Keep Pace in Age of Instant Communication

A single keystroke; today, that's all it takes to transfer information around the globe. Instant communication has interconnected the world in ways previously unimagined. Predicting the future becomes more difficult as the world becomes more integrated and forces of change affecting your organization more global, rapid and unpredictable.

To remain competitive, it's crucial that companies be agile, able to quickly address newly introduced information. Streamlined, nimble processes will become indispensable to success. Many companies use pre-mails and prior mailings to plan their catalogs. These identify valuable opportunities to maximize space allocations for best-sellers and address slower-selling items through price and promotional offers. We've found that this planning cycle has become much smaller. A streamlined process creates an opportunity to quickly repaginate, change offers and even merchandise. Such a rapid response to the market can have a highly positive impact on profits.

A synchronized digital work flow is a streamlined process that keeps your business poised to positively react to unexpected change. There are three steps to implementing the synchronized work flow: integrate, simplify and digitize.

Integrate your value-added components. Integrating your page creation (including page design, desktop and copy) and separations processes has many benefits. The exchanges of information between these two value-added components are numerous and involve large amounts of physical materials, namely swatches, boards, layouts, etc.

Close interaction between these processes creates a clear pipeline for communication, thereby reducing the possibility of delays and mistakes. Last-minute changes in merchandise can be more effectively handled, especially in a compressed schedule, by having the creative, photography and imaging capabilities closely linked. Changes can be photographed, scanned, corrected and re-sent to the printer in a matter of hours.

This integration also leads to a focus of responsibility, which protects your processes. Processes function more effectively when there's a clear assignment of responsibility either to an individual or an integrated team that can work on continuous improvement. In situations where the production resources are disbursed the responsibilities become unclear and resolution is slowed. In the worst case, resources can become territorial and the process for improvement becomes gridlocked.

An additional benefit is consistency of design. When page creation and imaging are closely linked, designers can ensure that the quality of the separations is in keeping with the creative imperative.

Simplify the process for your employees. Start by reducing hand-offs. In the catalog process, there are steps that directly add value to the final result, like taking a photograph, and steps that don't but are necessary to keep the process moving. These nonvalue-added steps, such as checking in merchandise, must be reduced to a minimum as they slow the entire process and are a source of errors.

As you examine your process for these nonvalue-added steps, you will find that they often occur at hand-off points between organizations, especially where each organization has coordinators to handle the interaction. We have found that by keeping these processes inhouse, team members are in direct contact with each other, allowing for a more rapid cycle time and a reduction in errors.

Create easy-to-access information. Centralized, up-to-date information decreases the number of decisions people have to make as well as their communication points, both of which complicate the process and increase errors. In a system where the key operating components are online with each other, changes in instructions can be done almost instantly as you can check the real-time status of various steps in the process.

Digitize: move information, not materials. The costs and speed of moving digital information are much more favorable than moving materials and people. With transmission services, such as WAM!NET, the price for sending digital information has decreased, a trend that will accelerate as communication prices fall. This digitization opens the door to minimizing the movement of physical assets and people. For example, if imaging is located on the same premises as page creation, you can limit the number of times that film, files, bluelines, iris prints, etc., need to relocate, which makes the process faster and less expensive. The remaining hand-offs of information are between separations and the printer, which are digital, subject to standardization and relatively free from change.

Restructuring your process into a synchronized digital work flow will simplify your process and integrate value-added components (namely imaging and page creation) around a centralized information database resulting in fewer hand-offs, increased speed, better accuracy and an active forum for driving process improvements. Your business will be well poised to handle the chaotic nature of change and set you on a path to the day when all it takes to update your catalog is a single keystroke.

John Mathewson is president/CEO of AGA Catalog Marketing & Design, an international full-service creative design and marketing agency with offices in New York and London.

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