2021 was a rollercoaster of a year, wasn’t it? We started off with high hopes for a full, global re-opening and find ourselves hoping we might see that happen during 2022. But that hasn’t stopped the engines of commerce or workflow. During 2021 we have seen interest in workflow automation grow from several directions:
- Companies with manual workflows looking for automation solutions
- Companies with islands of automation looking for paths to full automation
- Companies with end-to-end automation looking for optimization options
Each type of company had a different journey with considerations based on their current needs, capabilities, and software array. They each were looking to the future, too! As different as their journeys were, there were some common considerations. Automation is the integrating thread.
Job on-boarding is consistently noted as a place where printers can build or lose margin on their work. Manual job order entry tends to foster inconsistencies in how job specifications are captured and documented, leading to mistakes in job execution. Just taking in jobs from various salespeople and an array of customers can generate hours of work for Customer Service Representatives as they try to normalize job information.
Adding a high-quality web-to-print solution to the business workflow can help standardize the way job information is captured, validate orders to ensure they can be produced, and eliminate hours of CSR time spent figuring out the job. While some web-to-print solutions are customer facing, most can be configured to be customer-facing, consumer-facing, or for internal use by the sales team. Most have all these options, plus the ability to integrate into digital payment portals and the business back-ends to ensure invoicing is accurate and timely.
Automated Preflight and Optimization
As we had to send people home to work while we tried to push work through order entry and prepress, automation tools became essential additional to the tool kit. Automating preflight at the front end of the job capture process, before it gets near prepress and production, can save hours of time and frustration.
Many printing companies tend to do the preflight as part of prepress, but those who migrated the first pass at preflight to the front end of the process a part of file acceptance found that they could sort out problem jobs ahead of consuming prepress resources. Those that added optimization solutions – those that go beyond just noting deficiencies but actively repair files and optimize them for processing and archiving. An optimized file will move through network pipes more efficiently and may even RIP faster!
Smart Job Scheduling
Job boards, spreadsheets, and minimalist scheduling applications became harder to live with during the last two years. Adding automation to the workflow so that as jobs came into the building the stock could be verified, the time required for printing and finishing could be calculated, and schedules could be solidified became essential. The more hooks there are into the business systems that manage inventory, estimating, and other cost management, the better!
Adding scheduling automation can bring new opportunities to restyle pricing. For example, historical data can give you information on peaks and valleys, which can be used to offer discounts for slow times and consider premium pricing in more congested time slots.
Most companies have multiple moving parts that need to coordinate to produce printed products. Dashboards help keep those moving parts visible. The market has seen a plethora of offerings from hardware and independent software vendors, each with features and functions worth considering. For many printing companies, the starting point is what is on offer from their current hardware vendor. If they run a multi-vendor shop or want more sophistication and segmentation, there are myriad options.
During the last two years, dashboards with mobile components that permit access to status from phones and tablets has become the best practice. Companies that have implemented mobile-enabled dashboards remark on the flexibility it gives the team to keep an eye on things when there isn’t an option to jump up from the desk and walk the production floor.
The takeaway for 2021 is that the companies that looked to upgrade their environment with automated solutions will benefit from that decision for years to come. The essential element is to not become complacent. Adding automation is not a “one and done” event – it will take nurturing and maintenance. Teams will need education and guidance so that they do not try to circumvent that automation.
Come back next time for what you need to know for 2022! Please send your thoughts to me or add them to the comments!