By Melissa Donovan
Open workflow software is ideal for many print service providers (PSPs) looking to integrate disparate pieces of production workflow into a streamlined solution. Choosing one of the many products available today can be tough, but knowing it offers integration into third-party software is a big help in the decision making process. Integrating workflow solutions is all about creating efficiency in the workplace and minimizing human interaction, which in turn eliminates costly errors and mistakes.
Above: LiftERP, paired with a Durst printer, is built off of a diverse eco-system of tools.
One of the main purposes of integrating workflow products is to move data between separate solutions. Various stages of the print production process must be able to freely communicate back and forth. Open integration makes this possible, all while increasing efficiency and productivity in a print shop and eliminating human error.
“The ability to move data between workflow solutions is essential for any business owner seeking to maximize potential growth. Managing data on multiple workflow products that do not communicate will hinder efforts to do this not only by wasting time with unnecessary touch points, but also by increasing chances for expensive human errors,” admits Jon Ravari, sales and marketing director, Printmatics.
Mark Ellingsworth, technical product manager – applications/workflow, Durst Image Technology US, provides the example of having an e-commerce platform connected to an MIS, ERP, and directly into workflow, which provides enormous efficiencies for print shops.
“By establishing an integrated workflow, PSPs benefit from increased speed and a reduction in manual errors while meeting the evolving needs of their print buyer customers,” agrees Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
Transporting data between disparate solutions is an example of an automated workflow. “It allows for quicker turnaround time from print to delivery. The extra time now available to customer service representatives affords them the opportunity to work on more complicated projects,” explains Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP – operations, The Americas, RedTie Inc.
Graham Blanks, director business operations North America, Dalim Software GmbH, believes integration is more than moving data. “It’s the actual files—PDF, instructions—job tickets, info—metadata—about the files, and the issues and how long it took to process them, what version a file was approved, and by whom, when. The devil is in the details. It’s about eliminating human interaction that creates the potential for error and from rekeying or retyping the same data into several systems.”
According to Usman Ali, principal, Ordant, each time an employee must re-enter the same data, it increases both the labor costs of processing and the likelihood of errors on each job. The costs and the ramifications add up. For example, he cites how quickly issues arise if an employee enters an extra digit in the job dimensions, an address, or expected delivery date. An order for 300 banners is different than a job for 30 banners. An error in the delivery address can lead to delays and unhappy customers.
“While integration involves moving data, the true purpose of integrating workflow products is to minimize risk, reduce costs, and increase productivity, so that people can then focus on what’s most important to them. Integration isn’t really about moving data—it’s about improving processes, changing mindsets, and moving profit margins,” says Erik Strik, CEO, PrintFactory.
“I think the ultimate goal is to answer why we want to move data between two solutions. Why go through all the hassle of trying to get two separate software solutions from two vendors to transfer data seamlessly? The answer is of course the efficiencies realized when you don’t need to rekey information into two separate systems, or have data silos in your shop where knowledge and data is compartmentalized and unusable outside of the respective users of each software,” agrees Tony Tarpey, COO, Presswise by SmartSoft Inc.
Bruce Ackerman, founder, Printavo, Inc., believes the overarching benefit is that integration boosts utilization rates and waste is significantly reduced. “Hundreds of time studies conducted by industry analysts have revealed the same pattern—there is a lot of waste due to a lack of standards, poor planning, and the basic complexity of printing unique custom orders. A two percent increase in utilization results in tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue in a medium-sized print business. That kind of improvement is likely when data intake and production output are linked through software.”
Pricing and Costing
Integration is beneficial in pricing and costing. Sharing this important data minimizes risk and errors in a critical part of the workflow process. PSPs take on work to become profitable—pricing jobs, estimating orders, determining profit margins—all of these numbers input once versus multiple times is pivotal in the journey to profitability.
