By Barbara Pellow April 19, 2006 -- Thomas Friedman's best selling book, "The World is Flat," explains how the flattening of the world happened at the dawn of the twenty-first century. He looks at how technology is changing business dynamics on a global basis. The book describes how the interconnected world facilitated by information technology and trade liberalization connects people around the globe even more closely. The book cites examples of how technology has enabled key business functions like call centers and income tax preparation to be outsourced to India and China. Workflow software seamlessly connected applications to applications, so that people could manipulate all their digitized content using computers and the Internet Friedman indicates that the genesis of the flattening of the world really started with the concept of workflow. According to Friedman, "The opening of Windows, the digitization of content, and the spreading of the Internet browser seamlessly connected people with people as never before. Workflow software seamlessly connected applications to applications, so that people could manipulate all their digitized content using computers and the Internet. When you add this unprecedented new level of people-to-people communication to all these Web-based application-to-application workflow programs, you end up with a whole new global platform for multiple forms of collaboration. Suddenly, more people from more places found that they could collaborate on more other people on different kinds of work and share more different kinds of knowledge than ever before." And Workflow Flattens the World of the Graphic Communicator Initially, workflow meant that your customer service rep took an order on paper; forwarded it to prepress with appropriate files; proofs were couriered back and forth to the customer; the printed product was manufactured and shipped; and then someone walked over to billing with a piece of paper telling them to print out an invoice and mail it. While a variety of systems started to take hold, frequently the prepress departments had Macs and the accounting system and customer service were using IBM platforms. The result was a lack of interoperability between departments. In fact, Friedman describes organizations ten years ago like cities with a bad fire department. Graphic communication firms were like a city where every neighborhood had a different interface for connecting the fire hose to the hydrant. Everything was O.K. if the fire could be handled by the neighborhood fire department, but if the fire got too big and fire engines from the next neighborhood had to be called in, they were useless, because they couldn't connect to the fire hydrants. Ten years ago graphic communication firms were like a city where every neighborhood had a different interface for connecting the fire hose to the fire hydrant The market and the world of graphic communications resolved this through improved compliance to standards. In the printing industry, standards like JDF and PDF have emerged. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) was invented by Adobe 15 years ago. It lets users capture and view robust information -- from any application, on any computer system -- and share it with anyone around the world. JDF, or "job definition format," is the automation strategy that is bringing the benefits of automation to large and small printers by allowing all the processes to use the same information. As a standard for describing all aspects of a print job, from prepress to finishing, JDF is a standard for writing job tickets, including the specification of paper stock, quantities, color information, and more. JDF workflows carry this information along with the files through all prepress and imaging stages, and even can be used to preset ink keys on a press and mechanical settings on a stitcher, folder, or perfect binder. JDF was developed for sheetfed offset printing and digital printing, and the specifications have been extended to web offset printing, newspaper production, and, in rudimentary form, packaging. Capturing the requirements and ensuring that they stay with the print job through the production process automates a crucial and time-consuming part of printing: writing and rewriting specifications. According to Friedman, once the technical foundation was in place, more and more people started writing workflow software programs for more and more different tasks. This is not unlike what we have seen in the graphic communications industry. Once the technical foundation was in place, more and more people started writing workflow software programs for more and more different tasks For example, Adobe announced Adobe PDF Print Engine two weeks ago. The Adobe PDF Print Engine combines the strengths of content definition in Adobe PDF and JDF to control print systems, allowing PDF print jobs to stay device-independent across the workflow. Print workflow systems that are powered by the Adobe PDF Print Engine can easily allow late-stage content corrections, enable repurposing jobs for output on different printing systems and provide on-screen, high-resolution previews driven by the same rendering engine as final stage Raster Image Processors (RIPs). Workflow: Benefiting the Graphic Communications Market The key message from Friedman is that standards don't eliminate innovation--rather they allow companies to focus on innovation. Standards let companies place emphasis on where the real value lies, which is everything you can add above and around the standard. A perfect example is the implementation of standards at LaVigne Inc. LaVigne Founded over 100 years ago, LaVigne, Inc. is the 14th largest commercial printer in Massachusetts and the 44th largest digital printer in the United States. The company employs about 80 full-time and 20 part-time people in its 45,000 square foot Worcester facility. Lavigne used JDF to connect Printable's PrintOne Customer Center to the Hewlett-Packard Indigo ProductionFlow digital front-end to automate its processes. Since implementation, they have gone from 25 orders processed per month to over 700 orders per month while maintaining a 92 percent reduction in customer processing costs. LaVigne requested a joint meeting between HP and Printable to see if JDF could be used to tie the two systems together and implement LaVigne's workflow design. They identified the appropriate tags within the JDF specification that made the most sense, created workflow templates for the different types of jobs to be produced, created invoicing and reporting templates that utilized the JDF tickets, created the folders in the digital asset database, tested with a 'dummy' portal and went live with a single piece for an existing customer. The entire implementation took three months. Standards let companies place emphasis on where the real value lies, which is everything you can add above and around the standard Motheral Firms like Fort Worth-based Motheral have leveraged automated workflow to enhance internal operations and applied the same concept to outside relationships. Motheral has created workflows that include its customers, consumables, upstream process suppliers like prepress companies or designers, and downstream partners like fulfillment houses, mailers, and shippers to create an automated supply chain with a high level of visibility for all participants. According to COO David Motheral, "It is about automating production, manufacturing, customer-facing and business systems." While printers frequently question the reality of the Digital Smart Factory, Motheral Printing has built one and is benefiting from it. Doing the job once correctly is always a big time-saver Motheral's workflow automation is built on Prinergy, Prepare, Page Assign and an InSite Server. Motheral said, "We provide our customers with Prepare software free of charge because it saves time on both sides. The use of Prepare is critical to our workflow due to all the automation we have in place. Nearly all of our jobs go through the Prinegy workflow untouched. Knowing that we are getting reliable, print-ready PDF/X-1A files every time ensures that the automation continues to work consistently and without a hitch. Customers save time because they do not have to go back and rework files that have been flagged with errors. Doing the job once correctly is always a big time-saver. Combining Prepare with InSite is a one-two punch in file creation and job approval. Creating and streamlining the approval process is a real time saver for both printer and client." When you ask Motherall to summarize the overall operational benefits his company has achieved, it becomes clear that good automation works. "We used to run three shifts a day for four working days to produce a proof for one of our regular jobs. We would then send it out for review and resend corrected files. Since the proofs were sent out as hard copy, delivery delays were a part of the process. Now the proofs are produced in an hour and a half, and plates are ready in another two hours," he says. "Staffing requirements for both the company and its clients have been reduced to a fraction of what they were." Standards, workflow and application software will allow graphic communications firms to not just communicate, but collaborate Motheral Printing links to one of Friedman's final concepts relating to workflow. Friedman said, "All of these standards, on top of the workflow software, help enable work to be broken apart, reassembled and made to flow without friction, back and forth between the most efficient producers. The diversity of applications that will automatically be able to interact with each other will be limited only by our imaginations." So What if It's a Flat World After All? Standards, workflow and application software will allow graphic communications firms to not just communicate, but collaborate. Firms have the ability to build coalitions, products and integrated service offerings on a global basis to satisfy the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base. Tasks can be performed by whoever does them best and because graphic communications firms are migrating to a virtual work, the organizations may not need to be physically adjacent. The winners in the world of graphic communications will build strong workflow systems leveraging industry standards and build coalitions of the most efficient producers to become the most profitable service providers.