.


Installation Time

Different providers of workflow software offer very different estimates of the time it takes to get a workflow system up and running.

In the case of EFI, if the company is working with a client that already has much of the company’s software, but little integration of those systems, it wouldn’t take longer than two to three months to integrate the new workflow software system, Arieli says. A different company that would have to go out and buy many of the processes may require six months or a year to have a workflow system, he adds. Fujifilm workflow systems are sold with four days of on-site installation and training, Hughes says. “The goal of our services group is to work with your files in your environment, and set up the software so you can be running jobs when we leave,” he reports. “We’ll follow up with good phone and Web support, and with on-site support as required. It’s very customized to your situation.”

Another provider of workflow software, Xanté, provides a much shorter estimate of the time required to get a workflow system running. “Fifteen or 20 minutes,” says CEO Robert Ross. “I’m being honest. In 15 minutes, you would be expert, based on a Web demo we can offer or someone training you. It’s absolutely that quick to be productive. My theory about software is if it needs a manual or it’s not intuitive, it’s not finished. That’s how we wrote our IQ Workflow Software.”


Management and Skills Needed

Arieli believes two talents are needed to manage workflow software, and they can reside in one or more people. “You need IT knowledge, because you are physically integrating a system with networks and servers,” he says. “You need someone who knows estimating, scheduling, and knows the company’s production well. I’ve seen companies in which one person has both talents.”

The Pace system from EFI comes already integrated on one server, resulting in less need for IT knowledge, according to Arieli. “And more and more, we put the software on the cloud; we host the software and the data and connect it all to the Internet,” he adds. “So all their IT stuff and part of their production stuff, we do for them. That option is also available from EFI.”

Hughes notes that traditionally these software programs have been managed in the prepress area. But that’s changing, he adds. Workflow is defined as starting with estimating, continuing in order entry, then in prepress, pressroom, finishing, and mailing. “It’s not just prepress,” he says. “It’s not just the narrow view that it’s a prepress tool.”

In the prepress department, there is a skill required, and that’s the ability to handle application files, imposition, proofing, and color management and, ultimately, handle the export to computer-to-plate or other output device, he adds.

For his part, Ross says the truck driver of one of Xanté’s clients manages its Xanté IQ Software. “When he comes in, he looks in the queue, does the very simple color matching, and then releases the jobs for print,” he reports.

And as for any special skills required? “The ability to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Ross says. “We wrote our software so that someone coming in from the analog world can be comfortable with it. It’s obvious where everything is, so a person from the analog world could be effective within minutes, and everyone in the shop can use this, without any real special skills. If you’re not color blind, and can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can use our software.”