Ready to Future Proof your Workflow?

By Lois Ritarossi / Published:

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Production print managers across commercial print, in-plant providers and direct mailers have made many changes to their workflow in response to new staffing models and the need to support remote workers. Print is essential and print production will continue to happen while all employees may not fully return to working in the production facility. So how do print providers future proof their workflow and effectively manage their SLAs?

Solimar Systems enables document professionals to securely manage and optimize content for print, mobile and e-Delivery with modular software solutions. 2020 presented many changes for print production environments. Solimar Systems’ customers expressed the need for enhanced capabilities to manage proof approvals and automate finishing. Solimar works closely with their Customer Advisory Council (CAC) for regular input on desired changes for product features and enhancements. Toward the end of 2020 a few customers led the charge to request enhanced capabilities for remote proofing and approval of documents. These customers had to eliminate manual processing and provide efficiency when account managers were working remotely.  Without the luxury of walking into the production area to check on proofs and job status, manual processes and visual checks of print work proved impossible and inefficient in keeping production moving and clients updated.

Customers ask Solimar delivers

Solimar listened to their customers and reprioritized their near-term roadmap to focus on building the enhanced capabilities for SOLitrack 2.4. The new product announced earlier this year, delivers web-based job control, proof and approval and JDF finishing control for an efficient PDF-centric production print workflow.

SOLitrack 2.4 keeps a continuous record of processing activity which provides a history of the entire workflow that can be viewed and reported on in real-time. The platform constantly monitors the production workflow for errors, notifying appropriate users on issues or events needing attention.

The Proof and Approval feature in SOLitrack 2.4 empowers In-Plants and Print Service Providers (PSPs) to automate the approval process of jobs and work orders. From the secure, web-based SOLitrack client, everyone in the approval chain can easily review, approve or reject jobs. Individual components of jobs can be managed with the Piece Level Tracking (PLT) feature.

“Many print businesses need their operational staff to remotely oversee and manage processes in their factories. Company managers need visibility, live access, and control to ensure production processes run smoothly,” commented Jonathan Malone-McGrew, Senior Director of Engagement, Solimar Systems. “SOLitrack provides a comprehensive, reliable production print workflow solution to do just that. It enables companies to track and report on workflow processes from the shop floor or remote locations.”

Proof Approval

SOLitrack 2.4 introduces an expanded Proof and Approval workflow for the Solimar Chemistry™ platform. Users can view documents and jobs and then approve or reject specific records or the entire job.  Solitrack supports a multi-step approval process with a high degree of flexibility to control the rules for the overall review process that includes notifications and auto-approvals based on schedules and events. Some advantages of SOLitrack’s proof and approval workflow include that it is a central repository for your jobs with user-controlled access rights. This avoids using a mix of methods like email or Dropbox to review files.

Version 2.4 also has several other enhancements including new API controls related to updating piece-level job information and controlling user preferences. User notifications have been expanded to include text messages.

PDFs needed for online meetings

One example of Solimar customers’ rapidly adapting their print and electronic workflows was for a health care provider. Nurses and health care providers had an immediate need for PDF versions of printed documents and booklets as in-person visits were replaced with video calls. Solimar’s Rubika toolset enabled a large health care system to create dynamic PDF versions of customized patient booklets with an automated table of contents and page numbers on the fly. This allowed practitioners to facilitate effective video calls with patients, while printed copies of the books were mailed for follow up.

A major enhancement for SOLitrack 2.4 is related to controlling finishing in PDF files. As PDF continues to become the dominant file format for printing, an important aspect to address is how to control finishing on cut sheet printers. With SOLitrack 2.4, the finishing information for PDF files can be controlled with a rules-based system for Job Definition Format or JDF commands. JDF is an industry standard designed to simplify information exchange between different applications and systems. To control finishing with JDF, SOLitrack uses conditional logic to map the finishing commands in the PDF file to the desired JDF commands and method of communication for the printers.

JDF Drives Automated Finishing

With a Solimar workflow, companies can now maintain, add, or modify finishing commands throughout a PDF workflow, even if the source data is not PDF, to support multiple industry-standard methods which now includes JDF. The automated JDF requirements for finishing can be updated and monitored through the SOLitrack dashboard without the need for onsite visual inspection and set-up.

Related to JDF is JMF, which stands for Job Messaging Format. This is a protocol used to communicate device information between systems. SOLitrack includes JMF support to expand the amount and type of information that can be captured from printers and other devices. This includes useful information such as the printer and job status in near real-time. Printers may also report other statistics such as ink and media usage that SOLitrack is then able to log and track.

The next major product enhancement is added job control features in the web or mobile dashboard client. This makes SOLitrack’s dashboard which was traditionally used for visibility and reporting of jobs pieces and devices, a web-based job control console.  The thick client does not need to be used. Users still have all the dashboard functionality and can now release jobs to production stages in the workflow such as print submission from the web or mobile interface. Users can quickly release jobs to an available pre-defined list of destinations from a drop-down list selection. Barcode scans can also now be tracked in the dashboard to quickly locate jobs and individual pieces. Having a web or mobile interface for job control and visibility is especially helpful for the expanding requirements of working remote. These enhancements are driving workflow efficiency and real-time decision making for both onsite and remote managers.

The Solimar Chemistry platform delivers visibility, transparency, and efficiency for the entire production process. By optimizing output management, it reduces operational risks for print and digital communications. 

PDF +JMF = ADF

Many customers are looking at all aspects of workflow to improve automation, increase use of flexible templates and advanced methods to connect workflows from software to devices and digital channels. The goal from a print perspective may be to get to an automated document factory or ADF. There are many benefits of transitioning to an ADF or White Paper Factory. A PDF-centric workflow and the opportunity to leverage JDF and JMF connections enable the migration to an ADF. With a white paper factory, inventory management and material handling is greatly reduced. Operational efficiency increases with reductions in labor, elimination in paper changes and automation in finishing. Document content is more relevant with increased use of variable content and images.

For many years implementing JDF was complex and required vendor specific integration. Defining a reliable implementation process was challenging. JDF has become more influential as technology migrates from legacy systems to open standards like PDF. PDF jobs needed a complementary data exchange to leverage other modes for dual communication between systems and devices to provide a holistic view of shop floor management and job status.

Solimar’s integration and enhancements for JDF provide an easier implementation using JMF to connect multiple devices to improve output management and the real time handshake between devices. Using JDF status files provides real time information for visibility and error tracking, ink usage and ink purging. JMF also enables expanded production reporting for consumable usage supporting accurate billing is a win win for PSPs and in-plants.

Future Enhancements

Solimar is planning to release SOLtrack 2.5 in August. The primary new feature will support integration with BCC Software Track and Trace. BCC supports direct integration with the United States Postal Service (USPS) Informed Visibility Platform. This will enable SOLitrack clients to determine the delivery status of individual pieces of mail directly from the web-dashboard. Customer service teams will be able to provide customers with delivery status which in-turn can reduce or eliminate costly reprints. Direct mailers can provide their clients with delivery confirmations assuring timely communications and offers across all channels.

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About the Author

Lois Ritarossi

Lois Ritarossi, CMC®, is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation and workflow optimization. You can reach Lois at HighRockStrategies.com

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