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.
One of my favorites is an automation scheme where customers sent jobs to the print service provider and their onboarding group automatically ran them through an image interrogation process because they were receiving too many print jobs with low resolution images. They wrote an automation protocol that invoked their color management tool and processed each image to determine if it was appropriate in size and resolution for their printing process. It saved them a lot of time and eventually taught their clients the difference between low resolution images and print-appropriate images. It kept their technical and support teams off the phone, too.
But, even though it streamlined their process, it was an island of automation. Over time, like many shops, they had multiple automation processes they didn’t speak to one another, except through some code they might have written themselves or through manual inputs. To take the next step into efficiency and cost savings those islands need to be brought together.
A good place to start is that audit we did a few steps back. Who are your vendors for each of your islands of automation, and how much internally written or contracted code is in the workflow? With this information do a sketch of a workflow map with the disconnection points identified. Which vendors are closest to those disconnects? Are they offering options to connect them? Yes, I know this isn’t free, but it may have a quicker payback than bringing in another vendor.
If you find that you have more than two or three disconnect it might be time to invite both known and new vendors to propose solutions to bring you into a completely automated workflow. Sometimes trying to bridge the gaps isn’t the best approach. We’ll explore how to have those vendor conversations in a later post!
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