Should Your In-plant Install a Web-to-Print Solution?
In-plant managers, notoriously subject to budget pressures, are always looking for ways to streamline processes.
When assessing processes, it’s a good idea to start at the beginning. In this case, that means asking how customers do business with your in-plant. It’s likely that day-to-day operations can involve one of these two scenarios:
The in-plant supports a company where work comes in from a stable group of internal employees or systems. Work is regular, expectations are predictable, workflow is not always top-of-mind—until something goes wrong. The in-plant has its regulars, but there are many more potential customers out there.
Another scenario is a university in-plant, where jobs come in from all sorts of departments, faculty, staff, and thousands of students who move on every four years or so. There probably are many jobs, and many front doors (email, FTP, hard copy, etc.) through which work can reach the in-plant. Work often arrives with incomplete production information, and the labor required to produce the work is significant, as are the error rates.
While these scenarios are noticeably different, both leave room for efficiency increases. And when the jobs go to production, operators must make assumptions in translating clients’ intentions into a set of activities: makeready, imposition, color management, and paper/media selection. If operators guess wrong, the client may reject the piece, creating rework and a poor impression.
This is an easy way to lose a client.
After recognizing these shortcomings, an in-plant should set out to improve the incoming job flow. One way to make that improvement is by adopting an automated web-to-print solution, which can make it easier for customers to submit jobs, in addition to automatically moving jobs into the production workflow when accepted.
The dilemma is sorting through the wide range of solutions on the market. It can help to bring in outside consultants to evaluate an in-plant’s specific needs. Whether an in-plant works with a partner or goes it alone, here are five important basics that define a professional web-to-print strategy.
1. User friendly: A web-to-print solution should be simple but powerful enough to handle the variability of customers’ requests. Fewer clicks, templated workflows—a welcoming front door.
2. Open architecture: This article is about just one way an in-plant can change to fit its customers’ needs. That means more changes may still be ahead. Maybe the operation will add wide-format, new finishing, or multi-channel distribution capabilities. If there’s more growth in an in-plant’s future, it’s important to have a system that connects seamlessly and is flexible enough for future growth.
3. Cross-system communication: Speaking of seamless integration, if a web-to-print solution can only communicate with some of the equipment in an environment, its efficiency gains will be limited. Look for a solution that can communicate with other pieces of your management information system, maintaining the efficacy of features such as user authentication, EDM, and billing/chargeback.
4. Hands-free manufacturing: Look for a solution that makes the transition from job receipt to prepress seamless, even when unsupervised. This is about putting time back in operators’ schedules, reducing turn times, and driving efficiencies and accuracy.
5. Rules-based automation: Part of that hands-off web-to-print approach is implementing a system that uses conditional logic to tackle unique tasks in the way an intelligent member of an in-plant’s staff would.
Once jobs are flowing into an in-plant routinely, quickly, and error-free, decision makers can start considering further workflow improvements—or just bask in the simple but effective productivity gains of their new web-to-print solution.