Workflows and automation are more and more frequently changing how work is done. Automating processes including checklists, prep, security and quality testing, and even electronic processes has changed how industries like inventory management, invoicing, and even shipping work.
Now, managed print services are increasingly making the same automation available for print companies, especially for graphic design, where long workflows are time-consuming and greatly benefit from automation.
While the exact nature of any sort of workflow automation will vary considerably depending on your industry, there are several steps you can take to begin integrating.
When you partner with an MPS provider offering automation as a service, they will handle most or all of this work for you and will likely provide you with a process to follow. However, being aware of requirements and the process upfront will help you get started and may help with decision-making.
Reviewing and Analyzing Print Processes
Most organizations run numerous print processes, even if you aren’t aware something is a process.
For example, even sending a file to a print server and into a queue is a print process, which can be automated to reduce the number of times a user has to click to print a file.
Other, significantly longer processes such as preparing graphics for print, setting print quality requirements, printing data as part of another business process such as pick and pack or invoicing, and so on are also candidates for automation.
- Create a list of all print-related processes
- Create a list of all desired print-related processes
- Catalogue steps, time-to-complete, and the actual process for each
Once you have a good idea of which processes your organization uses and which you’d like to implement, you have a good idea of your environment.
While there are hundreds of print processes you might want to automate, the most common is content management. This workflow looks something like this:
Document Capture -> OCR Data Extraction -> Business Logic -> Exception Handling -> Routing -> Review -> Storage/Disposal/Access Point
This workflow could be made more complex by allowing data to be routed back from the final stage back to business logic. As a manual process, it’s time-consuming and tedious, but machine automation handles it nearly instantly.
Selecting Candidates for Automation
Selecting candidates for automation means taking a multi-pronged approach involving data analysis and review.
Capture quantitative data regarding document workflow, why documents are printed, shared, moved, and stores, and what their impact is across your organization. This data may already be available or may take several weeks to months for your organization or your MPS provider to collect.
Once you have this data, you can use it to prioritize print processes for automation based on time-expenditure, value, potential return on investment, and total business impact.
If simply automating the process of how files are stored and backed up when moved to the printer queue is likely to reduce risk and save man hours for every person using print across the organization, it would likely be a high priority.
However, print-related tasks like prepping graphic design runs for print could result in graphic design saving hours of work per team member every single week, which could literally save you thousands every single week.
If you know how much time and money you spend on a process every week, month, or year, you know how much automation is likely to save.
However, it’s not enough to understand which processes offer the most value in terms of time and cost savings. You also have to identify which processes are good enough for automation.
If you automate a flawed process, it will simply repeat again and again and again without the benefit of human intervention so solve any problems that crop up.
Review processes for quality, ensure every step is necessary and valuable, and ensure there are no issues at any point before you move towards automation. It’s also valuable to invest in optimizing a process before automating it.
This is especially true in cases where you might normally skip steps because they take too long to handle manually, because machine automation will quite simply handle them automatically.
Automating a print process works just like automating any other business process. You integrate automation, train individuals to use the automated process rather than the old manual process, and execute in a way that disrupts existing processes as little as possible.
- Train affected employees and introduce them to the automation/workflow
- Run a manually reviewed test of the automation, supplemented by work-as-usual
- Phase out work as usual when everyone understands the workflow and its role
- Monitor for quality
Once you’ve implemented a workflow, ongoing monitoring and optimization is crucial. This typically means implementing content management and monitoring dashboards, so that individuals who know how the process works and why can monitor its quality and output. This data can then be used to optimize performance and the process over time to generate better results.
Print workflows offer value to nearly any print service because it allows you to automate basic document flow including storage, backup, preparation, and print-quality settings.
This can allow you to force every user to print to the same quality standards to reduce toner and paper usage, can allow you to cut hours from large-scale print projects by auto-prepping documents for print based on set standards, or can ensure documents and files are automatically backed up, converted to a correct file format, or moved to the right place.
At the same time, not every process should be automated. Some still benefit from manual review and overview.
Your managed print services provider will review your business needs, opportunities and potential for automation and workflows, and where processes can add more value if automated. They can then provide the automation as well as the tools to monitor ongoing quality and to optimize the workflow and the process to ensure results get better over time.