“Integration between different applications enables the best solution for a specific process. This yields optimized results, automating the processes and reducing human intervention, thereby human error. Integration enables multiplying the value of all the pieces to have a big cumulative benefit effecting the bottom line of the business,” says Santosh Mulay, VP business development, InSoft Automation Pvt. Ltd.
Eva Rosén, co-founder/chief of marketing and finance, arifiQ, provides an example of a print customer using a web to print (W2P) solution that needs pricing on something not available in the W2P shop. “In this case integration between the W2P and an estimating engine makes it possible to select a certain product type, specify the job, get a quote, and make the order—all from within the W2P. The job can then go directly to an MIS and with one click go to a production workflow solution—an accounting solution, and to a freight booking solution.”
“Integrated systems capitalize on simplicity. For example, a platform that removes a data entry step. Print shop employees create a quote or invoice like they normally would, and then they can create an online store with a single click. Other print shops may daisy chain together multiple software systems to achieve the same outcome, or have to enter the details for their online stores separately from production and scheduling software,” explains Ackerman.
Pricing and costing become dynamic in an integrated workflow. “When a system is fully integrated, business owners can use real-time data on ink consumption and substrate use to improve initial quotes and—if the client demands it—to deliver precise invoicing. That seamless flow of data delivers authoritative insights about outputs, which enable better financial oversight about the entire business—everything from basic stock management to costings that can identify fraud,” shares Strik.
The collection of real-time print data and passing that data along throughout the workflow chain is hugely beneficial. “Analytical data as a byproduct of a workflow solution can certainly improve business cost management. The main area with the most benefit is the reduction of wasted time and materials,” admits Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Some of this data includes media and ink waste percentages, for example, which directly correlates to pricing and costing. “Eliminating waste results in less out-of-pocket costs of media and ink. Much of the media printed digitally comes with a steep cost and errors can sometimes cost more than the job was sold for. Determining the risk factors from real-time data analytics will help identify and mitigate waste, down time, and efficiency loss as well as set competitive pricing models,” suggests Ellingsworth.
“Speaking as a software vendor in the digital inkjet wide format space, PSPs struggle to understand their costs and waste. Having a solution integrated with a print workflow solution that can provide real-time, historic, and trend data across an entire print production environment for printed jobs, jobs with errors, ink usage, media waste, labor and machine rates, are all data points that could help in making better business decisions,” agrees Rogers.
Along the lines of collecting important printer data, integrating workflow processes also helps study the equipment in general. “Such effective integration programs can deliver, if properly constructed, equipment utilization and allow management to see if the operators or the equipment is performing as expected and then pinpoint a possible problem area,” shares Mark L Myers, CEO, Estimator Corp.
Beyond print data, integration of multiple workflow products also benefits a number of other segments in a business.
For example, managing customer behaviors and marketing information. “We’re huge believers in integrating your MIS with a marketing platform. This allows a print provider to monitor the behavior of potential customers and target them with relevant material. It also allows them to create targeted marketing campaigns to existing customers based on their purchase history,” explains John Murphy, workflow specialist, Tharstern Inc.
Communication tools are another illustration. “While phone contact will always be a vital element of customer service, using widely used workflow tools such as Slack and Google Drive can avoid the need to play phone tag with clients to get answers to proofing, production, or delivery questions. This is especially true on major projects that may require multiple approvals in order to move forward,” says Ali.
Information derived from color management and design processes leverages integration capabilities. “This assures accurate color is attained seamlessly. Color management can be automated so that each digital printer matches the other. Job preparation can be automated with templates for routine types of work for standard products—or tool settings—and can be passed down to finishing equipment. Even file metadata that describes each file and output intent can be accessed for use in digital asset management systems,” suggests Erik Schmitt, director of sales, Canada/wide format product specialist, GMG Americas.
