Is workflow the key to surviving and thriving for today’s in-plants?

By on December 2nd, 2010

In my last post I talked about the impact of workflow on production environments – especially transactional environments – not just as the connective tissue that links people, processes and technology – but a means to reducing costs, boosting productivity and improving quality.

Production print service providers face many challenges today, but in-plant operations arguably face even more. These guys are dealing with squeezed budgets and simultaneous pressure to grow print volumes, improve service levels, increase productivity and offer an ever-expanding suite of services like producing tabs, binding, transaction printing, fulfillment, direct mail, booklets, and security printing. If they can’t meet the corporate need, they don’t just have a bad year – they get lifted right out of the enterprise.

Survival depends on being able to respond to changing customer needs, turn jobs around faster, reduce costs, improve quality and make it easier for internal customers to place orders and track and deliver jobs — all while fending off threats from outside competitors. Which leads to the biggest challenge in-plants face: staying relevant at a time when economic turmoil makes them especially vulnerable to cost-cutting initiatives. For better or worse, the pressure is on to become an indispensable resource. As a result, success is often directly correlated to the efficiency of the workflow. For in-plants looking to boost process efficiency, drive down costs, speed turnaround and satisfy customers, workflow automation is a must.

Here are 10 ways that workflow can help transform a print operation from a cost center to a profit center:

  1. Connecting the print center to the corporate network
  2. Simplifying job submission, tracking and management
  3. Automating pre-print services like scanning, editing and composing documents
  4. Selecting and directing jobs to the best-fit device
  5. Converting proprietary files to open PDF format
  6. Automating finishing
  7. Archiving jobs and publishing them to CDs, DVDs
  8. Providing customers with easy web-based viewing and reprint ordering
  9. Offering customers a portable, fully searchable, and indexed archive
  10. Giving corporate customers visibility into what you do and how you do it

Workflow solutions can improve the way that work gets done and make the benefits  of the services that in-plants offer visible across the organization. Workflow archive and audit features provide a baseline to measure against when the “outsourcing option” is discussed.

Let’s face it, in-plant shops are often in the basement or located far, far away from headquarters. They may be a “black box” as far as many of their best clients are concerned. Helping customers understand what has to happen to get their job out the door, and allowing them to participate in success can make your group less of a “plant” and more of a partner.

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    2 Responses to “Is workflow the key to surviving and thriving for today’s in-plants?”

    1. Tony Edwards Says:

      Very useful blog Eric – having had experience of both transactional and print services I can only agree with all your ten points. We employed a similar strategy when we created a state of the art production centre in 2008.

    2. Duncan Newton Says:

      I think we all know that the total of all digital production is a mere trifle when compared to offset volumes. And many in-plants run both. As the new inkjets come more into play we will (finally) see some significant migration of short run offset work to these very productive digital devices. After years of research Pearson Education has finally said that there are two of these new inkjets that are actually “offset substitutable” Is it possible that the old notion of “offset replacement” might actually come true? It’s probably too early for the digital guys to clain victory, first we will all have to get used to something more along the lines of “offset co-habitation”.

      Having the ability to share the work across the two competing techniques would allow each to system what it does best; digital for shorter runs and offset for the big ones. There is just one little problem.
      If digital presses are going to make real inroads into commercial print they are going to have to be able to co-habitate with the existing dominant workflows: Kodak’s Prinergy and Agfa’s Apogee. And they will need to do this without having to filter the work through an additional (and rather expensive) digital workflow package. No rational in-plant shop would willingly invest in two different workflows if they didn’t have to. For print providers of all kinds, having a common workflow would yield huge benefits and add tremendous flexibility in how they schedule their work.
      Who knows? It might be the time to go back and dust off Gartner’s old concept of a black box that brings in the jobs and automatically sends them off to the first available printer that can do the job.