By John Giles April 14, 2006 -- It is the little things that can make or break productivity in a quick or small commercial printing company. As a consultant who helps review the productivity of a prepress department, I find that it is usually missing procedures and inexpensive tools that can add time and cost. Here are five things to review to make sure your prepress department is not battling simple things that can be easily corrected. Memory is cheap and easy to add * Memory. As cheap as RAM memory is, many prepress departments have computers that run on minimum RAM. Usually the prepress department has enough memory on the main computer it uses, but others haven't been upgraded. More memory allows the computers to run faster and more programs to operate at one time. Don't think that running virtual memory will replace real RAM memory. Memory is cheap and easy to add. * Backups. Many printers are running a risk of losing files because they don't have a backup procedure in place. It seems backing up files is only an issue after the computer has crashed. Too many printers put off backing up because they say they're too busy doing work and don't have time. Do they have time to rebuild the files? Backup for prepress can be as easy as dragging files over to a second hard drive at the end of the evening. DVD burner prices have dropped and make backups that can be taken off site inexpensive. The key thing is that management makes sure the prepress staff is backing up the files. Having a backup system and using it are two different things. Having a backup system and using it are two different things * Filing procedures. If you can't find it, you don't have it. Too many printers rely on the prepress person to maintain some sort of filing procedure for files. The problem is that only the prepress person knows how the system works. In one shop I visited, one customer's files were stored in a folder named "Dude" because the prepress person thought the customer looked liked a "dude." A good filing system is one that everyone understands and is documented. Printers need to have the procedures for filing written down so if the prepress staff is unavailable, then anyone can find a stored file for a customer. Setting up a procedure doesn't cost you a thing except the prepress staff's time you get back because now they can find jobs faster. A good filing system is one that everyone understands and is documented * Software updates. When was the last time you updated your software applications? Most software companies have stopped sending upgrade disks and are allowing customers to download the upgrades from a web site. The problem with this procedure is that printers forget to check the software sites and get the upgrade. The prepress staff should be checking for updates on a regular basis. Don't expect to get an email from a software company that an upgrade is available. Most programs have a "Check for Updates" function under the Help menu. Not having the latest update could be causing your prepress department to be dealing with problems that have long been fixed. * Employee-owned software. Most prepress people want to do a good job and some even bring in and load software from their home computers to make the job easier. This is a nice gesture, but it puts printing companies at risk for software licensing violations and fines. Printers should make sure that they own the software they are using and have the proper licenses. If prepress needs a special software tool to do a better job, the printing company should be buying it. The worst case is when an employee leaves and takes his or her software with them. The new person is going to be at a disadvantage if the software needed to do the job isn't available. Prepress staff should be checking for updates on a regular basis None of the aforementioned problem areas cost much to fix, but just addressing them should increase your prepress department's productivity. Too often, the prepress staff is working so hard to keep up with the work they don't have time for computer maintenance or establishing procedures that will make the department more productive. It is management's responsibility to make sure that prepress has time to do the other tasks that keeps work flowing smoothly.