The printing industry's ongoing transformation into a more responsive and digitally empowered space is the biggest story in the sector, the undercurrent that has dictated the space's moves for the past few years. The everyday effects of this transition on print service providers will vary from one business to the next, but the implications are clear: Each of these companies needs to figure out how it will exist in the immediate future and what it has to do to adapt to new conditions.

Printing workflow processes are a major potential area of attention. In tandem with their changing technology layouts, organizations need to deal with the operations they perform every day. When practices remain stale and unchanged over time, there is a risk of companies sticking with unnecessary practices out of force of habit. Organizations unafraid of considering why they do things the way they do could find operational efficiency benefits, at a time when such improvement is critical.

Breaking the process down
With companies likely taking on new technology assets and making use of more digital processes than ever before, the need to revitalize workflows is likely to be a recurring theme in the years ahead. Printing Impressions contributor Pat McGrew recently focused on ways to make these inspections and revisions as fruitful as possible.

She divided relevant technologies into four categories, divided by what role they play in moving a job to completion. These broad categories include content creation and design products, job entry and management systems such as web-to-print software, transactional workflow tools, and digital front end solutions. When print leaders think about the processes and tools they currently have in place in each of these groupings, viewing them separately, the chances to tighten and optimize operations may become clear.

There are modern, relevant considerations when assessing any of the four categories. For instance, McGrew observed that the content creation space is based on a web of technologies whose functionality is intersecting. Instead of replacing outdated systems one-for-one, printers may change their approach to content management. Management information systems and web-to-print interfaces are rapidly progressing, and finding good options could affect how both employees and consumers interact with the company.

McGrew stated that workflow management processes used on the shop floor will have to become more varied to accommodate the new options being deployed at a broader subset of print service providers, such as wide-format printers. Meanwhile, digital front end systems must also be suitable for whatever kinds of jobs the particular printer processes – in many corners of the industry, this scope is expanding, calling for closer focus and oversight.

New assets, documented procedures
Whenever a new piece of technology appears at a print service provider, it comes along with new ways of operating. But will these methods be productive or consistent? As WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt explained, each tool added to a print shop's tech lineup will require unique approaches from its users, and they shouldn't let these practices become slapdash or inconsistent. Instead, leaders should insist each part of the workflow has carefully documented and managed standard operating procedures.

Matt noted many companies in the printing industry don't have written approaches to using their key tech assets. Storing practices over time means it's possible to improve them over time, as employees get more used to performing a particular operation and become more efficient and effective. When there is no documentation, it could be hard to ensure new employees are reaping the benefits of printers' experience.

Creating standard operating procedures applies to every stakeholder in the print space, and it doesn't have to make these companies rigid or incapable of improving. In fact, Matt emphasized tuning procedures is the most important part of maintaining documentation. It's this periodic adjustment that will let printing organizations become better in their particular roles.

The next time a print service provider implements a new piece of hardware, leaders can step back and make sure its proper usage, as part of a complete workflow, is saved and documented. As the asset settles into common usage, adjustments can and should be implemented to the standard practices, creating less chance of human error that might limit companies' improvements.

A time for evolution
Businesses that aren't focused on their own processes and practices may be missing easy chances to improve their operations and get in closer synch with the overall trends affecting the printing industry. Leaders may believe their print shops are performing well enough to survive, but unless they put those claims to the test, they could be missing major efficiency gains hiding in plain sight.