The printing industry's current role involves providing much-needed services for marketing departments and other impactful client functions. Suiting niche concerns and responding to need are the defining characteristics of modern print service providers. This is a change from the pre-digital era when quantities of print products were high and the scale of orders was colossal. The new state of affairs isn't bad, necessarily. In fact, it's a dynamic and exciting market to work within. However, this role for print does call for efficiency.

The same digital technology wave that has transformed every industry imaginable may have a positive impact on the internal operations of printers that take chances on new and improved workflows. Operating in a more connected and reactive business world can be a massive boon to print shops – but they will have to shake off the potential inefficiencies of old habits. Companies founded in previous eras may find their own processes are slowing them down.

Remove unnecessary steps
The workflows involved with creating any given print project can easily pick up inefficient and unneeded elements. According to WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt, getting rid of these intermediary steps is one of the essential ways to make a print service provider more efficient and cost-effective. Matt noted that the process of turning a contract into a finished product can be a long and unnecessarily complicated one: Printers create many "artifacts" on their way to making the finished deliverable, and many of these may be extraneous.

Force of habit could be the culprit keeping extra steps in the print production line. Matt recommended taking a close look at production practices such as delivering quotes to prospective customers. She pointed out that outside of the printing business, it's become very easy to send cash or communicate simple information. By clinging to their old-fashioned workflows, printers may be creating more busy-work for themselves and their clients.

The worst workflows could be ones that switch back and forth between digital and physical steps several times before any actual finished materials are printed. Matt pointed out that one quoting workflow she reviewed involved creating PDFs of estimates, printing them, scanning them again and sending the new image file to the customer for approval. Breaking internal habits could streamline the behind-the-scenes work of preparing a print project, which can lead to happier customers.

Matt stated that her idea of reducing "artifacts" is a counterpart to the removal of manual steps from print workflows. Every time a person has to "touch" a process to move it forward, that takes up hours of time that could be spent on other tasks. Treating workforce attention as a precious resource can streamline the path to finished goods.

Automation for all
Adding more automation is a classic method of invigorating a workflow. Printing Impressions noted that the complete automation of the digital printing workflow, starting with web-to-print portals, has become a hot addition to businesses of many different kinds, from commercial print shops to wide-format shops. This is significant, because in the wide-format world, it's common for companies to regard their jobs as non-repeating and thus not compatible with automation.

Printing Impressions countered that automated features are, in fact, valuable to wide-format printers, with software and hardware combining to fully sketch out workflows from the beginning of a job. Even if this end-to-end automation isn't applicable, making individual parts of a wide-format printing workflow require less human input is a valuable investment area.

The source added that despite the fact that the current movement of automation is from standard printing to wide-format shops, not every commercial printer has made the switch yet. Shops that have too many hands-on processes in their workflows may be suffering from a lack of efficiency. Printing Impressions explained that recent trade shows such as Print 17 and the SAIGA expo have shown the kinds of hardware and software that make new workflows possible.

Don't turn away from the future
Ingrained processes and a fear of the digital elements that eroded the need for huge-volume print jobs may be keeping some service providers away from internal improvements that could save them time or money. Inspecting a work style that hasn't changed for years could reveal many inefficiencies that have slipped in one by one without managers noticing.

True improvement within a print service provider could be based around acknowledging that operational sprawl has gotten out of hand and teaching employees to take a more focused approach. This could mean breaking years' worth of bad habits, but the results may prove worthwhile. Workers who cut redundant steps out of their workflows can spend more time on what matters.