Market Changes in Production Workflows
Jeff Weldon, CDIA+ Senior Analyst, Madison Advisors, Inc.
The way of the future
In the past, if you wanted to create an integrated, multi-step workflow, the solution would involve utilizing software from multiple vendors and applying two levels of programming in the workflow engine—one to integrate all of the components into your workflow, and then another to update requirement changes, often resulting in a costly process.
A recent shift in the business mindset now allows users—rather than IT programmers—to define and implement a workflow using standard building blocks. Software suppliers are responding to this trend. As a result, several companies are offering products that incorporate advanced customization into the workflow management process, such as drag-and-drop features, code reusability, detailed metrics reporting and more. These advanced features allow for greater flexibility for the user and help satisfy a broad range of customers.
What’s behind the shift to Automated Workflow
The main objective of any workflow solution is to get output into the hands of a consumer as efficiently as possible. There are a number of processes that can be incorporated into the workflow that help achieve this goal.
As software applications have evolved, new ways have been added for them to be controlled by external programs. Users can now send commands to control the actions of different programs through the use of proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs), generic APIs (e.g. ODBC – open database connectivity) and other innovative mechanisms. These features have improved the ability to incorporate components from multiple companies into the end-to-end workflow and streamline the overall efficiency of the processes.
One area of improvement with this new functionality is decreased slowdowns in the print and insertion area at job changeovers. The process of changing paper stocks, adjusting inserter feeds and folders and changing out paper inserts is a labor-intensive process, with short job lengths specifically requiring frequent job changes. Daily overall output capacity and cost can be significantly increased by using a production workflow system that creates long runs by intelligently combining multiple files together.
Piece-level tracking and accountability becomes more difficult when you combine multiple print runs into a single file, but new updates to workflow engines now allow users to track what jobs were rolled into which print files. Using data from the inserters and camera systems, the workflow managers can reconcile when a piece was inserted, providing true document lifecycle tracking. This same reconciliation data from the inserters allows the workflow system to automatically create a reprint file, if needed.
Large files containing similar jobs offers an opportunity to save significant money on postage. Once the files are combined, running a postal sort over the resulting file can help categorize and group similar zip codes to streamline the shipping process, a function that requires mechanical sorting when using many small files. This step may also minimize the amount of output that ultimately goes to a mechanical presort vendor in order to qualify for a postal discount.
An additional workflow improvement can be found in switching from physical inserts to onsert pages. The same post-composition tools that combine files can also replace calls for physical inserts by printing the information inline on an additional sheet in the mailpiece.
While all of these technologic advances help improve the workflow process, the main way to create larger job runs is with a white paper workflow. Longer runs require minimizing preprinted paper stocks. This can be done with a number of tools that allow the matching of stored background images with various page types within a document. So whereas you might have had multiple paper stocks in a job before, you can now print the background on each page on the fly, allowing virtually unlimited customization on each page.
However, just eliminating preprinted paper isn’t going to allow you to combine a group of jobs into a single one, so logistics remains an important factor. You also have to think about address and barcode locations so that you can gain efficiency on the insertion side of the house. Fortunately, the tools that allow you to “flash” the page backgrounds also support document reengineering functions that support adjusting address locations so they will all fit in a common envelope design. And any existing barcode symbologies can be removed and replaced with a single barcode for the entire run of multiple merged jobs.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, digital production workflow is all about getting the most out of your digital production equipment. There are many steps that go into a particular workflow, but in the end, the objective is to get information onto paper and off to a consumer. Regardless of the method of conveyance, the old school, single-step process was cumbersome, tedious and resulted in printers and finishing equipment remaining at a standstill until the digital production workflow was executed for each job. Thankfully, robust tools and advances in workflow technologies have helped improve the end-to-end process of getting print jobs out the door efficiently as well as to reduce overall production costs.
Jeff Weldon is senior analyst at Madison Advisors, an analyst and consulting firm specializing in customer communication technologies including enterprise output management, content management, customer relationship management, e-billing and infrastructure technology.
Name: Jeff Weldon
Title: Senior Analyst
Company: Madison Advisors
Phone: (817) 684-7545
Web address: www.madison-advisors.com