The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Managing the Work

Ryan McAbee
Sep 13, 2017

Managing the diversity of work possible within a wide format shop is challenging. Quotes must be created for customers from estimates based on as-accurate-as-possible costs. Once the order is placed, materials need to be ordered and/or staged for production. The job needs to be scheduled, costs tracked, and deadlines met. Oh, let’s not forget these tasks are multiplied by every job received which is enough to cause panic in the most stoic of managers.

With so much to manage, one would expect that every wide format shop would own a print management software solution. According to the FESPA 2015 Census, only 17.7% of shops owned a print MIS compared with 72.7%% of general commercial printers from that year’s InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook. While adoption rates have likely increased over the past couple of years and will be reflected in the upcoming FESPA Census, it is unlikely that wide format shops have closed the gap. One reason most print providers avoid changing their existing or adopting a new print MIS solution is the complexity involved which equates to time and cost. Most print MIS solutions need over 6 months to fully implement but the core system of estimating, quoting, and job ticketing can go much faster, so view it as a journey not a sprint.

Print MIS Adoption for Wide Format and General Commercial Printer

Sources: FESPA 2015 Census, 2015 InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook

Print MIS solutions can also act a central record of truth for the work. If all jobs are entered in the system, then the order’s production status can be tracked, production costs assigned, service level agreements met, and data captured to provide real-time insights or post mortem analysis, i.e. estimate versus actual costs reporting. Having the data in one system unlocks the potential for customizable dashboards to track performance indicators for true business intelligence.

There are many types of solutions that can be used depending upon your situation:

  • Wide format-specific print MIS solutions like Clarity and ShopVox are browser-based solutions that were specifically designed for the needs of sign and graphics.
  • General print MIS solutions, that often started in commercial printing, have subsequently added capabilities for wide format production. Examples include, but are not limited to, solutions from Avanti, EFI, IQ, Optimus, and Tharstern.

The pressure to manage more jobs and increase efficiency is increasing due to customer demands. Shops responding to the FESPA 2015 Census cited shorter turnaround, just-in-time requirements, and shorter runs as the top three trends from customers. The speed of business has changed and seems to get faster each passing year. What might have been possible to manage through manual processes, like creating estimates in a spreadsheet, won’t suffice going forward.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

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