Talking about PODi’s new workflow initiative at AppForum this year brought out all kinds of fascinating discussions about workflows. One such conversation was with Aaron Tavakoli from Kodak about their philosophy of how production workflows have evolved and where they’re headed next. Nice background since their 4th generation workflow product, which uses a complete data model to describe jobs, is gearing up for Beta testing now and expected to launch in August. This promised to be a great discussion given there are over 10,000 Prinergy customers and 2,500 Insite customers worldwide in shops ranging from one million to seven billion dollars in annual revenue.
Their first generation workflow solution used “hot folders” – which is an easy way to automate specific production workflows. Basically, hot folders work by placing a file into a directory watched by a software process. The software performs a specific task when it sees a new file and places the processed file into another folder. This is a simple and elegant way to automate fixed workflows that is still effectively used today to streamline common multi-step operations. For example, drop a letter-size, color document into a series of hot folders to preflight, color correct, impose, rip and print it. This is a simple and cost effective approach to handling those everyday jobs that take a lot of time– but it has limitations because each folder needs to be programed for one, and only one, specific task. This limits the variety of work these systems can handle.
Kodak’s second generation workflows still used hot folders, but added JDF files. This allowed processes to read information about jobs and what needed to happen next. This reduced the number of folders and allowed processes to augment the JDF files with specifics about what was done for later processing by MIS systems. The problem is that this worked so well that companies began to automate more and more of their jobs – which still required unique hot folders for each variation (e.g. one for 2-up imposition, another for 4-up and so forth). Some complex workflow systems started to require managing hundreds of hot folders.
Generation three, which is where Prinergy is today, involves a revolutionary change away from hot folders to address this growing complexity. This generation uses conditional logic and communicates directly with systems via XML to specify what needs to be done. Couple that with JDF and now the workflow system can send jobs directly to imposition systems, digital presses, approval routing systems, color management processes and so forth with instructions of what to do. It can read what was done and determine what to do next all while communicating with an MIS system. In other words, the software is now able to make decisions, route and provide instructions much like production managers do with hardcopy job folders and tickets. A system like this means that job processing workflows can be programmed instead of having to manually set up, manage and revise a myriad of specific job workflows. It means that virtually every job can now be automated and integrated into MIS systems.
So what could be better? What has made Kodak so excited that Aaron calls this “the year of Prinergy 6?” Kodak’s answer is integration with the business environment. Basically, Prinergy 6 lets companies describe their shops (presses, prepress operations, etc.) with Rules Based Automation (RBA) so that the system can make decisions about how to route jobs. What they do is have their production automation system employ a complete data model to describe a job – much like the way MIS systems do with numerous hierarchical parts – down to its individual components. This means that all of a shop’s jobs can get into this workflow system, even ones with multiple components (e.g. covers, book blocks, multiple documents, etc.). It means a much tighter integration with MIS systems. It means that when jobs are redirected from one press to another, the workflows are automatically reworked (e.g. color matching, imposition, etc.). This enables printers to automate archiving and cleanup, approval reviews, content life cycles.
Will this new generation be as revolutionary as Kodak hopes? We’ll have to see how it does in its Beta test, but the concept makes sense for those who need it. Each generation’s value increases but along with its sophistication involving more integrated ties into MIS systems. Fortunately, Kodak embraces industry standards to facilitate integrating with a variety of products. Still, more sophistication tends to involve more complexity and risk at setup and integration time. The benefits for large operations with multiple digital and offset presses seem pretty clear; as do the benefits for shops with business models demanding super-efficient workflows. Smaller shops will need to understand the cost/benefit ratio and how this fourth generation model connects with their existing systems to determine the value.
While not specifically about their Prinergy workflow, one of the more entertaining 2012 case studies is about a highly-personalized UK clothing retailer application that leveraged Kodak Prinergy. PODi members might want to download the Project Love case study for some really clever direct marketing ideas.