Will the Real Digital Workflow Please Stand Up?
So you've implemented an FTP or e-mail file delivery system, a preflighting system to check your PDF files, some trapping software, an imposition package, and a way to send it to the platesetter or printer. Finally, a real "automated digital workflow," right?
Maybe. But it's not automated production. In printing and publishing, when people say "workflow," they usually think they mean "automated production." In practice, digital workflow, which should leverage the computer for full automation, instead often means computer generated, human powered.
A lot of people think workflow software means automatically creating PDF files, for example, or being able to trap. My suggestion is, they're not seeing the whole picture.
From where I'm sitting, as a vendor of digital workflow software, there's workflow and there's automated production. Sharing and moving digital files around in a semi-disciplined way is certainly better than no process at all.
But not by much. To computerize the workflow in a coherent fashion, so you can identify, quantify, and reap benefits beyond mere efficiencies, is real automated production.
In industries other than printing and publishing, the term "workflow" means analyzing how work is done, and using something called message-oriented middleware (MOM) to route work properly.
MOM provides reports that present metrics on how efficient (or otherwise) a production workflow actually is. It also enforces the workflow, making certain that documents are seen and signed off by the right people, preventing document duplication, managing document versions, and checking files in and out of repositories.
Why isn't that the case in our industry? Imagine a production process where the job data from the customer (a publisher or a brand manager) is automatically imported into a workflow system.
Imagine the prepress production workflow dynamically configuring itself according to the customer's specs. Files are fed into the system. Pages are preflighted, trapped, imposed, color corrected, the correct soft or hard proofs are made, routed, transferred.
Everything is done without human beings ever touching the job. The process is defined, documented, doggedly repeatable, error-free, and absolutely precise. And it's all viewable and reconfigurable over the Web.
Powerful stuff? With truly automated production, that's only the beginning. Using the example of magazine production, imagine the publisher, prepress department, and printer (or printers) all have access to a real-time status view of the job, via a Web browser.
Not just a page. Not just a PDF. Not just a file. Not just a checklist. I mean the entire job. For example, the production team can see that page 42 hasn't been received from the publisher, pages 18 and 37 have been received but not processed, page 22 has been proofed but not approved, and all other pages have been sent to the printer.
Color-coded icons, complete with page thumbnails and downloadable previews, are presented on a flatplan view of the pub. Stir in Web-based conferencing, and the production team (and other invitees, such as advertisers) can discuss the same soft-proofed view of a page. Live. From anywhere on Earth.
And the printer, unconcerned with individual pages, sees the relevant sections to print. Even the impositions are viewable and changeable through the Web browser, using submitted JDF templates.
While the job is being processed, a continual data stream is fed to costing, billing, and MIS systems. Prepress production software is polling and working intimately with the production database, recording how much time each portion of a job requires.
Pages and proofs are automatically tracked by unique bar-code identifiers. Managers can conduct statistical analysis, and rank publishers and publications by costliness or efficiency.
With a truly automated digital production workflow, managers can make informed decisions about the cost basis of each pub or department. Maybe trapping should be billed more than it is, or perhaps preflighting fees are too high. The facts that form the basis of good business decisions will be there, in black and white.
Imagine a system that painlessly applies controlled manufacturing parameters and best practices to publishing and print production, bringing our businesses into process management parity with other 21st century industries.
Publishers want to manage their assets, submit and track jobs, and cost out production to the last penny—but they don't want the massive technical infrastructure, administration overhead, or hardware and software acquisition costs.
Advertisers want to know when a certain magazine section is really going to print, and whether they have time to squeeze another double page spread into this month's issue.
Publishers want to see prepress and print production as "devices" on their network. Printers can—indeed, must—become these devices, and provide virtually all of these capabilities, by offering fully automated production workflow software as an application service.
It's a great vision. Is it the future of the industry? No. But it is a vision for savvy publishers and printers, many of whom are already working together using completely integrated digital workflow systems.
They're enjoying the immense benefits of a fully automated production process today, right now, using systems such as ours (Dalim Software's). Think about that the next time you hear someone boast about their digital workflow, as they manually upload the Nth revision of a PDF to five different people for approval.
-Gee Ranasinha, director of marketing, Dalim Software, GmbH