by Bob Raus of Oce Printing Systems USA, Inc. December 8, 2003 -- The U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that productivity in the third quarter of 2003 was at the highest levels since early 1983. There are several reasons for this, and raising productivity is certainly vital for all kinds of businesses, and various types of printing are no exception. In fact, since printing is essentially custom manufacturing involving variable run lengths, optimizing work processes (i.e. workflows) is a key means of elevating productivity. And maybe even profits. Remember profits? Last time in this space I talked about the power of having an independent workflow that can handle the many jobs your operation sees on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. This is especially important for shops with print engines from different vendors and where multiple datastreams are the order of the day. Working effectively in such environments these days demands the independent workflows I described, but independence is only the beginning. You also need a workflow that’s integrated to fit the way you run your business or data center. There are three key factors to consider, and we’ll go deeper into these in the coming months. Compatibility Any new processes you adopt should support the way you do business, not the other way around. Your day-to-day work processes have probably all been established over time and there’s no value in major disruption and starting over with something new. Still, you may want to expand your capabilities, add value to existing offerings and gain efficiencies. Your software provides the infrastructure to get data where you need it. When it comes to workflow software, you need solutions that will work with the investments you’ve already made and your present processes. For example, in a mixed print engine environment it’s more efficient to use software that can drive multiple makes of print engines, rather than have different incompatible software for each brand of machine. Comprehensiveness The best efficiencies come when a solution covers as many of your needs as possible. In a data center or service bureau, this means having integrated tools, modules or features for handling such diverse tasks as data transforms, document design, host-to-post data integrity, and porting documents to the Internet. In a corporate environment it can mean supporting document management in workgroups and coordinating print and electronic distribution across an enterprise. A comprehensive solution will work from creation to archive, across multiple environments and have the versatility to expand in the future--without requiring you to climb another learning curve. Consistency When it comes to document creation and production, nobody likes surprises. You have to know your workflow tools will work the same way every time, regardless of the application. Because when they don’t it ruins your short-term bottom line and eventually your long term reputation. You must be able to count on the print quality, the data integrity and the throughput of a system because your customers are relying on you to deliver what you promised. These characteristics can only be part of an integrated workflow solution designed with these traits in mind. After all, at the end of the day what really matters is how efficiently you can control the jobs that are the life of your operation. It shouldn’t matter how they are created or where they come from, what datastream is used, which print engine is available or how they are being distributed. These should all be invisible; just lines on the job ticket. The integrated workflow you use should be able to handle it all, helping you raise efficiency and productivity with a compatible, comprehensive and consistent approach you can count on today and into the future.