Dump That Paperwork
by Tatyana Sinioukov
The graphic arts community has gotten very good at digitizing isolated points of the workflow process. Now it's time to connect the dots.
Should publishers have electronic access to the printers' schedules -- and vice versa? How can they exchange files: FTP, EDI, Web sites or e-mail?
Gone are the days of packing FedEx boxes and relying on just the hard media. That said, it takes communication and determination to ensure successful data-sharing between publishers and suppliers.
"There are a lot of advantages to data-sharing," said Brenda Brown, manager, book engineering/preflight, Malloy Lithographing, Ann Arbor, Mich. "It takes some work and partnering to get to the point where you're doing it smoothly and reliably, but it can happen. The technology is available."
Brown made her comments during the seminar entitled "Dump That Paperwork: Data-Sharing Possibilities" at BookTech West in San Francisco. In all, four experts shared their thoughts on the topic at BookTech during the three sessions devoted to discussing data-sharing between publishers and suppliers: two "Dump That Paperwork: Data-Sharing Possibilities" sessions, and a seminar titled "Think Tank: Dump That Paperwork."
Other speakers included
* Orlando Boleda, vice president, marketing and product development, Hart Graphics, Austin, Texas;
* Kevin Coomes, desktop publishing technical supervisor, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.; and
* Bill Lavelle, director, industry relations, Impresse, Sunnyvale, Calif.
How easily and productively printers share data, Brown observed, depends on what they invest in telephony, hardware and software. (Telephony, she noted, includes coaxial cables, T-1 lines, ISDN lines, direct connections, service providers, etc. She defined hardware as the necessary modems, computers, servers, etc., and software as programs, utilities, browsers, and so on.)
With available technology, said Brown, it's possible to request a reprint quote or send a missing font via e-mail; electronically transmit job specs and images; soft-proof; track the manufacturing process; and verify shipments -- all online.
Questions the parties should be asking, Brown suggested, include: "Do I have big enough pipes to transmit the information? Can I do it quickly enough? And do I have the proper software to manage the files?"
Many companies, Brown continued, provide extensive information about their capabilities, capacity and in some cases, their pricing, through the use of Web pages. "Web sites, more often than not, are a company's entryway to e-commerce."
Malloy Lithographing uses T-1 lines to rapidly transmit files electronically via FTP and e-mail. The company also uses its Web site to provide: guidelines for supplying specifications and material for manufacturing; answers to FAQ's; online status reports of work-in-process; an electronic version of its quarterly newsletter; and links to other publishing-industry Web sites.
"Internally, we rely on the electronic exchange of information," Brown said. "We've developed a system that uses one database allowing us to look at it all,' or to subset information into individual titles, accounts, products, equipment, etc.
"We've taken great strides toward a paperless environment, and continue to move in that direction," she summarized. "One of the major advantages of online information in the manufacturing setting is the ability to make changes and see how those changes will affect cost and schedules. As printers, we'd like to be able to access publishers' status reports, to be able to see changes immediately to keep schedules reliable."
Publisher's case study
Microsoft Press, a publishing division of the software giant, works with Malloy and other printers, continually improving electronic data-sharing. In the past, Microsoft put DTP files on CDs and overnighted them to vendors, said Kevin Coomes, who supervises preflighting and provides technical support to vendors and in-house compositors. Although the company still sends hard copy to printers, it no longer burns CDs. Now files are delivered electronically using FTP, e-mail and a secure Web site called Mercury Vault. Microsoft Press, Coomes reported, also puts purchase orders in a PDF format and sends them directly to the customer service representatives.
FTP is good for sending small files such as correction pages and reprints, Coomes said. "The time factor is a huge benefit for us, as well as for the printer," he declared, noting that FTP transmissions take only about an hour.
Mercury Vault, Coomes said, is used for larger files, providing information to printers anywhere in the country. This secure Web site allows the company to assemble a book's content in folders, and keep them organized (folders within folders), as well as keep profiles on the printers with which Microsoft Press works. Printers are given access based on those profiles. "We can post all of our files, but whoever accesses them only has privileges to certain files," Coomes said.
Why dump the paperwork?
To save time, panelists agreed. "The industry needs to retool the front office," said Bill Lavelle of Impresse. "We've made a lot of changes in production; we digitized our page makeup, we digitized how we do prepress, but the essential front office model hasn't changed much. And the paperwork is evidence of that."
According to Lavelle, when the publishing industry moved from analog to digital, the interface was lacking. "We ended up filling in the gaps with paperwork. When we tried to connect the pieces together, we found we couldn't. We didn't have standardization. There was no integration."
To improve efficiency by eliminating unnecessary paperwork, Lavelle suggested eliminating redundancies in the supply chain, and digitizing both business and production workflows. "Look at your business workflow, and eliminate anything that you or your partners -- designers, purchasers, managers, printers, binders, distributors -- do more than twice," he advised. "Understand the relationship between the business and production workflows. In the industry, we tend to treat them as parallel activities, when, in reality, they should be co-mingled. And that's essentially what the new e-commerce model tries to do."
Enter the e-words. Two new concepts in the industry, Lavelle said, are e-production and e-commerce.
Enterprise production involves automation of the workflow processes. "Think about e-production as the mortar that puts all your bricks together so you can build your building. And with e-commerce, think about how your building fits in the community," Lavelle said.
Make your bricks strong, he suggested. "Many e-commerce solutions allow buyers to build complex management teams. As long as you have a browser and an Internet connection, you can build teams for projects, and track activity and schedules."
Finally, it's important to communicate with partners in terms of what's available, what needs to be changed, and what files and formats are needed to be supplied, said Brown. Equipped with this information, she suggested, publishers can negotiate better print schedules, thus avoiding delays and surprises.