By Rick Foley June 16, 2006 -- At last month's On Demand conference and similar venues over the past couple of years, workflow has been one of the hot topics. Once-skeptical print providers are paying attention, recognizing that a smooth, efficient workflow is every bit as important as having reliable print engines and competent staff. For some, often those who lead the market, workflow has become a competitive advantage that helps drive more business and enhances customer relations. Some features, such as remote job submission and proofing, not only streamline production but make it easier for customers to do business with print providers. The productivity potential of a faster machine demands that all the processes leading to the print engine are as efficient as possible. In fact, streamlining production is of growing importance given the announcements of faster digital presses from several manufacturers. After all, the productivity potential of a faster machine demands that all the processes leading to the print engine are as efficient as possible. Yet few shops will convert their entire operation to newer, faster machines overnight. There will continue to be a mix of the latest and fastest boxes and older, slower ones with many millions of clicks on their counters. For example, print providers planning to order the new 250 print-per-minute Océ VarioPrint 6250 tell us that while it will replace some other cut-sheet devices in their shops, they will still have some slower machines from other vendors running right next to the VP 6250. In some cases these shops are likely to use one workflow for the older devices and another with the VP 6250. Flexibility and scalability and free you from the tyranny of device-dependent workflows. While this is a common practice in mixed environments, it is ultimately inefficient and limits the ways all the print engines in a shop can be used. A wiser--and strategically more sound choice--is to use a single workflow that can accept jobs from multiple sources and in various file formats, drive any machine in the shop and be able to grow as your volume requires. This provides optimal flexibility and scalability and frees you from the tyranny of device dependent workflows. Changing Business Processes Such an approach, when thoughtfully integrated into your operation, enables you to change a number of your business processes. For instance: * Customers can easily obtain a quote, submit jobs over the web, receive a screen proof, approve a job, and even track it through production, as can your production staff. For your customer, this makes doing business with you faster, easier and more convenient, and adds value to the relationship. For your team, it helps keep everyone aware of every job and helps ensure each one goes as expected. * Jobs managed under a single workflow can be automatically routed to the next available machine or to the one with capabilities that best match the job. Duplex jobs with multiple inserts would be routed to a VarioPrint 6250, while shorter simplex jobs might be printed on a slower machine. Longer run jobs for book production, direct marketing or transactional printing would be routed to a continuous-feed device. With all devices managed by a single integrated workflow, more jobs can be printed per shift, delivered more quickly, and at a lower overall cost. * Jobs in proprietary formats such as Xerox DigiPath can be transformed to run on other machines, expanding the range of output options, increasing equipment utilization, and providing a safety net should a machine require servicing. * A broader range of documents can be produced faster and more easily. This expands the types of services you can provide your customers without having to "re-invent the wheel" or disrupt established practices. A flexible and scalable workflow removes the barriers that limit the kinds of jobs that can be run, enabling you to do more and be more to your customers. As production printing becomes a totally digital process, it is a business imperative to use the most capable software tools available Taken individually, these processes can be beneficial to any print provider. But when combined under a single open architecture they deliver the capabilities print providers need today and are finding essential to a successful and profitable print operation in an increasingly competitive environment. As production printing becomes a totally digital process, it is a business imperative to use the most capable software tools available. When choosing the workflow that will be helping to drive your business forward look for flexibility and scalability as two of the key traits. Because the world is going to keep changing--and you want your business to move with it.