As in-plant operations install larger and faster inkjet solutions to replace toner, offset and cut sheet printers, most would benefit from a revamp of their end-to-end workflow to achieve cost reductions and gain throughput efficiencies. Many struggle to change older processes that should have been retired with older equipment.
I often see print operations spend a large amount of time and analysis on the different inkjet printers, the various speeds and the quality of samples available from several OEMs. I see significantly less time being spent on evaluating workflow changes to optimize new inkjet devices and finishing. Inkjet enables opportunities to automate, streamline and improve both the digital and physical workflow of documents and the entire document lifecycle. But, while most people in production love a shiny new box, workflow changes are hard; harder than installing a new press.
We have tools, data and artificial intelligence that have changed how we communicate and create messages. Inkjet and intelligent software allow brands and companies to meet the complex communications needs to deliver the specific relevant information to a customer in their preferred format. Digital technologies enable every aspect of content to be personalized or customized as text, data, color, image, media, address (physical or electronic) and be timely. This type of preference and data-driven content and strategy means changing processes to adapt to more complex workflows. These new workflows will drive print production and bi-directional communications during and after the production process for piece level tracking, and in-home delivery dates for consumers and customer service teams.
Successful inkjet production means transforming the workflow. Defining new workflows that deliver the right information in the preferred format to the right person at the right time – and track it at each step in the production and delivery process using your new equipment requires hard work and leadership.
Evaluate workflow end-to-end
I recommend evaluating each step in the digital pre-process and as documents are printed. Also, evaluate each step in the physical process to create finished documents or mail. Optimizing the workflow for mailers should include the ability to track the document lifecycle after it is printed, mailed and delivered. What do your customers want to track after documents enter the mail stream? They may want to know if a specific customer had an interaction with customer service, logged into an app, or generated another transaction or sale. Small changes in workflow can enhance throughput and eliminate manual steps while providing data that supports customer experience.
Optimizing continuous feed inkjet printing, often means having a workflow that can group or concatenate multiple jobs into one print stream for efficiency of print and postal processing. Printing faster means we also need to finish faster. Depending on the mix of applications, some operations will require a mix of inline, near-line and off-line finishing to maximize throughput for completed documents or mail.
Finishing is not the place to cut corners. Buying the best, most robust, finishing equipment and software for the specific mix of applications produced requires a sizeable investment. The finishing solution will ultimately drive overall cost reductions. Planning for redundancy in finishing is a tactical need. Automating and upgrading finishing to eliminate touch points and manual processing is where most shops are able to reduce their labor cost and increase their finished product throughput.
Getting the time and cooperation to map and plan out new, improved workflows requires change management. Change management is not just about training on the new equipment and software. Effective change management is explaining to teams why the company is investing in new technology and why the workflow is changing. By setting proper expectations on what the new technology and improved workflow can achieve, production staff has the opportunity to see their role in contributing to the larger goals for their department and company. Cross functional teams that include technical, operational and client services staff provide the varied input needed to effect workflow change. Looking at workflow from different disciplines will drive better decisions on what to change.
Measure your success
When new technology and new workflow processes are implemented, it is the perfect time to establish the metrics for verifying the success of your process improvements. If the current process is well documented, the team can measure and set expectations for the new process to demonstrate improvements in time, money, efficiency and accuracy.
Organizations must create new workflows to take advantage of innovative technologies and achieve exacting standards. Methodologies that have produced positive results for years will need to be transformed to leverage inkjet and big data platforms.
Therein lies the challenge – abandoning what was successful in the past. It’s not that the team was doing anything wrong, it’s just not the best way forward. Documents are more than ink on paper. Physical mail requires data to go along with the envelope to support other channels that enhance the value of mail.
Where print fits in the communication mix has changed for every major vertical that produces high volume print and mail. Implementing complex technology and solutions to support ever changing customers’ communications needs will present challenges. Leaders will show their teams how to adapt and evolve their thinking and workflows to exceed customers’ expectations.