Apr 25, 2017
In another series of workflow blogs we have been walking through the path of auditing the current workflow in your environment and identifying ways to optimize through automation. It’s a long story that has been unfolding over many months. Along the way many have asked specific questions about some of the fine points of automation and what tools would be on the “must review” list.
The characteristics of the products you should review begin with the user interface. If you are going to add a tool to automate as much of the workflow as possible, the user interface – what you see when you are sitting at the computer screen – becomes a critical deciding factor. Does the layout of the screen make sense to you and the team? Does it provide access to the key pieces of information about each job coming through the production process?
How much automation does the tool allow? Automation that requires constant manual intervention is not really automation, but there is a delicate balance. Any automation scheme that allows for too much manipulation by the team on the shop floor eliminates the benefits that automation should bring.
Also consider the changing needs that will surround your workflow. We know from our research, including the most recent North American and European Software Investment surveys, that dealing with a high number of small jobs is the single largest headache in many shops. Looks for tools that make this easy.
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Apr 17, 2017
As we come to the last few items in the Workflow Quiz it is time for some of the heavy lifting that comes with optimizing and right sizing tasks and processes in the workflow. Not everyone will be happy with the process because it uncovers their pet projects and sometimes lead to power plays that start with “this is how we have always done this job” and end with annoyed team members. Despite all of those risks, it is time to look at all of those places where it takes some type of manual intervention to get a job from start to finish.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you take on a job from a new customer, how much of the job setup requires a person talking to a person or a person talking with a group of people to get all of the specifications identified and coded into the system? Are there manual checklists sitting on a service representative’s desk in addition to what is in the system? Sticky notes on monitors in prepress and account management that detail what is missing in the job notes? If so, you have opportunities to optimise because all of those notes are taking time to manage!
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Apr 13, 2017
When you look at the opportunities across the spectrum of marketing outlets the choices can be daunting. Which of the many channels should you use to communicate the value proposition of your product or service? There are hundreds of lines of blog content and millions of pages of guidance in books and magazine articles, and they all provide points to consider. What is missing in much of the guidance is a specific pointer to technologies that can help to change the marketing narrative.
One technology that is underused is geomarketing, the art and science of using location data in innovative ways. It can help to change the brand narrative by creating direct links between where the sellers of products and services can be found and the people who want to buy them. It can add valuable new revenue streams to the menu of services offered by marketing and print service providers. And while geomarketing techniques can work for any communication channel, marketing and print service providers miss the opportunity to offer this valueable service.
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Mar 10, 2017
Director, Production Workflow
The HP Digital Solutions Cooperative (Dscoop) has been a mainstay of event calendars for Indigo users for more than a decade. Over the past few years HP has moved to include users of their other print technologies, including Scitex, DesignJet and PageWide Web Press. While in past years the HP PageWide Web Press team held their Jetcomm event in advance of Dscoop, this year the Jetcomm sessions were integrated into the main Dscoop agenda alongside tracks dedicated to Business & Leadership, Operations, Sales & Marketing, and Technology & Innovation.
Dscoop is part tradeshow and part education event, with an agenda that included A-List keynotes and mentalist Lior Suchard as emcee. The sessions were the expected array of customer success stories, successful selling solutions and product reviews, but there were also a variety of sessions covering finishing, packaging and 3D printing, all of which rank highly in KeyPoint Intelligence / InfoTrends surveys as target expansion opportunities for print service providers (PSP). Read more »
Jan 25, 2017
Ricoh announced on January 18th that they had taken their strategic investment into Avanti Computer Systems to the next step by acquiring the company. The acquisition is not a surprise for those that have been watching the workflow story develop at Ricoh. The company acquired MarcomCentral (formerly known as PTI Marketing Technologies Inc.) in 2014 and expanded its software partnerships in recent years.
Avanti is best known as the provider of the Avanti Slingshot print management information system (MIS) targeted to exactly the types of print shops where Ricoh finds success for their Pro C product lines. With Slingshot, Ricoh now has a JDF-certified Print MIS that can be on premise or cloud-based. Its modular, open platform lays the groundwork for integration with other Ricoh software solutions. The platform also provides the ability to distribute business intelligence, plan production and integrate into fulfillment and logistics. For Avanti, they now have the resources of Ricoh to support expansion into Europe and then worldwide.
From the workflow perspective, this acquisition gives Ricoh a tested, mature print MIS. Coupled with the MarcomCentral acquisition and their growing professional services offerings, Ricoh is better positioned to grow their commercial customer base and become more deeply entrenched with the mix of customers they support today. This graphic from the Avanti web page illustrates the modular nature of Avanti’s solution and, as important, the partners that connect into it.
Both companies have stated that the acquisition does not change any existing partnerships, but does this acquisition open the door to some other partnerships for Ricoh? Avanti has a slate of automation partners, including Ricoh competitors Xerox, HP, Esko, EFI, CREO, Aleyant, Konica Minolta, Agfa, Fujifilm and Kodak. Aleyant gives them a path to large format automation with a refined set of prepress tools. Esko opens doors into packaging.
