Defining Workflow in Today’s Transaction Printing Environment

By | October 28, 2010

By Eric de Goeijen, Océ North America, Production Printing Systems Vice President Product Marketing

Every print job you can think of today has a workflow associated with it – specific tasks and processes that have to be managed and ideally, automated. Not surprisingly, workflow means different things to different people. Jobs flow differently in commercial print shops than they do in high-volume transactional data centers, direct mail houses, service bureaus or CRDs in enterprise environments. So their corresponding approaches to automating workflow are different as well.

In a graphic arts environment, the workflow conversation would center on authoring content, content management, getting images and photographs approved, creating layouts and submitting jobs for print. If you’re in a transaction print environment, the conversation is going to be more about process optimization and automation, integrity, load balancing and qualifying for postal discounts. It’s worth noting that in today’s transaction environments, there should be more of an intersection between the graphic arts creative focus and the transaction efficiency perspective.

In the traditional transaction printing environment, automation efficiencies are gained by streamlining the processes following receipt of content – basically data. The process starts when data arrives and ends when finished documents leave the “shop” either in print or through e-delivery. Sometimes production may be accomplished in a hard-wired “Automated Document Factory” configuration, a virtually connected configuration of varied print and finishing equipment – or a combination of both. Either way, the goal is to reduce costs and boost end-to-end productivity from job submission through tracking, reprinting, indexing and archiving. A workflow solution to support this environment must work seamlessly with many flavors of high-volume print and finishing devices. What’s more it should enable the highest degree of postal automation and quality control.

But in today’s transaction print environments – more than data is being delivered. More and more, transaction documents include variable messaging, graphics, pURLs and other dynamic content potentially created by marketing agencies or colleagues on the graphic arts side of the business. This means taking the workflow from receipt of data forward is no longer enough. Transaction printers have to start thinking about automating workflows that safely integrate the creative process with the mission-critical production process.

In a previous post, Francis McMahon talked about “Getting Marketing Involved in Production Print.” I believe that defining transaction printing workflow as extending beyond the realm of data, and integrating up-stream creative workflows into service providers’ solutions will be critical to driving new business for service providers. What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Defining Workflow in Today’s Transaction Printing Environment

  1. Alan Darling

    Eric is absolutely correct in his summary, but the real sting is in the tail!

    He says “integrating upstream creative workflows into service providers’ solutions” is the real mother lode. In fact I would go further in saying that it is integrating upstream into the BUSINESS APPLICATIONS of your clients and prospects.

    From an offensive standpoint, the kind of discovery and consultative selling required to do this certainly gives the company you represent a significant differentiator over your competitors’ offerings.

    From a defensive standpoint, we all know that client loyalty is going the same way as the age of chivalry! However, if you are feeding your client’s business systems, they will be much more reluctant to change vendors for a fraction of a penny price reduction per click from a competitor.

  2. Ian Broadbent

    I’ve been involved in putting together workflow & ADF solutions for the last 25 years and, whilst none of the solutions is a replica of any other, there are common traits that have ensured success: Don’t put anything in the way of producing at speed; separate any design enhancements from the data; and, ensure that your workflow tool can control the end-to-end process – from data through print to insertion and delivery (either via post or electronic media).

    One of the key requirements in Transaction Printing is speed – getting the documents printed, inserted and on its way to the recipient as soon as possible. SLAs are typically next day / 24 hours, which means that the printing facility needs to be slick with how they produce the work – particularly if they provide value-add features, which may be prone to causing holdups.

    The printer needs a post-composition tool that can handle all requirements described by Eric as “variable messaging, graphics, pURLs and other dynamic content”. This requires a product that can support collaborative working so that those responsible for marketing have full control of their content without interfering with the transactional data. Only by seperating the content from the data can you mitigate the risk of unneccssary delays.

    In addition to the workflow features listed by Eric, with which I fully concur, an essential feature for upstream integration is flexible export to business systems, supporting multiple feeds to different systems. For example, fully composed images are delivered to Archive and Customer Care systems while separately, Marketing is provided with details of the variable creative content applied to each document to confirm that their campaign has been correctly implemented.

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