By Rick Foley You want--make that need--to know what it really costs to run your shop. September 26, 2006 -- Success, in just about everything, is in the details. And when it comes to print production workflows the details go well beyond managing the job as it flows through your shop. There's a lot of critical information streaming from each step of every job that, if you can capture it, will tell you a lot about your operation and where you are making--and maybe losing--money. The challenge is capturing those details. There are solutions that take the approach of reporting events as they occur. But the problem is they are usually recorded as discrete events which you then have to compile, study and interpret to understand each aspect of a job. You probably don't have time to do that. What you really need is a system that provides real time, accessible data of your print operations encompassing all production elements and provides actionable reporting you can use to make informed business decisions. For example, you want--make that need--to know what it really costs to run your shop. And let's say you want to know that right down to the cost per page, including labor, equipment, paper and even toner. Do you use a few of rules of thumb, numbers from your vendors and a couple of guesstimates? That's not necessarily bad, and it certainly gets you in the ballpark, but in a time when some customers will go elsewhere for fractions of a cent per page you need to gather and correlate every fragment of information you can get. You need a database. High Value Data The flexibility of SQL ensures the information can be extracted and correlated to meet the precise requirements of each operation. Our customers have frequently asked for methods of extracting these very types of critical data. It's high value info that defines the costs associated with every application, but gathering and presenting it is not a trivial matter. To get to the details we've created a SQL database and made it an integral part of our core output management system, which contains everything we can measure and record about each application, regardless of which print engines you are running. The flexibility of SQL ensures the information can be extracted and correlated to meet the precise requirements of each operation. So what kind of information? Let's start with operations. Tracking the time required to RIP a job and how long it takes to print, tells you where the time goes. Next, you can use that job data and measure how efficient each machine operator is by checking their productivity by shift. That way, if a job has been sitting in the queue for hours you can hit the floor and find out why, because you have real-time access to all the data. This gives you a little more control when you find a job that has been sitting in the queue for 30 hours when its SLA says it has to be out in 35 hours of receipt. Then there's production. Each step in a digital workflow --from any vendor--can be tracked and recorded. This can include when a job is received, preflighted, transformed, RIPed, spooled, and delivered to a print engine so you can spot gaps and find inefficiencies. Are certain jobs always taking too long? Here's where you can track it and find out why. Then once a job is printing can track device errors, verification, reprints, and even maintenance time. If a job has been sitting in the queue for hours you can hit the floor and find out why, because you have real-time access to all the data. Toner and paper can be tightly monitored, by part number if you prefer, to help maintain inventories and support your supply chain. This way you can be sure you have sufficient MICR toner for a big check run or enough blue, 24-pound, three-hole drilled paper for a run of 800-page training manuals. And when the job is finished you can see how much of each you used. Sure, you can do physical counts of toner bottles and paper remaining, but closer measurement and tracking yields greater savings and efficiency over time. All of this information and more can be correlated and accessed through SQL queries. This can automatically be linked to something as simple as Microsoft Excel running on a PC to create charts and spreadsheets or it can be linked to an ERP system to provide a foundation for shop automation. Success really does live in the details, and as jobs become more complex knowing--and controlling--these details is crucial for competing in an increasingly competitive market. It makes good business sense to adopt tools that help you move forward and make sound decisions based on real-time information and measurable performance metrics.