By Rick Foley June 16, 2006 -- Back in June I talked about how print providers seeking to maximize the value of the faster machines reaching the market have to revise some of their core business processes, most notably workflow. But workflow is a broad topic, and each aspect is intimately related to the part before it and after it. So this month we start at the very beginning. About sixty percent of digital files need some level of attention before they can be printed, and some 28 percent require substantial intervention. How quickly you can print each job that comes into your shop directly impacts how many jobs you can produce--and ultimately how much money reaches your bank account. Raw print speed is only part of the story. And as print speeds increase it's all too easy to hit the wall--that point where you simply can't produce more because of shortcomings in your workflow. A key bottleneck is often at the very beginning, where jobs are submitted. Inefficiency here is a physical barrier that slows down your business and has a direct impact on your profitability. Some things never change As commonplace as digital files are, about six in ten arrive needing some level of attention before they can be printed, and some 28 percent require substantial intervention. The added work drains resources, increases costs and slows turnaround times. While a PDF-based workflow can solve some problems, not all document creators have access to a full version of Adobe Acrobat, and even those who do may not create a PDF file that will print as intended. As a result, jobs are submitted in native file formats, each with its own unique set of potential errors and production issues for that must be addressed. Some of these issues relate to the persistent problems of fonts and graphics, but others are more subtle--and potentially expensive. For example, it’s all too easy for a spreadsheet to contain an extra page or two bearing only a single column of empty cells. This is trivial when one or two copies are printed on a desktop printer. But the error is greatly magnified when the same job goes to a printshop where 1,000 copies are being produced and bound for distribution. Job Ticket Challenges No matter how jobs arrive, job ticketing—the gathering and recording all the job specifications—is still a largely manual process in which information may not be recorded accurately. This makes jobs harder to track, and since job specs can be misinterpreted, it can cause delays and errors that result in higher costs--and dissatisfied customers. This is especially true for jobs submitted over a network or by email with the specs provided in an email note--which may be incomplete, unclear or overlooked. In such instances, lines of responsibility can become blurred, adding to the tension of having to produce the job within suddenly tightened timeframes. A related concern is job quoting. The variables of many print jobs can lead to unpleasant surprises when a job is completed if all customer expectations—and the steps required to achieve them— are not clearly defined and an accurate quote isn't specified from the beginning. Virtual Storefronts The way to address these issues is with a web submission tool that's the beginning of a comprehensive workflow architecture for managing a job from when it arrives until when it is shipped and billed. Sometimes called a "virtual storefront" such a tool provides all types of printshops from corporate in-plants to large commercial operations--a secure, reliable means of providing an accurate quote and creating a job ticket containing every aspect of a job and speed its entry into production. Browser-based web-submission lets virtually all job specs be customized to the needs of individual print shops and their customers. Browser-based web-submission lets virtually all job specs be customized to the needs of individual print shops and their customers. For instance, an in-house printshop that primarily handles reports, presentations and training manuals can have job options for printing color pages that will be inserted into black-and-white documents, adding tabs, and selections for various substrates. Another direct mail shop would offer an entirely different menu of capabilities, and a commercial printshop would offer yet another range, all customized to meet the needs of their customers. Job quotes can also be customized based on pre-determined agreements with key customers, while less frequent customers can receive different quotes. For example, a system such as Océ PRISMAweb begins with the job requirements and generates a quote based on those specs. All aspects of a job can be included: quantities, substrate choices, finishing and binding, color or black-and-white, etc. Jobs created in common programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, QuarkXPress, InDesign, and others are automatically pre-flighted and converted to a ready-to-print PDF. Documents prepared correctly enter the print queue while those needing attention can be flagged. Customizable Job Options within Adobe Acrobat encompass the full array of printing requirements such as type of press, text and image resolution, page borders and sizes, color spaces, finishing, binding and trimming, and more. An Electronic Paper Trail The bonus of web submission job tickets is an electronic paper trail; a readily accessible, clear, concise record of every job. Who ordered and submitted a job, who approved the proofs, anything that was done to the file prior to and during production, any differences between quoted and actual price, and more are all captured. Depending on how the software is set up, customers may also be able to check on the progress of their job. This facilitates communications should any questions arise during production, helping keep the job on schedule. Furthermore, job files can be archived for future use, speeding turnaround and improving productivity if a job must be reprinted. This eliminates the common delays of searching for missing files when a manual, report, directory or other document is due for updating and reprinting. All the collected data can also be integrated into an MIS system to ensure accurate billing. The bonus of web submission job tickets is an electronic paper trail; a readily accessible, clear, concise record of every job. Speed is Money With print speeds on the rise, and all jobs arriving on electronic media, it's time to avoid hitting a wall with outmoded job submission processes. Relying on hand-written job tickets and their incomplete picture of a job is no longer an option. Customers of all types are increasingly selecting print providers with web submission capabilities and not having this tool as part of your standard operating procedure puts your printshop at a competitive disadvantage. And why would you want to do that?