The Future of the Supply Chain Is (Almost) Here
“The potential of RFID is total transparency in real time,” Lichtenberg says. “You can imagine how different the book industry would look if you could know where every book is at all times, in real time. It’s a transformative technology, like the Internet was a transformative technology.”
Building in Efficiency
On the production side, the goal of transparency up and down the supply chain has largely been realized through automated workflow systems, such as Transcontinental’s Digital Workshop, Integrated Book Technology’s (IBT) proprietary systems for clients and Publishing Technology’s (formerly VISTA) author2reader suite. These systems work to automate and facilitate the movement of files through editorial development, prepress and production.
“We build workflows behind the scenes, customized to [clients’] work habits,” says Steve Pratt, director of technology at IBT. Internal workflow is facilitated by notifications and updates that alert key people along the chain that a particular point in the process has been reached.
“It’s more pushing than pulling,” Pratt says of the system’s effect on workflow. “How many times along that process does a job have to wait for someone to look at it? Obviously, time is critical. If there is a part of the process that is waiting for someone to look at it, you don’t get the file out there. It’s about getting information to the people who need it to make decisions.”
Systems can, for example, be customized to allow preflight reports to go out at a certain point in the process, which cuts down on the time needed for someone to physically go to an FTP site and pull a file. Automated reporting also can be extended up and down the chain, from raw-materials tracking to automated stock-management and ordering systems, as is the case with the author2reader suite.
“Like many other publishers, we are looking to automate tasks that don’t have a value added by someone doing that task manually,” says Michael Weinstein, vice president of global content and media production at educational publisher Cengage Learning. “This doesn’t reduce quality, but allows that person to add their value where it’s really needed. This is a big change for many long-time publishing people.”