Is Your Company Ready for Workflow Software?

The use of workflow software among printers is growing, all right. But so is the potential for less than desired results if used incorrectly.

Knowing when a company is ready for such a step—then finding and implementing just the right software package, and in just the right way—can prove tricky.

“Yes, it is growing,” confirms Eric Wold, vice president of Datatech SmartSoft Inc. in Agoura, CA. The reason, he says, is “in part because its utility is growing outside of the usual boundaries. It’s becoming much more achievable to connect other upstream and downstream processes in a seamless way. That way, logic-based decisions happen and drive the workflow; rather than a human operator, for instance, having to look at it, figure out what kind of job this is, and go drop it where it goes.”


How Does Your Work Flow?

Vital to consider before purchase is a company’s own business model, says Wold. “Are they general commercial, doing every kind of random custom job that comes in the door? Or are they trying to build a product-specific niche?” Workflow pays off faster, he feels, when it’s “a ‘nichier’ product. You’re producing a higher volume of less diverse orders. When you are doing a broad diversity of random orders, you attack that workflow project in a different way, and the payoff time is longer.”

Also crucial, Wold adds, is making sure that the business flow is connected to the workflow. “I can’t stress this enough: the utility, the opportunity to save and achieve ROI, is not just in making those files transform faster. It’s in connecting the business intelligence of the orders coming into your enterprise, having that drive the workflow itself. You do not want your workflow to be some isolated silo system off in the corner. To pay off it’s got to be an integral part of your business flow.”


The Right Fit, the Right Time

While there are a lot of factors for a printer to consider, says Miranda Reeves, senior product manager for Ricoh Production Print Solutions, “the most critical thing is trying to find a solution that will fit nicely with what they have going on today.” Almost every printer has some process in place, she explains, “even if it’s manual.”

Choosing a solution that will not integrate, “and is not going to work in conjunction with the investments they’ve made and what they’ve got already in place, means they are going to end up having to overhaul their whole business process. And that seems to never pan out,” says Reeves. “There have been a lot of long, drawn-out failures lately that I have seen.”

How long it takes to implement a management system, says Gerald Walsh, director of market development for the EFI Productivity Software team, can be a complex question to answer. “The answer used to be, ‘A management system impacts virtually every operation and person in your business. The implementation timeline depends on your operation and your commitment to the process change.’ I guess my answer here would be, the implementation of an integrated, automated workflow depends on your operation and your commitment to process change.”

With workflow automation, however, there are even more variables to consider, Walsh continues. “Intelligent tools need a foundation of data to work with. In almost every case, this information isn’t just sitting on a shelf, ready for use. It must be collected, analyzed, and organized. This is a time-consuming process, but the process and profit potential is enormous.”

Asking whether or not a printer is actually ready for workflow software “is a great question,” Reeves believes. A company is ready, she feels, when it has a project that is really going to make it worth its while. “You really do need to make a choice to go to workflow and to invest in a tool when you have the right impetus. That could be a project, or some strategy to drive you to it.” Executives who do it simply because they think they need to are probably going to lack the right focus, attention, and support. “They should have a compelling motive.”

Another thing to think about is that there are “more and more tools and technologies out there today that are taking things beyond print into secure email and into the whole world of social communication,” Reeves concludes. “Keep an eye and a thoughtful mind around where your business is going in that space, and look for tools that will be flexible enough to make those ‘back bends’ in the future.”