by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division July 12 , 2004 -- There's a gap between the vertical workflow solutions being offered today and the bottom-line value they deliver. With all the hype surrounding workflow this year it's easy for print providers to get the impression that any of the pre-packaged vertical workflow solutions offered by vendors will solve numerous problems and set them on path to success and profitability. However, like any product or service, the payback depends on how you apply it to your specific circumstances and processes. The above graphic shows the evolution of the print industry and the value-gap between pre-packaged solutions and workflow support for print engines and related pre- and post- processing systems and the more complex and higher value printing environments and the mission-critical demands of vertical markets or industries. Print providers are coming to realize the pre-packaged workflows that manage print engines and even whole systems can fall short--often significantly--when misapplied to higher value and more complex applications and workflows. Workflow solutions for horizontal environments must be capable of being customized and configured to the unique requirements of each customer I'll be addressing this in some detail over my next few columns. The high level view is that the document production demands of vertical markets share various characteristics of four key horizontal printing environments. But because each company has a wide range of unique business and operational requirements, the workflow solutions for horizontal environments must be capable of being customized and configured to the unique requirements of each customer. These traits are what pre-packaged vertical “solutions” lack. More importantly, it is this specific customization that delivers the true business value for each customer. Horizontal and Vertical As I've noted in previous columns, there are four broad digital print environments: transactional, on-demand and commercial print, office and network, and Corporate Reprographic Departments (CRDs). Each demand comprehensive, consistent and compatible workflows to deliver the level of performance required in the mixed production and dynamic environments so common today. There is demonstrable bottom-line value in having these different environments sharing key workflow elements. Now think about vertical industries, such as insurance, financial services, graphic arts, legal, government, and education. Each vertical industry shares a variety of document production requirements with the horizontal environments, and so needs workflow tools that can be applied to these common requirements. For example, large insurance companies produce a rich mix of statement and checks (transactional printing), policies, manuals and directories (on-demand printing and publishing), have many people in multiple offices (office & network printing) and have multi-faceted customer and business communications needs (CRDs). While all these areas typically function independently with their own workflows, there is demonstrable bottom-line value in having these different environments sharing key workflow elements. It reduces complexity, increases efficiency and enables greater control over documents throughout the enterprise, from creation to production to distribution to archiving. It can also help cross-train and better utilize employees providing a more flexible, knowledgeable and satisfied workforce. Such workflows can only be developed by companies that understand the dynamics and business requirements of both the horizontal markets and the vertical industries, or partner with suppliers that do. Their offerings must be built on detailed industry knowledge, core business concerns, key applications, legacy processes and more subtle points such as industry regulations, technology leadership and financial stability. The resulting workflow products, services and strategies leap across the value gap. We'll go into detail on these issues in the coming months as we explore how you can leverage workflow improvements to cross the solutions value gap.