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Getting Hard-Nosed About Workflow Automation

(August 2007) posted on Mon Aug 06, 2007

Identify where your workflow could be efficiently streamlined.

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By Stephen Beals

Automation in the graphic arts is a little bit like advertising. There is an axiom that "advertising doesn’t cost, it pays.' But it's also true that before advertising begins paying off, it certainly does cost. The same is true for automation. And, just as with advertising, the real question about investing in automation is how to get the most return on your investment.

Many of you are running small businesses that simply cannot afford to make a huge investment in automation tools, no matter how wonderful the ROI appears to be on paper. Similarly, we might all prefer to drive a Lexus, but some of us just can’t afford one. And a Ford Focus can get us from point A to point B just as effectively (and perhaps more efficiently), even if the ride is not as luxurious.

The good news, however, is that even though there are plenty of Lexus equivalents in the automation world, there are also some low-entry point products that can get you started in the right direction. And the truth is, the car you have been driving for years may not be the old clunker you think it is. Maybe it just needs a good old-fashioned tune up.

Create a workflow test

Before you even consider what products you might wish to invest in, the first step is to make a serious evaluation of your needs and assets. The most expensive and sophisticated tools available will do nothing if you are not focused and clear as to precisely what you are setting out to do. It's not enough to have a generalized feeling that if you could just automate your processes, life would be better and profits higher.

Begin by identifying the processes where automation could truly help. Carefully check each and every step of your current process: order entry, prepress, proofing, client notification and interaction, binding, and shipping. Are there motions or areas that are redundant? Where are the bottlenecks? Most print providers find that when they look at how the process works on the shop floor, it is often very different from the way it is supposed to work on paper.