10 Suggestions for Solving the Chaos in Your Facility to Streamline Your Workflow
In today’s industry, there are common graphic workflow challenges that we see almost every day. Ignoring these problems causes profit draining, and continuing down this dangerous path can greatly affect the success of any company.
Implementing a few simple, low-cost solutions that quickly move files accurately from client to press can improve your employees’ work experience as well as your bottom line.
Currently, only a very small percentage of innovative print producers have figured out that workflow doesn’t start at prepress or the press. Profits can be made from the time the sales team and CSRs get a phone call or email announcing that a project is coming in, so waiting longer creates the problem. Too often, companies think that their MIS system can be modified to solve this issue. They throw more people and money at the situation without realizing that there is a better way that already exists. It doesn’t replace the MIS, but it makes it much more effective.
In the very early stages of a job, profits can be lost, and the obvious causes can often be overwhelming: new orders and jobs, managing what you have in-house, and the onslaught of emails, updates and carbon-copied messages. Being overwhelmed by these time-killing tasks is hurting both the morale of your employees and the profits of your operation.
Fortunately, there is a better way. By utilizing more automation to streamline your workflow, you can enter the data automatically and, most important, never more than once. If you are not doing this, the examples in this article may sound very familiar.
The challenges I will explore do not stem from incapable staff. The examples I will outline come from an actual company that we have examined, referred to here as Anonymous Inc. This company has a knowledgeable production manager with support from very skilled prepress technicians. They pay conscientious attention to detail, but the team is challenged in getting print-ready files into production. Their production has a high capacity but is delayed by problematic files, scheduled jobs being pushed back, getting held up with changes and waiting on approvals from clients.
Problem 1: A Silent Manpower Drain — Anonymous Inc. is receiving between 30 and 40 job-related emails per hour (an average of one email every two minutes). Email content includes questions on printability, pricing, requests to download files, checking on status updates, changes, updates and other job-related questions. Their response time for each email ranges from 10 seconds to 15 minutes per email. Every email is being copied to multiple people, therefore doubling and tripling the email manpower drain.
Problem 2: Herding Cats into a Barn — There is no standard file submission procedure, so at times it seems like Anonymous Inc. is trying to herd cats into a barn. Some files are appended to emails and some emails contain download links, while others reference files in FTP folders that have to be manually sorted and matched to jobs.
Furthermore, email subject lines do not lend themselves to indexing or easy identification. The emails themselves are sent at times by the salesperson and at other times by CSRs. There is no hierarchy or classification of emails to help, leading to further confusion.
Problem 3: Incorrect Workflow Assumptions — All current MIS systems at Anonymous Inc. assume that orders and jobs flow through without interaction, never stopping or moving in diagonal directions. Without the ability for flexibility and total collaboration on each job, chaos can occur outside the workflow.
Problem 4: Sales and CSRs — Sales and CSR expertise appears to vary widely. They appear to have excellent customer service, but jobs are given equal status; i.e., a job that comes in requiring manual download, several corrections and email exchanges moves through production at the same speed as jobs with all the files directly delivered to prepress.
Problem 5: Sales-to-Production Manager Bottlenecks — Though these are commonly considered CSR issues, the production manager at Anonymous Inc. has to deal with notifications and follow-ups about not receiving enough information, a lack of artwork, incorrect information and/or a lack of proofs. All of this follow-up time causes even more delay within the workflow.
Problem 6: Production Procedures that Hurt Streamlining — Files are converted to Postscript for output. This should be changed so that files are left in PDF format if they begin as such, and files that do not should be converted to a PDF format. Additionally, imposition is done manually when needed, but decisions of impositions change costs and profitability.
For status updates, the production manager creates an email and edits the list, manually addressing each job one by one. This is normally a three-page report, and it is time-consuming. The more time you spend on a project, the more money you lose.
10 Suggestions for Solving the Chaos in Your Facility
The solution to most of this chaos is a simple 10-point thought paradigm:
- Workflow is not linear. It is an ongoing collaboration that can drive you crazy if you use email, text messaging and phone calls to send PDFs and other files.
- Provide the information only to those who need it, without human touch as much as possible. This is only possible through automation, and it should include using an MIS that allows upload, download and two-way communication with your collaboration system.
- Customers or CSRs should upload and check their own files through your system. They should get automated preflight results in minutes, taking the workload away from the production department. Automate the preflighting, fix-ups and redundant tasks of the incoming file as much as possible.
- Approvals of final PDFs of the file should never be made from an emailed PDF. The customer or CSR should connect to a file link that manages comments and revisions. Everyone should see the file comments in real time.
- If the file can go from the client to the RIP, do it.
- Real-time visibility is critical. A daily report is almost worthless. We need a minute-by-minute report.
- Everyone who interacts with the job or project should have permissions to be updated and view changes, notes or status without opening a spreadsheet or accessing an MIS.
- The collaboration must be accessible on modern communication devices — laptops, tablets, notepads and smart phones.
- Notes and revisions should be made and saved in real time, with access permissions to those who provide input or make decisions.
- All intermediate and final approved versions should be managed and should be the only versions that can be released to production.
Dashboards for All Collaborators
The desktop of the future allows anyone who sends orders, makes comments or needs real-time updates to access the information. That requires everyone in the collaboration chain to have his or her own dashboard. Sales, CSRs, clients, designers, managers, executives, production managers, prepress technicians and anyone else even remotely involved should have access to what you want them to see and approve. Think of this: no more emails, voicemails or waiting for someone to respond.
The new, younger, paperless generation of graphic professionals expect instant access to everything, 24/7. They do not want to call or email people for information. With this strategy, they won’t have to.
You will also have eliminated 50% of the production management’s workload. Customers, salespeople or CSRs can upload and check their own files, getting automated preflight results in minutes and taking the workload away from production.
You might be thinking, “I have 300 customers. I can’t afford that many connections.” But what if you could? What if you could add connections on your customers’ desktops at no extra cost? The good news is that this is a reality with today’s technology. Anyone who enters in new jobs, asks questions or requests updates by email should be connected to eliminate human touch.
The technology for implementing this level of automation exists, and the next generation of print buyers and brand managers prefer it. They don’t have time for phone calls and emails because they are required to manage more in less time, just like we are.
Also, there is no doubt that today’s highly skilled production managers, prepress managers and graphic technicians are being underutilized by performing redundant tasks, because most printing companies only think of automating the print function at the RIP and press. In reality, most of the profit-draining tasks are happening upstream and could be performed by an intern. There is a huge benefit for these tasks to be automated.
There is some resistance from prepress people who fear their jobs might be at risk. But truthfully, this type of automation is imminent. It is critical that these professionals do not just wait for their jobs to disappear but embrace the changing workflow dynamics and become experts in managing these systems.
These technologies will also change quickly and will provide ongoing opportunities for those who stay current and keep an eye on the horizon for better and faster systems. Companies that adopt and communicate this vision have a future that is unlimited by the barriers we face today. Happy streamlining. PI
(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the SGIA Journal’s July/August 2015 issue.)