by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division May 24, 2004 -- Workflow is the buzz of the industry. Listening to some of the hype, you'd think that efficient work processes area totally new concept. Yet when you look at the many solutions being offered today, it's clear that print providers are challenged by determining which workflow tools will really address their needs and make a difference in their business. With workflow, one size very definitely does not fit all. There are literally hundreds of software products and professional services offerings on the market today--each claiming to deliver significant benefits. While most if not all products will deliver improvements, the complexity of determining what pieces to combine for maximum ROI and bottom-line benefit is daunting. What's needed is some simplification. Zero In A more effective approach is zeroing in on specific business issues and concerns and building a workflow that addresses the owner's objectives. Because vendors are in the business of selling products and services, their workflows are often derived from a product perspective--usually based on a digital press, pre- or post-processing devices, or software. The result is a workflow oriented around a given set of products rather than focusing on improving the customer's business. In some cases, customers must adapt their operations to fit the product's capabilities and the "solution" may not solve the print provider's real needs. A more effective approach is zeroing in on specific business issues and concerns and building a workflow that addresses the owner's objectives. The zeroing-in process begins by understanding the steps a customer takes to produce its documents, learning the strengths and weaknesses of its existing workflow and how these impact the success of the business. Next, business priorities come into play, and should be contrasted to what has been learned about the workflow. For example, a digital book printer may have some glaring workflow issues in its bindery operation that could be addressed with revisions to the workflow or different equipment, but the key business priority might be to grow volume, reduce inventories or gain other production efficiencies that are more customer driven, such as title order management or online ordering. In this case, the bindery is a second or third priority. Once the key aspects of a print operation are defined, further simplification begins. The vendor you choose and their partners should now be asking themselves the following question: "What hardware and software combination will provide the best means of addressing these business needs?" The answer should be a carefully selected combination of products and services that are then tailored those to fit your requirements. Horizontal, Vertical or Both? This focus on providing specific solutions is founded in the reality that while document production may be the business a company is in, the needs driving success and profitability of each individual enterprise are quite unique and can vary greatly across different type of print operations. The digital print marketplace can be divided in a variety of ways. At Océ North America, for example, we have defined four primary customer business environments with their own distinct production and business requirements: Transactional Printing, which includes corporate data centers, transaction-printing service bureaus and EDP print environments. On-Demand Printing, which encompasses commercial print shops and publishing-oriented documents, including trade paperbacks and newspapers, along with manuals, directories and the like. Networked Office Printing in corporate environments. Corporate Reprographics Departments for in-house high volume printing, copy shops or quick and franchise print businesses. The most efficient workflows emerge when the robust capabilities of a horizontal workflow solution are merged with the very specific needs of vertical industries These environments are a starting point for identifying customer issues, discuss business priorities and identify where Océ can add value. Once major area we look for are synergies between converging environments. In our convergent world—major advances in productivity and cost savings can appear when looking outside the normal boundaries. For example, Networked Office Printing workflows should be able to redirect work into a CRD. Similarly, a data center should be able to use underutilized or idle equipment periodically for On Demand Printing to produce product manuals, high-quality marketing letters, and provide accounting, charge back and finishing for the documents they produce. The most efficient workflows emerge when the robust capabilities of a horizontal workflow solution are merged with the very specific needs of vertical industries, such as finance and insurance, education, or government. Any number of large organizations routinely print statements, publish a variety of documents, require networked office printing in multiple locations, and have one or more CRDs used for local and distributed printing. If the software used in such multi-faceted environments is architected to be compatible, comprehensive and consistent, the resulting IT infrastructure can be leveraged to provide a flexible, productive and adaptable workflow model. As a result, work can flow more easily and every ounce of existing production capacity is fully utilized. And most important, because the IT infrastructure is designed to support multiple environments, cross-enterprise workflows are also more efficient, and require less expert staffing. In addition, maintenance procedures are standardized and systems are better integrated.