Commentary & Analysis
Six Sigma and Enterprise Document Strategies: What is the Printer's Role?
By Don Feige,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 10, 2003
By Don Feige, VP of Client Services, PathForward November 10, 2003 -- Last month, Keith Nickoloff introduced you to PathForward, and shared some thoughts about the importance of effective document strategies. As Keith pointed out, PathForward helps customers enhance their business results by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of documents and their related lifecycle processes. Sounds great in a PowerPoint, but what really is an Enterprise Document Strategy and why does it matter? As you examine customer document processes and the costs associated with them, it is not the document , but the process by which that document came to exist that is important to understand. Why did that document get printed? What business purpose is that document serving? How did that document go from bits and bytes in some software system to manufactured output? Six Sigma is a business excellence strategy that provides practitioners with a data-driven methodology and tools to improve the core performance areas of quality, cycle time and cost, and an end-objective of reducing variation so that “defects” occur only 3.4 times out of a million. Six Sigma strategies are practiced every day by most of us (knowingly or not!), but to become truly Six Sigma requires a rigorous application of the tools and adherence to the principles. A quick way to get started is by reading The Power of Six Sigma by Subir Chowdhury (Dearborn Trade, 2001). It's a quick, easy read that will provide you with a basic understanding of Six Sigma and, hopefully, the motivation to dig deeper into an important business initiative—and a better understanding of how your customers are thinking. With an eye to delving into the process, PathForward has leveraged both Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing principles to analyze documents and their associated processes. The central idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure how many "defects" you have in a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to "zero defects" as possible. Lean Manufacturing focuses on improving the timeliness of your process by eliminating the clutter or waste built into it. Again, sounds great in theory, but how does this apply to the daily life of an organization? "Lean Six," as we commonly refer to the blended principles, are only effective tools for improvement if one has facts. What can be measured can be improved . To identify the appropriate metrics in documents and their processes, PathForward has developed Doculytics TM —an analytics tool and benchmark repository that enables users to measure the performance of critical document related operations and results. This performance measurement provides a sound basis for analyzing a company's investment in the people, process and technologies embedded in the document lifecycle. And just as every company looks to spend their dollars wisely, so too should they identify and understand their Return on Document Investment (RODI). The figure below depicts the process we use, and identifies the critical questions that need to be answered as an Enterprise Document Management Strategy is developed. An effective enterprise document management strategy is a closed-loop process that emphasizes, beyond the initial data collection and analysis, the importance of ongoing control of the improved process and measurement of results over time. This is an important concept, since we live in a world that is rarely static; as customer needs and processes change and evolve, ongoing evaluation not only measures achieved results against objectives, but also quite frequently uncovers opportunities for further process enhancements. While organizations today tend to think of documents based on their function or associated products, the reality is that in any enterprise, documents are generally created via three consistent, unique process paths, if viewed from the document initiator's perspective: • By end users (everyone) within an organization, conveniently printed through the use of everyday productivity tools (computers, software, printers, faxes, copiers, multifunctional devices) • By high-end computer systems to fulfill core and ancillary business transactions • By specialized, professional workers who manage the creation and distribution of custom manufactured output It is vital to identify the impact of all documents on overall business productivity. To distinguish key behaviors and avenues for improvement, the analytical scope must include all of these process paths and not just what is sent outside for printing. It is also important for graphic arts service providers to keep in mind that printed documents are no longer the sole vehicles for enablement of critical business processes. Technology advances allow information to be captured, integrated and communicated outside of the traditional processes of printing, storing and distributing that have been common business practice for centuries. Further, just because documents are being produced in a given manner—printed at the desktop or produced in long offset runs—it does not mean that they are being produced in the most effective manner from a cost and process perspective. As more companies begin to recognize these truths and implement enterprise document strategies, service providers in the graphic arts industry have an opportunity to contribute significant value—or they can remain on the sidelines and watch their print volumes decline. Gaining knowledge and expertise in Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing principles (Lean Six), and applying this knowledge and expertise—both to your own operation as well as to the enhancement of customer operations—is a logical place to start. By identifying the document-intensive business processes to which you can add value, and building a clearly-articulated value proposition based on a well-defined analytical capability, graphic arts service providers can evolve their business models so that customers see not just a flashy PowerPoint, but a valued strategic partner well positioned to solve mission critical business problems.