by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Many CRDs, data centers and even office workgroups are still stymied by workflows made inefficient by lack of job ticket and feature compatibility. March 8, 2004 -- We've all had experiences where technology was supposed to make life easier and more productive. Remember the paperless office? In this vein, I ask you to ponder these questions: Does your workflow software work for you--or do you work for it? Is your data center, CRD or service bureau a bureaucracy governed by the limitations and restrictions of your workflow tools and built-in limitations? Or are you in charge, using workflow software that gives you the flexibility to manage jobs created using different tools and route them to the most efficient output devices regardless of brand or data stream? In these times of tightened corporate belts and mantras of "Do more with less", "Outsource! Outsource!", and "Work Smarter, Not Harder" ringing across the land, this is not an idle question. You have to know you can get the jobs produced by "whatever means possible". To do that, you need the highest possible level of compatibility in your print production workflow. Key Traits of Compatibility Investment Friendly: Buy what you need, as you need it, without having to replace an entire workflow infrastructure Multi-vendor integration which enhances the way you utilize all your existing print engines and keeps future options open. Process-friendly: Work the same way you do now, using the same tools, but with an optimized workflow that saves time and increases throughput. One of the key drivers of efficiency in many companies is how well the various technological tools you use work together. Innumerable file formats, types of documents and even "standards" continue competing with each other, hoping to gain market supremacy. Some infrastructure-level technologies--such as Windows or Ethernet--have become standardized and widely adopted. Similarly, several common file formats are accepted across different computer platforms and applications. This is all essential in our increasingly interconnected world, where the immediate interchange of bits and bytes is all but taken for granted at management levels, but still fraught with challenges on the production floor. But one place compatibility doesn't always happen--and where it ends up costing much more than it needs to--is where documents are printed. Many CRDs, data centers and even office workgroups are still stymied by workflows made inefficient by lack of job ticket and feature compatibility. It is one thing to print a single copy of a 30-page report on a desktop inkjet printer or even a nearby workgroup printer. But it can be quite another to send that document to the CRD and produce 50 duplex-printed copies with tabs and covers. In many cases, the supporting workflow is too complicated or just isn't there, so the job takes manual intervention, multiple phone calls, much longer than anyone imagined, and costs more to produce than necessary. Likewise, the mixed print environments common to many data centers and service bureaus result in many types of jobs being "strapped" to certain machines because the workflow to pre-process and route the job lacks flexibility and common access to run the job on several different devices. This creates bottlenecks that overworks some devices while others it idle and delivery dates are missed. So What Does Compatible Mean? A compatible workflow works with the investments you have today, streamlines the work methods you already have in place and should be easy for your staff to learn and understand. There should be minimal overlap or redundancy with existing tools, with value added by providing new capabilities and ways to automate processes. In a data center, for example, a compatible workflow will draw together and streamline common steps that are already being done. It could encompass job ticketing and secure data transfer as the file comes in, preparation of the job for the most appropriate printer, verification of the job as it is printed, and controls that ensure data-to-mail integrity. A compatible workflow should have minimal overlap with existing tools and add value with new capabilities and automated processes. In a CRD, a compatible workflow can actually begin far upstream of the print room, beginning at creation and continuing through proofing, imposition, printing, finishing and binding. By using a single workflow that is compatible through all these tasks and with output devices from many vendors, documents can be created and produced with less effort and better coordination from creation through output. In a commercial print business, a compatible workflow could have a web interface that would support online estimation, file submission, job ticketing, and making changes to jobs, such as quantities, paper stocks, and finishing options. This system would then automatically produce job ticketing and command sets that could be translated into device dependant syntax for any output device. Using the intelligence built into the software, this same workflow can route a job to the best machine available for the job leading to better equipment utilization. This might be one of several different machines in a data center, or a local desktop device, workgroup printer, or a color printer in the CRD. In such an environment, the 30-page report described previously can be easily produced on various printers in an enterprise reducing manual interventions and expenses. Remember who's in charge What you want is an integrated, adaptable family of products where you can develop a workflow that works for you. The siren song of many new software tools is so compelling that it can be easy to adopt a particular product only to find that it is incompatible with current processes and you have to adapt your operation to fit the way the product works. In a very real sense, this puts the software in control and institutes constraints on your ability to get work done. Compatible workflow software is meant to work with the processes you are already comfortable with, simplify daily processes and keep you in charge.