It's the end of the year, and that means a break with the past. In some cases, this split involves a few well-earned days off, while in others it's conceptual only, with the calendar immediately flipped over to January. Whatever the exact circumstances, print service providers can use the New Year's period to reflect back on the year that has gone before and prepare for the next one. This may mean adjusting the company's processes and priorities to cope with today's unique printing industry.

Dealing with the widespread changes in both available technology and client preferences are two main tactics shop owners can employ. Stakeholders in the printing business today have to find a way to effectively integrate digital components into their own operations while offering products and services that retain their appeal in a climate that accommodates more digital media than ever.

Taking an audit
Printing Impressions contributor Pat McGrew pointed out an interesting angle to take when assessing a print service provider' current level of effectiveness and prospects for improvement. Namely, she stated that a mistake of perception may be tying shops to practices that aren't optimized. When business owners assume that they are using proprietary best practices, ones that make their shop unique and can't be changed, they may actually be holding onto concepts slowing the business down.

McGrew added that in inspection of print service providers' practices, it's not uncommon to find that those shops are laying claim to "proprietary" workflows actually have a lot in common with their competitors. Acknowledging that there is room for improvement, and that printers aren't in danger of losing their unique identities when they make changes, can start an exciting process of reevaluation.

What are the actual elements of the workflow that can and should be worked on during an end-of-year reassessment? McGrew pointed to the processes that departments use to move work from the initial order to delivery. She noted that within different types of jobs and clientele, there are often chances for businesses to standardize and tune their processes. Ideas that leaders think of as unique and better than competitors' may be neither, and taking a dispassionate approach to the wrinkles of the workflow can help companies rebuild their approaches.

The possibility of improvement is present in workflows of both major types – conventional and digital. When companies have implemented software solutions for key processes such as ordering or finishing, they don't lose the need to optimize or tune their operations. Indeed, becoming a savvier tech user is one of the main ways to update a print shop's operations.

Workflow comes first
There is a particular moment when updating workflow processes is absolutely essential: When organizations want to buy new technology for their production lines. WhatTheyThink contributors Chris Bondy and Cary Sherburne explained that failing to take workflow updates into account when buying a can't-miss new tool such as a production inkjet system could bring serious problems, with that solution failing to have the anticipated impact. Rather than suffering through the disappointment of that failed implementation, leaders should focus on creating a workflow that will support the new hardware.

Bondy and Sherburne suggested that when new printing assets come first, it's impossible to use those items to their full potential. If there's no way to forward sufficient jobs to a new printer, for example, it doesn't matter if that printer can technically work at a faster rate than the current system. This doesn't mean that leaders should overlook new printing tech releases, but rather that they should lay operational groundwork.

Of course, printers and finishing machinery aren't the only popular kinds of tech upgrades available today. The authors noted that many organizations opt for new web-to-print portals that will let customers send their own orders through. This is a great way to attract new business, but if the workflow can't scale up to handle many new print jobs at once, the whole new system may stall out. That slowdown would generate wait times long and customers unhappy. Anticipating the extra work that will come with hardware and software upgrades is an intelligent way to think about workflow improvements.

Nothing is set in stone
Starting fresh in the new year could be especially effective for organizations that acknowledge there are no rules regarding their existing production workflows. Anything and everything can change in the name of making everyday operations work better, and taking such a fearless approach to process improvement could deliver impressive long-term results for print shops. When wondering what to update at such times, it pays to think about whether planned tech upgrades will be able to achieve their full potential within the system.