Graphic Arts Printing – What’s Workflow got to do with it?

By on January 27th, 2011

In my last post I talked about the impact of workflow on in-plants and how it can help them stay relevant to the organizations they support. Now, as we shift our focus to the commercial print environment, there’s a temptation to focus on the similarities. Both serve customers, both aim to grow volumes and both are under pressure to offer more services, improve efficiency and compete more effectively. That’s where the similarities end.

While in-plants are under the gun to justify their value-add to the enterprise and prevent defection to external providers – those same external providers are wrestling with their own set of challenges.  Not the least of which is relentless pressure to deliver a profit month after month. In addition they must combat print suppression efforts,  satisfy the diverse requirements of more knowledgeable and demanding customers and make the transition from purveyor of ink to integrated service provider. All this at a time when core commercial print applications are under siege by alternate communication channels, the commercial print market is consolidating, volumes are declining and business in general remains stuck in an aimless recessionary grind.

Amidst this potent brew of challenges, digital print is increasingly seen as a requirement for survival, one that opens up new applications, opportunities and sources of revenue. Despite overall decline, the total print opportunity for 2011 is estimated to be an astounding 10 trillion pages. Of that number 2.1% or 216 billion pages are digital printa number that’s expected to nearly double to 3.9% by 2014.

So if you’re a commercial printer looking to get your share of the growing digital opportunity, what’s workflow got to do with it? A lot, as it turns out. In fact, workflow can mean the difference between a print operation that’s rooted in the dark ages and one equipped to satisfy the expectations of 21st century customers. Can streamlined digital workflow help commercial printers survive – or better yet, thrive – in the second decade of the new millennium? Yes -and here’s how:

  1. As commercial print shops invest in digital print production, through workflow, they can expand their product offerings and expand into new markets that were originally out of market, becoming a true marketing services provider.
  2. Software opens up the potential for commercial printers to handle multiple file formats and sizes, which allows for greater flexibility in the number of applications supported.
  3. With a digital workflow, commercial print shops can store jobs electronically and print them digitally on demand. This, in turn, eliminates the need for longer runs and warehousing printed inventory.
  4. With the ability to store files electronically, commercial print shops can turn jobs around quickly with minimal labor and processing, enabling a just-in-time production process.
  5. As access to information increases and marketing messages become more targeted, a digital workflow that supports variable data and marketing messages enables commercial print shops to produce targeted, relevant communications that generate a better return on investment.
  6. To meet demand for faster turnaround, shorter runs and variable data requirements, commercial print shops can implement web-to-print solutions that will offer the benefits of an online ordering system.
  7. With digital workflow products that enable variable data document composition or streamlined make-ready, commercial print shops can diversify their product portfolios with value-added products and services.
  8. With web-to-print and variable data solutions and increased application flexibility, commercial print shops can further strengthen customer relationships.
  9. Overall, with digital workflow solutions that seamlessly route applications to digital print engines, commercial print shops can reduce production costs and improve efficiency.

In summary, an efficient digital workflow can facilitate the transition to integrated services provider, improve productivity and efficiency, enhance customer relationships and position commercial print shops to capture new opportunities. Want to weigh in? I’m interested to hear your take on the impact of a digital workflow on commercial print shops.

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2 Responses to “Graphic Arts Printing – What’s Workflow got to do with it?”

  1. AJ Says:

    There is no difference between digital print and conventional offset, if you look at the picture correctly. We process files, and either send them to a digital copier or digital plate setter. From that point, it’s a question of raw expenses as to which one produces the work.

    The point is, we are no longer printers. All machines are automated, even conventional presses. While the market weeds out the companies that haven’t upgraded equipment, we face erratic price swings as traditional printers try to hold on. These companies holding on are waiting for something, which is our economy to return to normal. The problem is, when it does return to normal, they won’t be needed.

    The craft is gone, and print is now a custom commodity product. So what does this have to do with workflows? Well, we are no longer printers in the traditional sense of the word, and the quicker we come to grips with that reality, the better off we’ll be.

    Now I’ve been hearing the latest term, marketing service provider, for some time now, but I’m not sure that really fits the description. So, what are we?

    We are Digital Information Management companies, or DIM service providers. Clients give us digital information, and we process that data into various end user products. It could be anything from a business card or birth announcement, to a magazine or direct mail piece, or maybe even a t-shirt. Whatever it is we are producing, it all starts with a digital file of some sort. Craftsmanship has been replaced with calibration, upgrades, and routine maintenance procedures. Printer companies themselves are either dying or dead, and all that will remain is next generation service providers, who happen to have some print production equipment as well.

    And for the workflow? It is the single most important piece of equipment in the entire DIM process. Without the basic understanding of what it means to have one, or what it can do, we will not survive the transition. Many haven’t already, and many more are on the way out. The reason is clear. Many owners haven’t been able to comprehend the importance of IT personnel, and the critical nature of understanding the word, workflow.

    Having the right workflow in place should allow continual 2-way communication between client and provider. That communication should not be limited to the immediate needs, rather all needs, including past history, present work in process, and potential for future work, which might include online estimates.

    A workflow is the coupling between your clients digital information, and your companies production capabilities.

    “What’s workflow got to do with it?” Everything!

  2. Bob Raus Says:

    I agree with AJ on this one. The value of workflow automation is equal to or greater than the digital printer (device) or press because it is the backbone of production efficiency, job-to-job repeatable quality and connectivity. We in the printing industry must passionately avoid the common belief that we can be “print-centric” by reminding ourselves two things: 1) print is one form of communication medium and 2) the printer (device) is a peripheral to the computer and other networked devices.