Commentary & Analysis
Transforming and Automating Workflows: It starts with a good infrastructure Part 1
This new series by David L. Zwang focuses on the processes and products that can lead to the transformation of your current workflows and business, to prepare you for the new challenges ahead. This series runs once a month over the course of the year, with the first article appearing in January 2013. Zwang looks at process transformation and automation, and the steps you need to take to be successful. He will also look at some of the current product offerings and how they are being, or could be, used to help you transform your business and strengthen your customer relationships.
By David Zwang
Published: February 5, 2013
In the last article, we looked at the need to do some planning before you jump into transforming your business. It included the need to analyze your current state and project your future state based on your intended business direction. Of course, the reality is that you “don’t know what you don’t know,” so some of those projections may wind up missing your ‘real’ future direction. But that shouldn’t stop you from preparing your infrastructure, since a good infrastructure will be flexible enough to adapt to any change in direction of your business.
The diagram below from the PRIMIR Transformative Workflow Study provides a high level look at what it takes to prepare your business for transformation to support the demands of the new market realities. Obviously, the devil is in the details, but this gives you a good idea of what is possible as well.
Transformative Workflow Reference Model Overview
While this diagram presents an ideal model, it may be overkill in its entirety for many service providers, or at least for this stage of their transformation needs. However the three bottom components; Business & Information Management, Process Management, and Production are at the core of any service provider’s requirements.
Business & Information Management Infrastructure
The heart of a company’s Business infrastructure is a good ERP (aka MIS) system. This system is crucial to any print production business that exceeds about 25-50 people. While a notepad or an Excel spreadsheet, may suffice for smaller companies, there is a point at which it becomes very difficult to manage a company with those tools. And trying to automate using an Excel spreadsheet as a basis is an effort in futility.
Print-centric ERP systems usually offer different modules that work together to offer information and connectivity that will facilitate the management and growth of the company through real-time analytics and data processing. In many cases, the selection of modules desired are optional, and others can be added as required. However, adding 3rd party ERP modules that have the same or similar functionality as modules available within the ‘core’ system’s own integrated components can present problems. This is important to note, since the more disparate components you add that are already included in the ‘core’ ERP solution offering, the higher the risk there is for breaks in the overall system functionality. These systems usually use their own proprietary structures, even if they use a standardized central database.
It should be noted, however, that these systems do usually offer varying levels of integration potential with outside systems and production components. Most ERP systems use JDF/JMF to streamline integration with 3rd party systems. For the most part, this works fairly well, and production data gets passed back and forth seamlessly between systems. These are a sampling of the standard modules, although depending upon the system, the packaging can vary.
- Estimating/Order Entry
- Job Ticketing
- Shop Floor Tracking/Costing
- External Data Flow Integration
Properly implementing an ERP system requires some time and experience. Normally it should be a staged implementation to allow the company to understand how it fits within the structure of the organization. The implementation has to be a close partnership between the ERP vendor and the print service provider. In many cases it may also be beneficial to have an experienced consulting resource assist. Experience and taking the time upfront will ensure that the implementation will be smooth and successful. You can also expect that some tweaking will probably be ongoing after you start using the system and test the settings in your environment.
As a disclaimer, I should tell you that I am a strong believer in purchasing and integrating an off-the-shelf solution whenever possible. If you have to bridge off-the-shelf solutions with some scripts, you are still better off than building everything yourself. Remember, your business is probably not software development; it is providing graphic communication services. Most off-the-shelf solutions provide continual development and support, which is very important in an environment of changing requirements.
However, after reviewing the available ERP offerings, and taking my disclaimer comments into account, you may find that the solutions may not be suited to your needs. With that in mind you should still use the PRIMIR transformation model as a goal. You want to ensure that you don’t build your infrastructure on a Business and Information Management platform that creates an island, and inhibits further process integration. To minimize this problem, the first step is to do a gap analysis to see what would be the missing functionality to bring your existing state into alignment with the model. Once you have determined your gaps, it is time to try to fill them.
Since some of the ERP solutions do offer individual modules, that may be a good place to start. There are also many other solutions available that offer disparate components that were designed to be easily integrated into many different scenarios. These include solutions that are bundled with web2print solutions, job ticketing and tracking applications, etc. Some of these are server application based, some are cloud based, so there are many opportunities to build a solution if an off-the-shelf ERP doesn’t meet your needs.
In the next article in the series, we stop for a second to look at available offerings in Business and Information Management infrastructure solutions, and some of the products and services that can be used to develop a forward thinking infrastructure. If you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover, please let us know!
You can contact David via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.