On Your Path to Workflow Automation, Start With the User Interface
When auditing the current workflow in your environment and identifying ways to optimize through automation, you should start with the user interface. If you are going to add a tool to automate as much of the workflow as possible, the user interface — what you see when you are sitting at the computer screen — becomes a critical deciding factor. Does the layout of the screen make sense to you and the team? Does it provide access to the key pieces of information about each job coming through the production process?
How much automation does the tool allow? Automation that requires constant manual intervention is not really automation, but there is a delicate balance. Any automation scheme that allows for too much manipulation by the team on the shop floor eliminates the benefits that automation should bring.
Also consider the changing needs that will surround your workflow. We know from our research, including the most recent North American and European Software Investment surveys, that dealing with a high number of small jobs is the single largest headache in many shops. Looks for tools that make this easy.
Today, workflow automation is more than just managing print production. Many projects require multi-channel delivery. Look for tools using a unified approach to job management with the flexibility to distribute the project across multiple types of delivery — print or digital. Also look for tools that play well with others. Look for solutions that include a rich third-party solution provider program to allow you to customized the end-to-end solution for your environment. We know from experience that no two print shops work the same way, so why should you be forced down a singular path for automation that doesn’t match your needs?
While the there are many offerings in the market, one that deserves review and consideration for its platform and breadth of partners is Ricoh ProcessDirector.
Ricoh ProcessDirector has an approach that begins with data preparation and composition and carries through postal optimization, output management, and mailing. ProcessDirector also has several archiving solutions and the ability to produce a full complement of management reports. It has a vibrant partnering program that allows clients to select the components that work for them. While it is clearly a match for Ricoh print environments, it is friendly enough to support a variety of output options beyond the Ricoh family. This solution also meets the brief for those growing the number of jobs due to expanding web-to-print portals which were identified as a bottleneck in our most recent US Production Software Investment Outlook.
Another attractive feature is the ability to build a comprehensive workflow using drag and drop — no coding needed. Creating this type of conditional logic is easy, including complex decision points on when to move jobs from one device to another. If your shops takes in work from many customers, but you find that many of those jobs have common characteristics, ProcessDirector has the ability to pull like components out of disparate jobs and run them together to maximize throughput.
Because of Ricoh’s long history supporting print and mail, ProcessDirector includes many of the features you need to optimize postal savings and guarantee postal integrity. Pair that with the Avanti Slingshot Connect feature and you have a true end-to-end workflow that tracks jobs from order entry to client delivery.
As with all workflow software, your production managers should do a thorough review to ensure the solution’s automation capabilities will improve throughput and optimize production capacity. If you are working with mission-critical documents that must be tracked, are regulated, and contain personally identifiable information, Ricoh ProcessDirector should be on the list to consider.
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.