Workflow Automation: Software Budget Allocations
Industry experts, including ourselves, often talk about how today's production environments need to focus beyond solutions that enable workflow automation and, instead, on those that provide value-added services that meet the customer's evolving needs. Workflow automation is no longer the next "big trend" in production printing—it is now just a good business practice.
Finding out if print service providers (PSPs) have taken these recommendations to the production floor is a question we found to be worth asking. In an effort to identify the current state of workflow automation within print-for-pay operations, InfoTrends has surveyed the readers of Printing Impressions.
The survey is part of an ongoing partnership between InfoTrends and North American Publishing Co. (NAPCO) to monitor emerging market trends. The latest survey, conducted in January, focused on finding out what types of workflow automation software are currently being used and invested in; out of 128 participants, 72 were print-for-pay providers. The results point to where PSPs are putting their money to improve their operations, while also serving as a guide for those who are undecided on what investments to make in 2014.
The following are the top three software solutions print-for-pay providers reported as planning to invest in throughout 2014.
The top solution print service providers are planning to invest in during 2014 is Web-to-print. The Web has revolutionized the way we make purchases for quite some time. Despite the USPS facing challenges when it comes to mail volume declining, parcels and packages are at an all-time high. Most organizations are jumping on the online ordering wave to purchase anything, from office supplies to business cards.
Leading print service providers have already invested in Web-to-print, understanding the value it provides for customers to more easily and quickly place orders. Others have waited for clients to come forward with requests for such tools. Either way, the demand for customer storefronts is continuing to grow. Knowing how to sell and provide this service is becoming a necessity for printing businesses going forward. Not only does Web-to-print provide a solution for print shops to become more efficient, it also provides a platform for introducing and promoting new products or services to their existing customer bases.
Of those surveyed, 47.2 percent already were using some sort of Web-to-print-based system, but nearly half that number (22 percent) were still considering the purchase of such a software solution. Web-to-print solutions offer additional advantages to print-for-pay operations, such as a storefront for marketing the print business, as well as allowing customers to view and order services, manage branding, collaborate on documents in process and enable quick reordering.
The transformation from a print service to a marketing services provider is already in full swing. Many PSPs have already made the investments and have begun to offer cross-media services. Those that have not yet made the investment have likely spent quite some time evaluating what is the best option to transform their business.
Marketing services and cross-media may not be the right path for everyone; however, many print service providers are finding value in investing in cross-media tools—allowing them to become a one-stop shop for all (or most) of their customers' media and marketing needs. Of the print service providers surveyed in January, only 22.2 percent are considering a cross-media solution, while 28 percent have cross-media software already in use. Cross-media software provides the toolset for print service providers to offer more complete services that meet their marketing customers' needs.
Creating demand for cross-media software and services can be challenging at first, especially when there is a learning curve for those who will be producing the output, and for the sales team who needs to learn how to sell these new services. Having a strong business plan for these new services, as well as ensuring the creation of a company culture where the future goals and plans are understood and supported, will ease these challenges.
The third software solution most PSPs are considering for 2014 is print MIS. Investing in integrated print MIS systems allows printing operations to have a better understanding of the print environment and the jobs that are running through it. These tools allow for centralized tracking of information from each step of the production workflow, including tracking employee and equipment time; notes on delays; and providing tools like scheduling, estimating and billing. The result is the ability to have a better understanding of the printing operation, and then leverage this information to identify gaps and bottlenecks within the workflow.
Print service providers have currently been actively investing in these systems, with 67 percent already using some kind of MIS system—whether it is home-grown or purchased from a commercial vendor. Commercial solutions are the most common MIS system, but around 5 percent of PSPs have developed their own home-grown solution. Nevertheless, a challenge many print service providers face (regardless of their source) is that their solution is often outdated.
Print MIS systems should also be connected to other software investments, such as a Web-to-print solution, to enable collecting information from these systems automatically—maximizing the software investment. It is important to note that some Web-to-print software solutions targeted at smaller commercial or quick printers have added some high-level print MIS functionality to their solutions. For other print environments, most print MIS vendors have some sort of Web-to-print module included as part of their overall solution or available as an add-on. Depending on requirements, it may be ideal to find a two-in-one solution for service providers planning to invest in both tools.
Investing in software allows for improved workflows, lower cost production and improved customer experiences. As print service providers look at their investment plans for this year, it is important to think about how customer needs are changing and what the future of the printing business looks like.
What new products or services would add value to their current orders? How can you provide tools that make their jobs easier and funnel more business your way? What can be done to further differentiate your business from your competitors and enable growth?
Investments in Web-to-print, cross-media and print MIS solutions are what may print service providers are looking at to address these questions. PI
About the Author
Stephanie Pieruccini serves as consultant, Production Workflow & Customized Communications Consulting Service, at InfoTrends.