“Fundamentally, integration is the key to better color and better color is the key to higher profit margins. By better color, we mean making it possible to print consistent color across all print devices, anywhere, at any time, repeatedly. That needs an integrated workflow, capable of referencing and linking color outputs over time and space and between physical devices. In turn, that improved ability to print consistent color—and, through integration, to guarantee printing color that matches the designer’s intent—greatly improves the printer’s credibility and his value to clients,” agrees Strik.
Production management also benefits from integrated workflows. “Easy access to business information is always beneficial. The broader the scale the better. A good example for print manufacturers is the area of sourced production. This can be collateral services like dye cutting, imprinting, mailing services, or full production sourcing for products that a printer’s customer wants but they are not equipped to produce in house. Integrating a managed print sourcing software with existing production software not only expands capabilities but means this can all be managed at the same high level,” shares Bob Yancich, COO, P3Software, Inc.
Open to Integration
Print providers that currently own a workflow solution that integrates with other third-party options should consider taking advantage of the opportunity—but do so gradually and conduct a proper analysis first.
But, are all PSPs positioned to take on integration? “Any print provider, with a business large enough to require a workflow solution in the first place, should take advantage of any workflow software integrations available to them,” encourages Ravari.
“The needs of a PSP differ based on print shop size, customer need, services offered, and geography. When thinking about any solution or solutions, it may be beneficial to first identify the needs of the business before making a software purchase, then seek out solutions that meet those needs today as well as those that can grow with their business over time,” suggests Rogers.
Smaller shops may not be the best fit. “Companies doing 50 million or more might make some sense and aid in management decisions as to equipment utilization and employee efficiency, but for smaller companies the maintenance of the integration and the analysis may be prohibitive,” says Myers.
Larger organizations traditionally embrace full integration to deal with larger volumes and differentiating value-added services. “That does not rule out automated systems for smaller companies,” adds Schmitt.
However, just because it sounds good, doesn’t mean it will work for you. “Investigation and judicious application are key. Just because software can communicate across many platforms doesn’t always mean that this is the best practice. Even the most comprehensive solutions still provide a level of risk, and the more complex the workflow becomes, the more the risk increases. PSPs should consider the demands and develop the connectivity based on their need,” cautions Maxwell.
Integrate incrementally. “First, find your biggest bottleneck and then begin to find an automated solution that will solve that problem. Also, be sure to set realistic solutions regarding what can be automated. Removing 60 to 80 percent of your issues with a certain problem can be beneficial, even if 100 percent is not removed at first. Lastly, we suggest focusing on everyday issues and pain points. Not those once-in-a-blue-moon instances. Automating routine tasks makes the biggest impact on your print business,” recommends Therese McGady, marketing manager, Aleyant.
Strik also suggests breaking it down into steps or stages. First, print providers need to start conversations with third-party solution providers of interest. “The next stage is to gauge the appetite for capturing increases in productivity and quality. This is the stage where print providers must decide for themselves, is it worth it? Lastly, the print provider needs to evaluate his workforce and think about how the benefits of the integration process will be communicated and rolled out across the business,” he continues.
When venturing down the path of automated software and integrating various parts, Blanks warns about PSPs getting in too deep. “In consideration of integrating with third-party solutions, I strongly recommend that print providers do not become software companies themselves. Far too often printers build IT departments that ultimately try to build their own solutions. They determine that they can build a capability easily and cost effectively in a short time frame, but a longer term view may show that this is not the best path to take.”
If you’re just starting out on the automated workflow journey, do pick a solution that is open. “Even if it is not in your plans, if you are looking at a new workflow, you want to make sure it is an open system leveraging a REST API and XML just so you can slowly but surely begin the process of connecting to other applications when you are ready. It will start you on a path. When it comes to adopting elements of automaton, you want to ensure that you have the capability to easily connect systems together,” says Schmitt.
When done correctly, integration between disparate workflow processes should be seamless. Today’s open solutions operate with a number of third-party applications, allowing critical information to be shared throughout the entire print production lifecycle.
Mar2020, Digital Output