by Piet De Pauw, Head of Marketing, Enfocus
Automation and integration are not synonymous, however, they are often discussed simultaneously. Print service providers exist in a constant barrage of marketing and sales initiatives enticing them into one brand of automation tool or another. The industry knows that it needs to automate. Printers individually know that efficiency equates to larger margins. The decision to be made is not whether to automate, but how to best implement automation in one’s shop.
The level of automation varies depending on the depth of a printer’s wallet. Just the cost of the software itself, before any implementation or training begins, can break off purchasing decisions. Print businesses shouldn’t allow themselves to be strong-armed into hundreds of thousands of dollars just to open the door to an automated workflow. They should invest in a solution that will first achieve their most attainable goals, then later allow for the expansion of automated processes as well as business growth.
If an all-in-one single vendor workflow works for every product a printer handles, then that’s the path they should take. If there are existing systems that need connected and wrangled into one workflow, then a print service provider should build onto past investments. In either case, the workflow automation platform that a print shop chooses must be dynamic. It has to accomplish today’s goals and evolve to take on eventualities.
After automation software is decided upon, installation and integration take place. But where do printers begin? Automate the easy stuff? Alleviate the biggest pain points? This may be the worst answer to hear, but it depends on several factors, which are best discussed with the workflow solution provider. Everyone wants quick results. They want to see a return on their investment right away. Bean counters and managers want immediate validation of the time and money spent on their solution of choice. This is where planning is of great importance. It’s imperative that specific goals are established and that those goals are sequentially, realistically achieved.
There are two basic paths to explore when heading into integration. It’s completely up to each business to decide which is best for them. An honest evaluation of staff skill sets, personnel willingness to adopt, long-term business goals, and financial ability to invest is best judged by internal leadership. From an understanding of ability, challenges, and goals the decision can be made to internally elect an in-house integration administrator, or to solicit the services of an external agency.
Assign an in-house integrator
There are advantages to an in-house integrator, including familiarity with existing workflow. Inherent in that familiarity are customer idiosyncrasies, equipment peculiarities, and recurring job exceptions. Having an automation integrator on staff is valuable in that quick changes, error handling and new workflow additions are immediately available. There is someone to physically close by to investigate and react to the unforeseeable. The workflow administrator learns from and improves a print shop’s automation integration on a daily basis and becomes intimately familiar with its behavior.
Contract an agency
An integration agency also has advantages to consider. They give print service providers an external perspective, have experience in implementation in a wide spectrum of technologies, and don’t require any internal resource expense. The business doesn’t have to commit man-hours to workflow development. An outside automation expert can recommend proven solutions and can educate internal staff in any daily maintenance requirements or first-line troubleshooting. Contracting an integration specialist allows business owners to identify very specific statements of work and it removes the learning curve that tends to make implementation ramp up feel slow.
A little of both
Of course, there is always a hybrid approach. For the initial installation, implementation, and integration, contract an outside agency that will be transparent enough for an existing employee to get educated. Then, the on-staff automation administrator can act as the liaison for continued growth and maintenance while leaning on the agency for larger or more complex changes.