Workflow Trends I Saw in 2015

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by Greg Cholmondeley, Workflow Practice Director, PODi and Caslon & Company

As I look back over research and interviews I did this past year, I see some areas of workflow automation changing and others struggling to catch on. Here’s what I saw regarding MIS solutions, the cloud, workflow automation, and other solutions:

MIS Solutions

I ran a quick survey to learn about how companies are using VDP languages, workflow solutions and MIS solutions. I found the MIS space to be particularly interesting. Most companies responded that their MIS solutions were either “Homegrown” or “None.” This indicates to me a lack of appreciation of the value of these solutions combined with a reticence towards changing legacy, often homegrown, business management systems and processes. I also ran a study of how MIS and other production systems are really integrated in shops, expecting to find JDF/JMF to be the dominant answer. Instead, I heard custom APIs and web services, XML files, and even text and Excel files referenced most of the time. I know that MIS vendors like Avanti and EFI have spent a tremendous amount of resources implementing JDF/JMF which makes me find these survey results very disturbing.

The Cloud

Now, use of the cloud has really taken off in the printing industry. This year’s study showed that nearly 90 percent of commercial printing operations are open to using Cloud-based solutions. It also showed that they are increasingly using it for back-office types of applications as well as for ones which historically require internet access. They’re now using Cloud solutions for design, data, document management, and workflow automation. Vendors like Xerox, EFI, MindFire and others are offering more and more SaaS products while even vendors who aren’t quite up to implementing a SaaS business model are rearchitecting their products to use private cloud servers.

The one disappointing finding regarding the cloud is that only about 40 percent of the in-plants I surveyed permitted use of cloud-based solutions. I understand that this is probably due to corporate policies beyond their control, but this will increasingly place them at a disadvantage to their commercial counterparts.

Workflow Automation

I see more and more workflow automation solutions in the market and the best news is that they aren’t just clones of one another. Each vendor seems to take a slightly different approach which provides the market with an array of options designed to satisfy differing needs. That being said, small to mid-size printers seem to still be struggling to justify the ROI of acquiring and implementing workflow automation solutions. That may change in 2016. Xerox FreeFlow Core seems to have taken off with their customer base this year. Canon launched a new product called PRISMAdirect which challenges traditional categorizations of workflow, MIS and web submission solutions. RSA continues to evolve and improve its WebCRD solution aimed at in-plants. And EFI now has an automation solution called JobFlow with pricing and basic functionality geared towards smaller shops. Please note, while I called out these specific solutions, every vendor in this space has been working hard to polish their offerings to continue to raise the bar for the industry.

Other Applications

To be honest, however, most of the customer excitement in this space seems to be on solutions which target growing business rather than making operations more efficient. Digital publishing, campaign management, personalized marketing, and personalized customer web stores and portals seem to be garnering much of the attention. This is all good. I love seeing excitement and hope in the printing industry and there is certainly a sense of opportunity in the air for 2016.

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