The Ecosystem Output—Finish and Regroup

*This article is the sixth blog in a seven-part series on the print ecosystem. To read the first article, click here.

As we're nearing the end of our print ecosystem series, you’ve reached the final stage of the print ecosystem relay race. In a track relay, you always place your strongest runner—the “anchor”—in the final leg of the relay. If any runner has fallen behind earlier in the race, the anchor is expected to close that gap.

So, did you win or lose the print output race? Most printers move on to their next job as quickly as possible without analyzing the one they’ve just completed.

Just like runners need a post-race analysis, so do print service providers (PSP) and in-plant printers. It’s a chance to compare your finish time with other print jobs, evaluate every stage, find ways to improve performance and ensure everything goes correctly next time.

Your 5-Step Output Checklist “Post-race”

The best practice for implementing processes that provide accountability and supervision is to use this simple 5-step checklist every time you finish a print job:

1.   Did You Quote Correctly?

Accurately quoting your customers the right price helps maintain your margins, which are slim to start. By consistently evaluating the actual cost of a job against the estimate you gave your customer, you’ll maintain your print business’s profitability. Be sure to analyze whether any gaps are one-off issues or if it’s a more significant problem with your print workflow.

2.   Did You Deliver on Time?

Delivering completed jobs on time is vital to customer satisfaction. There are many processes and variables between finishing and delivery where things can go wrong, derailing your entire timeline.

To review the timeliness of your deliveries, review your shop floor data and identify areas where processes took longer than expected or didn’t achieve the aspired quality expected from your customers’ specifications.

Compare any delays with current timeline averages and determine whether it is a one-time problem or something systemic. More significant problems can be solved by using a Print MIS to find the root cause of the issue.

Quickly find and correct the issue causing delays in your process before several problems build up and create chaos.

3.   Did You Meet Your Benchmarks Goals?

Changing variables can have negative effects on a printing process, especially if you don’t have any flexibility built into already-slim profit margins.

One way to provide flexibility is to streamline operations through automation and merging disparate systems, improving equipment uptime and overall effectiveness. You can do this by utilizing real-time data to track progress and regularly check it against your goals. Pay attention to equipment utilization uptime and your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

The best way to capture these data metrics is by using a comprehensive, best-in-class business management system or data analytics tool with customizable dashboards that are easy to use and which visualize the data clearly.

4.   Did You Analyze and Explain Cost Changes?

Much like the efficiency analysis, you ran in step 2, you’ll need to run a similar analysis on the overall job costs, including inventory, raw materials, and fixed costs. Here you will look at the original cost estimates and compare them to the actual results.

When you see a cost increase, you’ll need to determine whether it was due to materials, labor, equipment, or a poorly executed process.

This means being honest about the cost of inefficiency to your business and considering whether your jobs are running on the right processes. You’ll also be evaluating people and labor costs as much as your materials vendors.

5.   Did You Reconcile Your Accounts?

Because profit margins can be very slim, it is imperative that you are billing correctly, accounting for all additional costs since the estimate. Now is the time to ensure you’ve accounted for variables and billed the customer for all the materials involved and shipping costs accrued.

As soon as you’ve successfully delivered a project, run an analysis and bill your customer for any alterations to the job. Doing this immediately will enable you to optimize your cash flow so that you can reinvest your income back into the business. 

Review your accounts receivable regularly to ensure that all jobs have been billed and paid correctly.

Data is Key

The key to the entire output stage of the print ecosystem is data. Having reliable data is essential to providing an excellent customer experience, which will in turn grow your business. The best print teams regularly analyze their data, tracking every stage of the relay and performing post-race course corrections to do better next time.

The best way to do this is to invest in output management software. In addition to data, it will give you a centralized system to manage your most complex documents and projects.

Ricoh InfoPrint Manager ties together your various print servers and enables you to run new and legacy systems of different brands on the same queue, all the while giving you visibility into the whole network. It provides robust data encryption while integrating with your ERP system.

In short, an output management system will greatly simplify a complex output stage.

A Review of the Print Ecosystem

A print production software ecosystem is like a relay race. There are different steps to the process, and every step is a runner in the relay. At the end of the race, each runner does their part, but it’s the team that wins or loses. If you haven’t seen our other posts on the rest of the ecosystem, here’s a quick breakdown:

  1. Input: While from the outside file submission may appear to be the only element involved, it is also job submission, customer communication, and marketing automation. The input process is the starting point that sets the tone for an entire print job, and that entire process is wrapped up in data analytics.
  2. Manage: This stage means tracking every step of a print job from estimating to output. All the while you’re relying on real-time data to maximize resources seeking to course correct (quickly!) to ensure a smooth production process.
  3. Prepare: Preparation is all about understanding each job’s requirements and the metrics that will lead to successful production and delivery. It entails tasks like pre-process color management, workflow automation, variable data versioning, and personalization.
  4. Produce: In the production stage, a printer focuses on optimizing its job files so that the output matches what the customer wants. It’s also about job tracking and workflow automation, mainly on your shop floor.
  5. Output: The step you’ve just covered! Output is about finishing strong and running comparisons on past projects to ensure continuous growth.

The Print Ecosystem for Print Service Providers and In-Plant

Print service providers (PSP) and in-plant printers have the same goal of satisfying their customers. While they move through the same steps of the print software ecosystem, they don’t necessarily make the same moves within each step. That’s why breaking down the difference between the two is important in your print workflow strategy. This is exactly what we do at Ricoh. Once you’ve worked so hard to perfect your print workflow, the last thing you want to do is come up against an error at the finish line.  

At Ricoh, we offer MIS software solutions for PSP and in-plant printers that effectively streamline each phase of your print ecosystem so that you can finish strong every time.

To learn more about output and the entire print ecosystem for PSPs, download the last installment of our Commercial Printer’s Ecosystem eBook series.

If you’re interested in better understanding the methods specific to an in-plant printer, check out the final eBook in our In-Plant Printer’s Ecosystem eBook series.

To browse each of the seven blogs in The Ecosystem series, click here.

Meet the Author

Linnea is Ricoh’s Director of Global Marketing, Alliances & Operations. She is responsible for growing the worldwide awareness of and demand for the production workflow software and solutions portfolio. Linnea is a brand specialist with more than 25 years of experience, having previously held key leadership positions at Hunter Douglas, Qwest, and PepsiCo. Linnea holds an MBA from Hoffstra University and Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and International Affairs from the University of New Hampshire. Linnea manages global strategic partnerships and marketing operations for Ricoh, giving her a comprehensive view of the business, customers, and markets. An accredited global marketing leader, Linnea is passionate about small businesses, even volunteering her marketing communications, social media, and digital marketing expertise to small businesses and associations. Her goal is always to help other businesses thrive. She authors many Ricoh blog posts to this end.

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