By Mike Harvey September 9, 2005 -- Doing more print jobs in less time requires more staff time in traditional printing, often driving costs up to prohibitive levels. So when traditional print shops add a digital print-on-demand capability to deliver fast turnarounds of short-run jobs, they typically seek to produce them with a more automated workflow that reduces production costs even as processes become more complex. That requirement is the driving force behind the latest developments in the industry’s ongoing shift toward a more automated workflow. Two labor-intensive functional areas in particular -- customer interactions and pre-press file preparation -- are the focus of many current time- and money-saving initiatives. These functional areas are benefiting from the industry’s growing embrace of platform-independent file format standards, such as Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) for print files and JDF (Job Description Format) for electronic job tickets. The efforts are enabling some leading print shops to approach The Holy Grail of workflow --100 percent lights out, non-stop, Web-to-print production. Customer interactions and pre-press file preparation are the focus of many current time- and money-saving initiatives. Such systems not only reduce production costs, but open the door to profitable new applications, such as corporate print fulfillment, coordinated marketing programs for distribution channels, and remote print services. Many of these are recurring jobs that generate significant revenue and strong customer loyalty and satisfaction. They permit print providers to avoid competing solely on price — a growing trend for many traditional print services — while forming the basis for more strategic, partner-like relationships with their customers. Automating Customer Interactions Today’s leading Web-based storefronts automate job ordering and a host of other customer interactions, while linking to automated production capabilities. For example, a local government body in the United Kingdom uses an off-the-shelf software, iWay by PressSense, as a web-based storefront. It permits its users to submit orders, proof their own documents and personalize document templates — all from a web-based interface. Web-based storefronts automate job ordering and a host of other customer interactions, while linking to automated production capabilities. The system also facilitates production by automatically generating job production tickets, automatically merging data for personalized documents, and providing a series of automated workflow functions for PDF files, including basic pre-flighting and simple imposition. The system has dramatically improved the shop’s service and cost controls. Printing and proofing turnarounds have been reduced from two to four weeks to two to three days, while generating monthly savings of £1,500 to £2,500, allowing the print shop to take on additional business. Recently, the iWay system was optimized for the Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection permitting PDF or JDF files to be sent to an unlimited number of customer-configured workflows for automated file preparation and printing. Another tool, Web Services, provides compatibility with optional legacy file formats, and compliance with the JDF job-ticketing standard. Printing and proofing turnarounds have been reduced from two to four weeks to two to three days, while generating monthly savings of £1,500 to £2,500 A Los Angeles-based talent agency for actors uses this capability as the front end to an archive that permits agents to easily locate, view and print scripts and actor’s photos. Lights Out, No Camera, Just Action INDOX Services, a document services company with locations in Denver, Kansas City and St. Louis, recently won a major account by integrating its Web-based job submission capability with automated pre-press file preparation. The result is an efficient and cost-effective system for producing marketing materials on behalf of a major manufacturer to its distributors. The manufacturing company had been outsourcing its production of manuals, bulletins, spec sheets and other product support materials, which its distributors order from the company Web site. Now the customer’s Web server passes these orders to INDOX, where a custom application processes the order and pulls the proper PDF file from the customer’s FTP site. An INDOX staff member places the file, without opening it, in a hot folder for automatic production in the correct workflow with the correct imposition and on the correct printer, as determined by automatic pre-flight analysis of the file. INDOX Services now receives as many as 120 orders a day and prints about 400,000 pages per month to support the application. INDOX Services now receives as many as 120 orders a day and prints about 400,000 pages per month to support the application. Yet, depending on the day’s workload, the staffing requirement is three to four fewer people than the three to five or more who worked the application at the previous outsourcing firm. “This is now one of our reference applications, giving us a good marketing talk track about how we’re building in efficiencies,” said Kris Gunn, director of Information Technology, INDOX Services. A PDF-JDF Future The JDF specification is designed to enable standardized job tickets to be created by job initiators and appended by print providers to follow the job throughout its lifecycle. As more JDF-compliant products reach the market and JDF job tickets gain wider use, printing will become even more automated and error-free. As more JDF-compliant products reach the market and JDF job tickets gain wider use, printing will become even more automated and error-free. Already today, the early iterations of JDF and the highly robust PDF format are providing competitive advantages for many printers -- and pointing the way to a future in which The Holy Grail of truly automated workflow is within reach.