The big question is if this is the slow continuation of an acquisition spree for Ricoh. Avanti makes Ricoh one of the few digital printer vendors who can claim a viable commercial print MIS product in their software tool kit. That gives them a strong foundation to move deeper into the general commercial print market with both their color toner and color inkjet products.
While it will take some time for Ricoh to fully integrate the power of the Avanti solutions into their workflow talk track, it is hard to believe that this is the last stop on the acquisition path Ricoh has been following.
Jan 13, 2017
There are still a few more items in the Workflow Quiz to work through before we can say that every stone has been turned over in the quest for optimization and documentation. In this segment it’s time to look at what processes you have that might qualify as islands of automation that should be linked together.
Most print shops have some automation in place. Tools are purchased to meet a specific need, and sometimes suites are brought in to automate specific sets of processes. What tools and suites have you brought in over the years to automate? Web-to-print solutions? Order entry and management solutions? Job tracking? Are your production processes linked to your accounting processes?
Workflow Automation orchestrates the handoffs between processes to eliminate human intervention and create seamless activity from the start of a job to delivery. It may include automation of resource allocation, flow control, and consumables ordering, but always includes reporting as each step is completed.
Over the years I’ve visited shops with some amazing automation. Some was bought, some was assembled from a variety of software sources, and still other solutions were written in-house. In most cases the teams working in the shop started their automation out of a need to streamline multiple job onboarding processes or tie multiple touchpoints into a single process. The goal is always to move jobs through faster. Read more »
Dec 20, 2016
The fifth item in the Workflow Quiz is where the business of making money begins. Up to now we’ve looked at processes and tracking, but now it’s time to take a critical look at what happens when a customer wants to place an order and you want to accept that order. In a sense we’re coming back to the beginning now that you’ve named all of the steps in the workflow and have a good idea of the paths that jobs take through your shop.
Onboarding is the set of processes the start when a customer places an order and ends when the job is in the production workflow. It includes acquisition of the final job specifications, print files, associated data and resource files, job ticketing, logging the job into the accounting system, establishing proofing requirements, defining delivery requirements, and defining the payment methods.
How many ways can a customer place an order with you? Are customers required to have a sales person, or is it possible for anyone to place an order over the phone, via fax or email, or using a web-to-print or web-to-order process? How the orders are received and verified drives many of the next steps.
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Nov 7, 2016
The fourth item in the Workflow Quiz is where we identify every stop along the workflow path and how those stops are tracked. Last time your job was to lay out all of the documentation and learn where the holes are. This time the job is to put a name to every step in the workflow with a goal of identifying who owns that step and how the status of the work is reported as it moves through that step.
Touch points are the discrete processes required to move a job through the workflow. Color management is a touchpoint. Ripping a file is a touchpoint . Printing is a touchpoint. Having a CSR track down a customer file is a touch point. Troubleshooting a wrong profile is a touch point.
Your goal should be to create a master map, or set of maps, that typical jobs follow from job onboarding to job delivery. Each touch point should have a named owner and an identified reporting path. It isn’t enough to say that someone is responsible for the workflow or is the workflow manager; for this task the goal is to identify specific assignments, even if at the start there is only one name in every box (or even no name in a box).
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Oct 26, 2016
In this series we are looking at the world of workflow. Based on your feedback it is a hot topic, especially during the budgeting season. One thing that emerged from the conversations is that we are all using the word workflow, but we don’t all mean the same thing. For some of us it refers to a tightly defined set of processes, while for others it covers the business and production processes within a specific application set, like commercial print or packaging. All of these definitions are accurate, but to have the conversation we need to be able to share our expectations about all of the things that workflow covers.
One way to identify what you mean by workflow is to look at how the term is used in your organization, and to review your documentation of the workflow components. This is the next item in the Workflow Quiz. Start with the workflow documentation you have.
Workflow: The repeatable and auditable tasks, events, and processes used to consistently move work from job onboarding through to completion. Some or all tasks may be automated toward the goal of super-efficiency and predictability in production and supply chain management.
You may have discovered that there is not much documentation available. Don’t panic! Working together we can get you on the road to a well-documented workflow. The first step is to locate what you have available. That may be in the form of vendor manuals, internal strategy documents, workflow diagrams, internal system architecture presentations, or even an assortment of internal emails. This might sound odd, but print out anything you have in email form, and at least the opening pages of any longer documents.
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Sep 6, 2016
Clearly, the idea of documenting your workflow architecture and environment resonated with those who read the last installment. It is not surprising! We all know that every business process should be backed up with documentation, but it is easy push it down the priority list. Perhaps raising the visibility will help raise the priority!
The next item in the Workflow Quiz asked if there was an owner for your workflow process, and if you have an assigned owner, does that person have a named backup. It is an important question because without a named owner your workflow processes are at risk. In addition, without a backup, the risk only grows.
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