by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Evaluate your operations to identify the bottlenecks that slow the flow of jobs through your shop October 6, 2005 -- The seven-day marathon of PRINT 05 gave me the opportunity to see a lot of the new things that are happening in the printing industry and consider them in the context of what show attendees were saying and asking about. Virtually everything at the show was an evolutionary step forward. Print engines got a little faster, software added new capabilities, print quality improved, and attendees were getting closer to the point, or so it seemed to me, where we are finally on the verge of truly broad adoption of all types of digital printing. But as we reach that point there I found five underlying items that are constants in the industry and will continue to be the cornerstones of future innovation. 5. Productivity and profit are more than print speed. At every print show in my memory, one vendor or another has rolled out a new machine with promises of faster printing. For a long time, this was a good thing. Speed is important, because the faster you can print the more jobs you can run. And more jobs equals more profits--at least theoretically. But profitability comes from many other places than the promise of sheer increased throughput as anyone who’s ever had a printer stall, or clutch can tell you. In fact, many experienced print providers will recognize that all the steps leading up to printing are equally –or in many cases-- much more important, and that overall operational efficiency is a faster road to profit. Still, it is important to evaluate your operations to identify the bottlenecks that slow the flow of jobs through your shop. As you eliminate them--and jobs reach your print engines faster--you may then find that newer, faster machines can help you be even more profitable. 4. Variable data is great, but it still has to be presented well. There have been plenty of examples of variable data printing shown off at shows and conferences over the past few years. But as great as they all may be, the stories behind them often fail to convey two important points: Variable data is just information in a database unless someone takes the time to thoroughly evaluate it, understand it, and decide how to use it effectively. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Information has to be used in such a way that it is not what one analyst I know calls 'gratuitous personalization,' but which provokes some kind of positive response. Merely sprinkling someone's first name around is not enough. The variable data document must be relevant and presented in a way that is visually (or even emotionally) alluring. The message should also make both variable and static information digestible so the recipient "gets" the intended message. Make the document useful and it will be more successful. Have it provoke a visit to a web site, or to a store where they arrive with the direct mail piece hand, then you know your investments in variable data printing are reaching your bottom line. A variable data document must be relevant and presented in a way that is both alluring and digestible so the recipient "gets" the intended message. 3. Color has clearly arrived, but not without challenges. Digital presses are capable of producing some truly spectacular color images. And in the rush to amortize the colossal investments these devices have required, vendors are encouraging the use of color in every type of document. But there are lots of documents where color is not really needed. And there are many where full color adds more cost than it does real value. The term we use at Océ--and which generated a lot of interest at PRINT 05--is "job-appropriate color." This means considering the kind of color that will add the most value to a document. It could be to make a utility bill more readable and informative, or to show how the wiring in the wing of an airliner should be connected. Color is undeniably important, but rather than having documents that are all-color-all-the-time, it's important to remember that even with color, sometimes less is more for increased impact and lower costs. A wise business man once told me that anyone can print color hand outs and presentation materials, but it is only the handouts with true value and worthwhile content, don’t need color to be successful. It is only the handouts with true value and worthwhile content, don’t need color to be successful. The other aspect of color that is absolutely crucial to broad acceptance of digital printing among commercial printers is consistency. Offset presses have long been able to deliver color that falls within a very narrow range of variation from one end of a job to another and even between print runs on different presses over time. Not so with most digital presses, which can attempt to achieve such levels only with regular calibration and adjustment. Many commercial print veterans consider consistency the holy-grail of digital printing and the key reason to delay investing in digital color technology. Despite all the lovely images digital presses produced at PRINT 05, many commercial printers are still waiting until they see the consistency they're accustomed to with their high-speed offset presses. Consistency is critical. By the way, Océ has an answer here. E-mail me if you want to learn more and I’ll send you proof. 2. Finishing is as important as the content. In a very real sense, a document has little value until it is folded, covered, bound, and trimmed. No one is going to read a book, manual or report that is a bunch of loose pages. With digital printing--more so than with offset--the finishing of a document can be easily and tightly integrated with the printing process. Finishing and binding (and even mailing for that matter) are part of digital printing and print providers are not only asking about the finishing options on a digital press but expecting to select from a menu of choices that help them deliver finished documents which add value for their customers. You can, it seems, judge a book by its cover and people do it everyday. And the most important thing, something that was reinforced in many conversations and as I toured other vendors' booths was that. . . 1. Workflow is (still) the king of opportunity. You can have the best people, the fastest print engines, and wonderful internal procedures. But if the business processes and workflow software your business uses are not the best they can be, you are running a race with a wooden leg and missing out on real opportunities to grow and even transform your business. Today's workflow software lets you offer services to differentiate your business, streamline job submission with virtual storefronts, enable remote proofing, and much more. If the business processes and workflow software your business uses are not the best they can be, you are running a race with a wooden leg Workflow software also acts as the central control point for each step in the lifecycle of a job with tightly integrated processes that help jobs move from prepress through production while connecting to MIS and accounting systems. In many cases, workflow software can be a more strategic investment than a print engine because it impacts virtually every aspect of your business. Some of the most detailed conversations, with the most probing questions I heard at PRINT 05 were about workflow and how different tools could be used to solve an array of challenges across print engines from several vendors in one shop, and help move a business forward. If you want to make significant progress in cost reductions, offer new services, reduce staff, increase profits or do almost anything new in your business, begin with workflow.