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Workflow Automation Priorities and Efficiency Initiatives Revealed

While printers have been pursuing workflow automation to increase efficiency for a number of years, there is always room for improvement. Bryan Yeager provides the latest data to highlight trends on printers’ workflow priorities & initiatives.

By Bryan Yeager
Published: April 13, 2011

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Bryan Yeager is a Senior Consultant for InfoTrends’ Business Development Strategies and Production Workflow Solutions Consulting Services. Bryan covers a number of existing and emerging software and technology markets that enable cross-media marketing communications. He is the author of several in-depth Ultimate Guide reports that span across a variety of software categories, and provides insight through research, analysis, and consulting. He can be contacted via e-mail at bryan_yeager@infotrends.com or via Twitter (@bryanyeager).

 

Discussion

By Derek Garrison on Apr 13, 2011

Bryan, thank you for providing a view of this landscape. What are some of the major activities in which you see opportunities within the next year or two? Do prepress, reconciliation, color management, tracking, etc. stand out as particularly ripe areas?

Thank you again for your time.

 

By Bryan Yeager on Apr 13, 2011

Derek, thanks for your comment and question. There are a variety of opportunities depending on what your goals are. In general, we see printers connecting "islands of automation" together that they have created over the past few years to have a true, end-to-end workflow. For instance, a printer may have a Management Information System, as well as a prepress management/automation solution, but the two may not be connected. We also see Web-to-Print being integrated much more tightly with the rest of the production workflow, which is necessary to get get respectable margins out of small-order jobs.

Also, we have conducted a number of surveys about workflow bottlenecks in recent years. Time and time again, the top bottleneck is "Proofing and Approval". This activity still seems to be a thorn in the side of printers, despite the advent of color managed virtual proofing systems. This is definitely an area that is ripe for further automation and improvement.

I've personally seen some great applications that leverage Digital Asset Management systems for this function, where service providers create approval workflows between their company, their clients, and other key stakeholders in the approval process (legal, etc.). The big barrier there is getting customers to trust that what they see on the screen will be what they get in the final print, which is why color managed virtual proofing still plays an important role.

Hope this answers your question! If there are any others, please feel free to post them.

 

By James Harvey on Apr 19, 2011

Bryan, interesting data. Is the sample from the US only, US and Canada, or international?

I have ROI data on JDF-enabled automation with JDF that fits well with what you found. One of the things I found is that large companies tend to focus on labor cost reductions and automation plans are limited ... probably because of the project approval process they have to go though. I found that the companies most likely to achieve full automation, end to end, are mid-sized companies ... those in your 20-49 and 50 to 99 employee samples. Did you see anything like this in your study?

 

By Erik Nikkanen on Apr 19, 2011

Automation has been in many other industries for decades but it seems the concept is not so well understood in the printing industry.

Automation is not just about moving data around. What is critical is that the processes are capable of doing what is required. Capability is the foundation of automation.

It is not surprising that there are still problems with "Proofing and Approval" and in general getting to the right print condition is a short time. Presses and the prepress processes are not capable of doing what is required.

Presses, due to their design, do not have specific profiles that represent how they print images. The presses do not have the capability to preset consistent ink feed rates and maintain them. Algorithms for presetting ink keys are not accurate and the press does not have an accurate datum as a reference. Prepress uses methods that are not valid and predictable concepts for consistent and predictable colour reproduction.

One will not be able to solve fundamental problems with only software. Until there is a real effort to correct the numerous incapabilities in the overall process, there will always be constraints to full automation.

There is a great potential for effective automation but not with the direction that has been taken. There are reasons why things don't always work right. When one starts to understand the actual reasons, then one can start to see the solutions.

 

By Bryan Yeager on Apr 26, 2011

James, my apology for the delay in my response. The sample is from the United States. I would generally agree that scale is a factor, and that comes to bear through some other results on other topics within this study. Companies with 20-49 or 50-99 employees may have fewer barriers to achieving true end-to-end workflow automation, although as always, it is a case-by-base basis. I will also say that companies with 100 or more employees are (again, generally) further along with workflow automation as they have continually made investments to drive these initiatives.

To your point, Erik: there's no doubt that automation is not just about moving data around and you raise some valid points. That being said, moving data in a seamless fashion from one end of the workflow to the other has a tremendous amount of power, and should not be dismissed so readily. That's my just my $0.02, we can certainly agree to disagree.

 

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