by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Your RIP and output management system is only three years old. Jobs are running well. Why update? February 2, 2005 -- Many print providers and in-house print shops are beginning this year with high hopes and new expectations. The economy is in a reasonably healthy condition, and small business growth is strong. Those investing in new equipment and software are enjoying clear benefits and significant competitive advantages compared to the technology they were using only a few years ago. This realization is evoking a pent-up demand among all types of print providers to invest in new technology. Over the past few years print providers have implemented any number of "band aids and patches" to address problems or fill a customer's need. Others have just maintained the status quo. Those were acceptable strategies for lean times, but has put many print operations behind the times, relative to what present technologies enable. As a result they may be losing business to competitor’s with more automated and streamlined workflow processes. I know workflow and software can seem nebulous and mystical at times, so let me illustrate my point with a very simple, yet concrete, example. Imagine your business is running a RIP and output-management system that is only two versions back from the current one on server hardware that was state-of-the-art only three years ago. You are not getting errors and your jobs are running well. Your manual process steps are working fine! Why update? However, your competitor down the street is running the latest version of software with advanced features that enable him to automatically accept jobs from an FTP site and process them through four or five workflow steps (such as pre-flight, imposition, RIPing, spooling, etc.) on a server that is three times as fast. Think he has an advantage and you’re way behind now? Welcome to 2005--and back to reality. Today's best software spans the document lifecycle, providing a modular, integrated, cohesive architecture for a spectrum of printing, electronic distribution and archiving applications. The advantages offered by the newest print engines and software span all types of business environments. The print engines themselves have become more flexible, so a single mid-range device can fit equally well into a quick printer's store front, a CRD, an in-plant operation or even a large office workgroup. Likewise, the same high-speed cut-sheet or continuous-form machine that prints statements in a data center or service bureau can be equally at home in a book manufacturing or training manual production operation. The software that supports these machines has been refined and developed to handle a much broader range of jobs than it could just a few years ago. For example, many older print production software tools were designed, marketed and sold to handle a few specific functions, most related to the process of printing. By comparison, today's best software spans the document lifecycle, providing a modular, integrated, cohesive architecture for a spectrum of printing, electronic distribution and archiving applications. Print providers can configure such systems by matching the tools they need with the desired features of the document applications they need to produce. This enables them to implement automated and efficient processes that are tuned to their current needs and the ever-advancing needs of the marketplace. In some cases they may even find they need less equipment, lowering the financial investment required while building an infrastructure that can span multiple departments. In addition, newer print engines and software deliver new capabilities and tend to be easier to use. This can simultaneously reduce the quantity of staff required, and the level of expertise --a double cost reduction opportunity. Broad Impacts Newer software more completely supports the entire document lifecycle. Because of this , it can have a broad impact on a business and can even influence organizational design and operations. For example, software modules that used to support only local workgroup printers can also direct longer run--and more complex - jobs to the in-house print shop. This automatic routing to the location where the document can be printed most efficiently--and most economically -- provides cost reductions in the office and faster ROI in the CRD. But the impact goes beyond streamlined printing. Newer software can have a broad impact on a business and can influence organizational design, operations and enable people to work in different ways. The ability of a software infrastructure to cross departmental or operational boundaries can enable people to work in different ways. This provides new ways to create, manage, print and distribute documents throughout an organization, actually influencing how work is done beyond print production. The document can be edited or updated by people in various locales , completely prepared for production--and then produced--closest to the point of need. It is also important to think beyond the printed, or even electronic, page. Some of this can be internal to your company while other parts are external. Internally, look at the all the work done before a document goes to print. As this process becomes more efficient, it's important to find places where the more physical parts of a workflow can be reduced or eliminated. For example, can the layout of the equipment in the physical plant be changed to better accommodate documents that are now being produced and eliminate production bottlenecks and extensive work-in-process? Does having fewer, more productive print engines free up space, streamlining the steps of the print – assembly – finishing – and shipping process? For example, how might an adjacent mailing operation be changed to handle a greater print volume? Will the greater efficiency and throughput help position your operation for growth without needing additional real estate investments ? Look outside the facility, too. How might improved processes enable you offer a greater value for your customers, such as faster service or shorter turnaround times? And does that give your customer an advantage that extends out to their customers? Does new workflow software provide a way to offer your customers a new range of services, or result in new offerings such as CD production and customized web portals? Even though many companies have not been making investments in new hardware and software over the past few years, the technology has been advancing and becoming more stable, reliable and robust. Those who move quickly to adopt the latest equipment and software will be the first reap the benefits. That is the theme for moving forward in 2005; namely “Be a leader and let others try to catch up to you”. Quickly adopting up-to-date technologies brings both reductions in staffing, training and internal operations and major opportunities for growth.