By Mike Harvey December 12, 2005 -- Faced with increased competition, rising costs and pressures from clients, many businesses find themselves asking, "How can I improve my efficiency, solve my customers' problems and profit?" In the printing industry, workflow can be that answer. Workflow was named one of the ten major innovations [political events, and companies] of the 21st century in Thomas Friedman's national bestseller, The World is Flat. Friedman says that because of workflow, "the diversity of applications that will automatically be able to interact with each other will be limited only by our imaginations. The gains in productivity from this could be bigger than anything we have ever seen before." Improving workflow not only improves efficiency, but also has the potential to impact the entire business Regardless of the market, creating more revenue is one of the constants that all businesses have in common, and in the printing industry, new applications often mean new revenue streams. Day to day, it can help print providers take on more jobs, get the most out of equipment, meet customer expectations and build new business by offering a wider range of services. Improving workflow not only improves efficiency, but also has the potential to impact the entire business, and most importantly, the bottom line. Today's workflow allows print providers to differentiate with expanded offerings and keep their businesses ahead of the curve. Workflow improvements can impact your existing short-run, customized, or quick turnaround work, but digital workflow solutions also enable major new business opportunities, including Web-to-print, offset/digital hybrid jobs, digital book publishing and personalized marketing communications. Web-to-Print An efficient, automated workflow allows print providers to streamline job submission and offer services with a cohesive, on-demand business model that leverages the advantages of the Web. Web-to-print workflow helps print providers strengthen relationships and stay connected to customers by providing a Web storefront that offers 24-hour access and ordering capabilities. It can also help print providers manage, track, and print jobs within a streamlined workflow from document creation to completion. For customers, it simplifies online ordering and re-ordering and can keep them notified on their job status. Web-to-print workflow helps print providers strengthen relationships and stay connected to customers Using a Web-to-print workflow, customers can log on to a print provider's Web site, securely upload documents using a Mac or PC, customize their job tickets, include special job instructions, edit all aspects of the document such as manipulating photos and graphics, copy and color, and preview the final PDF before printing. For an added level of client service, customers receive real-time price estimations during job set-up and submission and receive a status e-mail as their jobs progresses. For example, a document services provider in the southern states was able to expand existing business by adding online ordering customized for stationery and business cards. In the first 12 hours of the Web site going live, the print provider received more than 250 orders from customers all over the country. Receiving that many orders in a single day, while great for business, can create havoc with traditional workflows. By automating the prepress and production steps for a true Web-to-print business model --such as automating source file conversion to PDF, preflight, imposition and color management-- print providers are able to deal with the increasing numbers of short-run jobs without adding additional staff. In the first 12 hours of the Web site going live, the print provider received more than 250 orders from customers all over the country. Hybrid Jobs Workflow can help automate printing processes and make it easier for printers to integrate digital printing into their operations while leveraging investments in existing offset technology. As a result, print shops are more efficient and profitable with the ability to choose the ideal print process for every type of job. An efficient, automated workflow expedites digital and offset jobs from start to finish, which allows print providers to prepare and print more jobs, turning them around faster with less operator intervention by providing greater control over jobs. Depending on a number of factors, including run length and turnaround time, print providers can send print jobs to the most appropriate offset or digital printer, split large and complex jobs and prioritize jobs according to deadlines. Most importantly, an automated workflow lets print providers maximize printing resources to grow their businesses. Workflow can help automate printing processes and make it easier for printers to integrate digital printing into their operations To deliver digital as a true complement to offset, print providers need to integrate the two environments to enable flexible responses to customer demands, such as: splitting jobs across print technologies to deliver a small quantity tomorrow and the balance later in the week moving a job wholesale from one technology to another as deadlines shift or delays occur or to better balance the shop's workload combining the two technologies by printing offset shells and imprinting variable text and graphics on digital presses. Digital Book Printing Digital presses are used by book printing companies around the world to help revolutionize the economics and availability of book publishing. These publishers use an all-digital workflow to create compelling books with photos, full-color, and hard covers or soft covers that are virtually indistinguishable from offset print technology. Automated digital book-publishing workflow also lets people self-publish their books the way they want to – from choosing a cover design, to selecting a book size, to printing the right number of copies. To deliver digital as a true complement to offset, print providers need to integrate the two environments Personal publishing and short-run production of books aimed at specialized target audiences are among the fastest growing parts of the book publishing market, according to Frank Romano, a printing industry expert and professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology. "Approximately 30 percent of book titles are now printed in quantities less than 100 and that could reach 50 percent by 2010." Print providers can benefit from digital book production workflow in a variety of ways: fast, economical short-run printing; less set-up and running waste; just-in-time inventory; versioning and customization/personalization. ColorCentric Corporation, a Rochester-based commercial printer is a great example of how a print provider can leverage digital printing technology and workflow to open up new markets and revenue opportunities with expanding applications offerings. "By using an automated workflow, we were able to significantly reduce costs and keep our ultra-short runs profitable while still ensuring the integrity of the job," said ColorCentric founder John Lacagnina. "Using digital book production workflow, we've been able to enable book publishers to capture incremental revenue while meeting their high quality expectations and cost targets." ColorCentric customers can submit and preview their work through Lulu.com, a provider of free online publishing tools. When ColorCentric receives the print-ready files through an integrated Web-to-print service the text is printed on a black-and-white printer, while the full-color cover is simultaneously produced on a digital color press. The text and cover are bound, trimmed and shipped to the author within days of submitting the order. Marketing Communications Adding personalization to marketing communications and transactional documents is not only more likely to engage and motivate, but will also increase profits. An efficient workflow helps print providers create high-quality, high-impact one-to-one marketing communications while maintaining the overall productivity and performance of their shop. An automated workflow enables formatting and printing of database files, including forms and logos, and sends the variable data to be merged with other document elements in a single step right at the printer. For example, a Salt Lake City commercial printing operation created a personalized direct-mail campaign for a flipbook invitation. The invitation was a personalized, interactive direct-mail piece inviting potential customers to the printer's open house. Four different versions were created --each with a colorful magic theme-- and each copy was personalized for the recipient. Print providers are always looking for ways to maximize the capabilities of equipment and operations and gain the flexibility to migrate to higher value jobs that accelerate their businesses. Their workflow strategy can often provide the application differentiation that will satiate the hunger for more powerful productivity and profit.