A Philosophy of Workflow for Inkjet Service Providers
“Why isn’t there an Alexa for print?” asked Elizabeth Gooding (Inkjet Insight) in an address to the Inkjet Summit on April 11. A do-it-all virtual assistant may well be on the way. But until it arrives, Gooding said, the next best thing for obtaining good results with inkjet printing is workflow.
Her metaphor for the process was origami: the folding technique that can turn a piece of paper into one shape as readily as another. Workflow, Gooding explained, is what differentiates printer A from printer B, even if both have the same equipment. It’s as essential to customer satisfaction as it is to efficient production, and it can be a strong selling point for inkjet in its own right.
Gooding insisted that “workflow” and “software” aren’t the same thing: the latter is just one component of a larger set of resources for getting jobs into production quickly, economically and securely. Although the term “workflow software” is commonly used, it blurs the concept and doesn’t convey the full scope of what workflow entails.
Gooding said the best way for printers with inkjet presses to approach workflow is to "think beyond what you do now” to the new, value-adding product offerings that workflow makes possible: books for one, individualized business cards, magazines with recipient-specific content. Part of the conversation with workflow solution providers should be about what the shop hopes to accomplish along lines it isn’t currently pursuing, she added.
Selecting a workflow solution should be a square-one decision, according to Gooding, who called upon inkjet adopters to make their selections “before, or at least in tandem with, the hardware purchase.” Part of the urgency lies in the fact that workflow does more than just get jobs into production: properly implemented, it can save inkjet printers considerable amounts of money as well.
On a high-speed inkjet press creating thousands of images per minute, said Gooding, “every second counts.” An efficient workflow can boost performance by reducing the frequency of paper changes and other steps that eat into uptime. The payoff of gaining just 10 minutes of productivity per day, she said, can be anywhere from $75,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the speed of the press.
Workflow achieves this by optimizing production data, variable data and production files. The general objectives are to make it easier for:
- the customer to engage with the service provider;
- employees to deliver what the customer wants;
- the customer to stay with the service provider and grow the customer’s business.
An efficient workflow, Gooding said, pulls everything together at the front end of the process, but still permits job components to be broken out for analytics and reporting. It also provides end-to-end protection from hacks, ransomware and the other hazards of working with customer data exchanged across the web. To this end, data should be encrypted “at rest, in flight and in the archive.”
Customers who get the information they need and the service they expect thanks to workflow will repay the favor with their loyalty, Gooding said. “Customers buy workflows. They love it when you do validations for them” (for example, by verifying the completeness of their job files). When an inkjet service provider can demonstrate to customers how workflow accommodates their needs, the conversation shifts away from price and focuses more on processes, solutions and values.
It’s certainly more satisfying than having to say, “Hey, this is a lot cheaper than toner,” Gooding observed.
Included in her survey of the features and functions that constitute workflow were color management; customer dashboards and ordering interfaces; data preparation and security; integration with customer workflows; and “testing automation.” The latter is a technique for harvesting useful information from job files without exposing the sensitive data they contain. Information redacted and “scrambled” in this way could be used, for example, to make an accurate estimate of ink coverage.
Gooding closed with recommendations for selecting and implementing workflow:
- Ask vendors about integration options via XML and cXML; JDF and XJDF; and API.
- Put someone in charge of software updates, patches and other tasks of workflow maintenance.
- Plan for the growth of the system, including the costs of adding licenses and providing for contingencies such as disaster recovery.
Above all, said Gooding, don’t forget that workflow “is designed, not bought. Workflow does not come in a box.” Like origami, it begins as a blank expanse that can take whatever shape will please customers and keep them close to their inkjet service providers.
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