Hamilton--Bits and Bytes vs. Dots and Spots
Gurus of management love to publish books with titles like "Reinventing the Corporation." And while many of this genre provide useful information about breaking down corporate barriers—usually internal ones—they assume that the reader works in a large corporate environment.
Sadly, this is of little help to managers of the average commercial printing company or trade shop, whose employees are often numbered in two digits. Yet, the impact of technological change is just as large in a 25-person prepress firm as it is for a giant corporation such as Applied Graphics Technologies. Therefore, this month's pontification will try to address workflow re-engineering in our little world.
Like any manufacturing business, prepress consists of raw materials and processes that result in an end product. In the good ol' days, the raw materials consisted of type and layout boards, hand-drawn graphics and photographs. The processes included page assembly, scanning, retouching, trapping, masking, stripping, and film and proof outputs.
Today, however, type and layouts are almost always provided digitally and only the images are supplied as physical materials. And the day when all images will be supplied digitally isn't too far off, either. Of course, this transformation has eliminated many profit centers, and the content creator continues to encroach upon the prepress technician's territory.
This is where the re-engineering blather comes into play. Given the inevitable technological trends, we've got to stop looking at the workflow from a process point of view and start looking at it from a data-centric one. That is, every job must be designed and processed with the idea that each component on the page is a discrete object made of bits and bytes. The essence of a data-centric workflow is that every job is modular and built out of digital files that do not inherently have anything to do with any of the other components that make up the catalog, book, magazine, etc.