Your Workflow Is NOT Proprietary
As we approach the end of the calendar year, it is a good time to take a look at your workflow. If you have been following the earlier blogs, there is a road to travel to ensure that you have the most efficient workflow, from the point you begin to sell a job to the point where you deliver it. And while it is true that every workflow should be developed to meet the needs of the operation it supports, it is also true that it is very, very rare to find a workflow that meets the criteria to be proprietary.
Workflows have physical, data, and file-based components woven together to ensure that work that is sold is onboarded promptly and correctly, scheduled, and executed. Physical workflows are how you move substrates to and among your devices and through to fulfillment. Data workflows describe how data moves into the organization from customers, and then through the organization into accounting and production.
Data not only includes the information needed for managing the order in the accounting system, but also the order and fulfillment specifications, as well as the data that follows the job through each workflow touchpoint. It is machine data, as well as data captured from the production systems. In VDP printing environments, it can also encompass the data used to create the VDP work if it isn’t delivered as a print-ready file. The file-based components are principally the print-ready files, but could also include font and graphic assets, dieline files or other supporting documents.
Within the workflows, there are many actors in the play, from the sales team to accounting, estimator and production staff and management. And the customer service agents - or team members playing that role, holding all of the pieces together so that sales, clients, and production - all stay informed.
In many print shops, this flow of work is considered the secret sauce that brings success. Breaking that down, it usually starts with the estimating and quoting process, which is where the magic happens. This can be unique to the business because amortization rates on equipment, hard costs, and salaries all have a significant impact on the available margin on a job.
Once a job is accepted, the process of getting it lodged with both the business and production flows is a function of established processes, the supporting software solutions, and, for better or worse, the internal traditions of the shop. There is often room to optimize processes to make them consistent for each customer and each type of job that comes in. And, within the production flow, it is most common to find that the way work flows through production is born from a combination of attempts at best practices rationalized against the practical challenges of meeting schedules and getting the best utilization of equipment. If examined dispassionately, most production workflows can use some tuning.
When we talk to printers who believe they have a proprietary workflow - that is, they believe that what they are doing is unique and that if it were disclosed it would materially impair their position in the market they serve - we immediately begin to look for the commonalities across the workflows we’ve seen, both conventional and digital, across a broad range of printers serving different industries. In every case so far, we have found that the elements considered unique or proprietary are, in reality, just common industry practices and software that has been optimized for that shop - not a secret formula but a well-rehearsed recipe.
As you end the year and start thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions, consider a workflow audit and look hard at the things about your environment that you might consider unique or proprietary. It may be that what you have is unqiue to your environment, but not giving your business a boost.
Pat McGrew, M-EDP, CMP is the Director and Evangelist for the Production Workflow Service at InfoTrends. As an analyst and industry educator, McGrew works with InfoTrends customers and its clients to promote workflow effectiveness. She also has a background in data-driven customer communication, and production printing with offset, inkjet, and toner. Co-author of eight industry books, editor of "A Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge," and regular writer in the industry trade press, McGrew won the 2014 #GirlsWhoPrint Girlie Award for her dedication to education and communication in the industry, and the 2016 Brian Platte Lifetime Achievement Award from Xplor International. Find Pat on Twitter as @PatMcGrew and LinkedIn.