by Bob Raus of Oce Printing Systems USA, Inc. October 27, 2003 -- You can tell the physical aspects of putting toner on a page are well established because every purveyor of digital printing equipment is emphasizing workflow and the software that supports the print engines. And for good reason: It's the last place where efficiencies can be gained, costs reduced and the bottom line fattened up. And if you're a print services provider, it's also the place where you can deliver the most value to your customers—as long as it works. Existing products are being expanded, new partnerships launched, and SDKs and APIs announced like so many new consumer electronic products. Much of this supplements existing software, which is fine up to the point at which the core product and a new one don't work the way you need to get a big monthly mailing produced and out the door. Or when you hope to expand your services based on a new workflow tool that isn't as modular as promised and doesn't quite work as expected. This situation stems from the way software and print engines have been developed. Historically, a family of print engines would be developed to do a certain set of tasks and software would be written to flow jobs to the printer. As new applications were needed, more software would be written and more often than not, another print engine would be added to the print room. Over time, this resulted in closed, proprietary systems with some machines being over-worked and others under-utilized. Software used for, say, statement printing may have had a nodding acquaintance with software for direct mail or newsletters, but they didn't usually have to actually work together. Likewise, software for document creation, scanning, soft proofing, publishing, and other functions was often added to meet specific requirements without much consideration to having an overall architecture, because no one was asking for one. Then came convergence. The demand for all kinds of documents to be readily produced on everything from high-speed roll-fed or cut-sheet print engines to workgroup copier/printers sparked demand for device and brand independent workflows that: •  have the flexibility for routing jobs to many types of print engines •  have the versatility for handling multiple job types •  can adapt to increasingly complex applications •  were scalable to handle jobs of any run length •  had the breadth of capabilities to apply to many different workflow steps Today companies are touting “families” of workflow tools and “architected” products, but close examination reveals they are often just slightly updated or new configurations of the same products used in the proprietary systems. In many cases they have been made to work together, which is very different than being designed to work together. As such, they lack the cohesive tools needed to deliver a workflow that's equally adept by design, for use on many document types and output devices Another key attribute of independent workflow is openness. Proprietary systems force customers to use a particular set of products, placing limitations on how documents can be created and used. Open systems, by comparison, take in many different types of files and datastreams and output them on different makes of machines, allowing for load balancing and more efficient operation. When “farms” of one make of printer were the norm this was a non-issue. But now print providers often have equipment from multiple vendors and need to commit machine resources at the last minute, so workflow software must be able to handle changes without delay or disruption of business. Only an independent workflow that is designed from its inception as an integrated architecture can deliver the flexibility, versatility, adaptability, scalability, openness, and breadth of capabilities print providers need today. An independent workflow lets you do more, do it more easily and lets you go farther than any other approach—today and tomorrow. Workflow is crucial today because the speeds and feeds of most print engines are not where print providers make their money. At the end of the day, the faster, more reliably and more efficiently every job is produced, the lower the costs and the greater the revenue, and that's the bottom line.