Firms Gain Ground in Speed-to-Market Race

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With nearly every industry imaginable upgrading their technology, companies with considerable printing needs don't want to be left in the dust. Fortunately, the printing industry has seen the need for increased time efficiency and production quality and has embraced the technology to achieve it. It's called digital workflow, and it can revolutionize the way your printing needs are met.


So, you've heard all the hype about this new, fast, easy solution, but do you really know the mechanics of digital workflow?


Digital workflow takes the entire process -- prepess, production, printing and distribution -- and puts all the pieces together to shorten cycle times, reduce costs and increase productivity.


In dealing with the information content, Digital workflow enables you to use quicker methods of transferring information. For instance, high-speed telecommunications offer you the ability to zap digital files from one location to another at roughly the speed of light. The use of modem transmissions, such as e-mail and attached files, also can be used to get your files from one place to another, although speed and capacity limitations mean they are best suited for small, simple files or last-minute corrections.


Digital photography also is an important component, adding what, until recent years, was the missing link in the digital production chain. Digital photography allows you to capture and place images directly into your digital pages. As a result, there are no scans, separation or waiting.


Next, in what may seem to be the most laborious, time-wasting tasks, digital workflow provides a solution. For example, designers can spend as much as 30 percent of their time looking for the digital assets they need. Digital asset management systems offer you a way to organize, capture, archive, retrieve and reuse digitized information, including text, graphics, photos, full pages and complete projects. Digital asset management systems cause productivity to skyrocket and cycle times to shrink.


Enterprise-wide digital content management systems make it possible for you to manage workflow and product marketing information and then create a single, integrated and automated system for managing your business data, media assets, marketing information and both online and print production. The result is shorter cycle time, easier repurposing and versioning and improved productivity.


Regarding production, digital and remote proofing can prove to be among the most time-saving tools in the business.


Digital proofing gives you the ability to see your project on paper with no time lost waiting for film and traditional proofs to be made. Eliminating the film-making step creates significant time savings -- and opens the door for computer-to-plate printing. Remote proofing generates the digital data for a color proof directly from your e-file, then sends that data to your office for digital proofing. High-quality proofing devices are pricey, but for many designers and production pros, the huge time savings are worth the cost.


With the next step in the process being printing, digital workflow becomes once again an important factor in the speed-to-market race. Though speed is important, digital workflow also takes into consideration the importance of speaking to your target audience. Demographic binding and variable imaging are driven by digital database technologies. They make personalization, customization and versioning possible, which are the keys to successful one-to-one marketing. Digital printing gives you a cost-effective way to print short-run, full-color pieces. And each individual piece can be personalized with relevant information for individual customers. Digital printing is fast and is perfect for highly targeted direct mail, personalized catalogs and customer-specific collateral. Computer-to-plate technology lets you eliminate the film-making step from the production process, essentially sending your project directly from your desktop to the platesetter and on to the press.


Finally, it's important to always keep your distribution and fulfillment needs in mind when choosing tools that will increase your product's speed-to-market. Internet literature fulfillment ranges from simple e-mail to digital printing systems that can let you generate high-quality, custom-tailored sales materials at remote locations via the Internet. These hi-tech systems work by customers going online, filling out an on-screen form, and in minutes a beautiful full-color document pops out of the laser printer. End-to-end e-commerce systems allow you to create an online catalog and handle online transactions efficiently and effectively. By bundling online ordering, credit card processing, inventory management, outgoing communication capabilities and other business tasks, these programs have become one of the keys to profit building in our digital future.


With technology constantly advancing, it's important to understand how your product can benefit and ensure you are one step ahead of the competition. In choosing to use improved technology to advance your product you should not only gather information on the benefits, but make it a point to understand the process that gets you there.


<I>Joyce Vogt is prepress workflow analyst for Banta Digital Group, Chanhassen, MN, a division of Banta Corp.<I>
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