by Bob Raus of Océ Printing Systems USA, Inc. January 26, 2004 -- Imagine a world where nothing worked the same way more than once or twice in succession. Everything we know, see, hear or do would be subject to a randomness that would bring all our endeavors to a halt. Business processes, all our technologies, and innumerable other disciplines would be virtually impossible to conceive, let alone implement. Happily, our lives and businesses are built around a multitude of processes working in a predictable manner. When it comes to document creation and production, wouldn't it be great to know your tools will work the same way every time, across converging business environments, regardless if it's an AFP statement, Postscript booklet or PCL direct mail post card? You need to be able to depend on consistency in workflow steps and processes, data handling, pre- and post-processing, and overall throughput. Your bottom line, and even your reputation, depend on it. Three interrelated traits are key to straightforward, reliable, cost-effective, and consistent workflow processes for your employees and customers. Intelligent Automation Intelligent automation assures consistent print accuracy and operational efficiency while minimizing costly errors. Further, it helps drive repeat business because customers can count on jobs turning out the way they expect, time after time. For example, a marketing campaign may consist of a series of postcards, letters and brochures that are produced over several weeks must have the same look and feel. Intelligent automation provides the framework for setting up a job once, then having it work exactly the same way every time that job is run, no matter what kind of document or the source or type of data it requires. As a result, the finished materials will be of higher quality, contain fewer errors, and the overall appearance will be consistent from one document to the next. Such automation has clear implications for reductions in staffing, training and inspection of output. In addition, having one-time set ups for automated jobs reduces costs over time and enhances profitability. However, these benefits accrue only when all parts of an automated workflow are designed to seamlessly work together to provide a single smooth process. While numerous workflow tools available today automate discrete tasks, few are intended to work in concert to provide end-to-end intelligent automation. That requires the next element of consistency, an integrated, tested design. Integrated Design Modern document workflows rely on a broad--and growing--range of software tools. Because no single print engine vendor can possibly develop, test and produce the best of everything, most equipment vendors rely on partners to provide software tools designed for specific functions. The most effective workflows draw on a set of integrated workflow tools that are designed to work together. Consistency plays a part here as well. The most efficient and cost-effective integrated workflows have a consistent interface. This fosters ease-of-use and ease-of-management by minimizing learning curves and the need for specialized knowledge. In large multi-vendor printing environments, for instance, it's not uncommon for machine operators to be experts on one manufacturer's software, a limited number of disparate workflow tools, or be knowledgeable on how to run certain applications. But when using consistent, integrated workflow software that supports print engines from all major manufacturers , there is no need for such silos of specialized knowledge. This enhances overall efficiency and ultimately profitability. Time-tested Integration Solutions Intelligent automation and integrated design don't happen by magic. All too often, print providers have found themselves investing in systems or tools to perform certain tasks only to find themselves slaves to the limitations of the very systems that were supposed to help them be more efficient and flexible! This has made many print providers understandably reluctant to invest in new technologies or less familiar products. Still, some of the new tools on the market can make a big difference in your workflow. To avoid the stresses and costs of developing work-arounds for not-quite-compatible tools, look for tools that are part of the integrated design model noted above. More specifically, look for time-tested solutions that are proven and which other experts count on for their simplicity and power. Time-tested means that the tools fit tightly into a proven architecture and give you power with no boundaries. An integration that enables the system to work for you (not the other way around), that does not inhibit creativity and that can grow with your needs. And support is essential too, especially if you anticipate developing new applications and expanding your service offerings--and who doesn't?. Time-tested solutions include strong, reliable, robust service organizations that understand your needs and where you want to go. Workflows comprising these three traits help ensure your printing operation, regardless of its size, complexity or how many different applications are involved will operate as efficiently as possible. Don't settle for solutions offering partial answers, workarounds or stop-gap processes. Make sure your solutions weren't vaporware or a company's “vision” yesterday. These cost money and put a long-term strain on your business. Instead, look for intelligently automated, well-integrated designs that have been proven over time. Those are the ones you can count on out of the gate to help drive your business forward. Please offer your feedback to Bob. He can be reached at: [email protected]