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To help you prepare for a workflow integration project, one of our Consultants and integration experts, Dan McLaughlin, has put together a list of potential pitfalls you could experience, along with some advice on how to avoid them and make your project a success.
Internal team members can slow down a project if they don’t buy in or are worried about how it will affect them. So it’s important to communicate to your team what’s happening and what you’re trying to achieve before the project gets started. If they know the end goal, then they’re likely to support the process.
To complete certain tasks in your workflow you need to have co-operation from your customers. Artwork needs to meet defined standards, with names that clearly indicate what the artwork is for. If you’re worried that this may put customers off using you, then you need to clearly explain the benefits that they will enjoy from working this way – faster response and turnaround times being the key ones here, and you could also mention keener pricing if you’re planning on passing the efficiencies onto your customers.
It’s important to accept that there will be a cost to an integration project and you must consider the long-term ROI when deciding whether or not to go ahead.
Whether you’re using your MIS partner, a third party IT company, or employing in-house technical resource, you should always compare their costs against the potential savings you could achieve. Ask your MIS partner to help you arrive at an estimation for these savings.
Most printers tell us they’re a “typical printing company” with a “typical set-up”, but this is rarely the case. There are so many different combinations of equipment, products and processes, that practically every workflow we work on is unique. Obviously this means that integration projects are often unique too. When we tell customers this, they are sometimes worried, focusing on the unknown and thinking that things will go wrong. But this really shouldn’t be a cause for concern. It should be seen as an opportunity to use your integration in a way that no-one has before and really make your workflow specific to you.
Our CEO, Keith McMurtie, wrote this recent article describing how printers need to have three key roles to make integration projects really successful – a visionary, a developer and an executor. Having a vision for your integration project is critically important, otherwise you don’t know what to aim for and you’ll just end up with some basic automation that just saves a bit of time here and there. If there’s no vision, there’s not much point.
An integrated workflow is made up of a number of different software applications, and software applications get updated. This can affect how an integration connection functions, and can even break it. A recent example of this is our connection with Sage – we had a very well-established and reliable integration with this software until they released Sage 50, which did not support the technology we used to create our connection. This meant that we had to completely re-write the connection from scratch.
Unfortunately, this type of thing happens now and again with workflow integrations and so any updates to the applications need planning and involvement from the integration partners that were involved in the first place. With a constant flow of advancements in software and integration, printers need to be prepared for additional engagement after the initial project, in order to keep the integration channels running.
Some companies don’t have the processing power or the storage to achieve what they’re after. It’s not as much of a problem these days as people are pretty tech savvy now, but we do still come across this. It’s important that you check you have the correct infrastructure in place before embarking on an integration project, otherwise you could seriously hinder the project and waste time and money.
There WILL be points of failure with an integration project, no matter how much preparation you’ve done – there’ll always be a scenario that you didn’t think of. A common pitfall here is when an operator ‘fixes’ the problem without logging the issue and saving the data relating to the error. If this happens, your MIS partner will find it incredibly difficult to work out why the integration failed, and to resolve the problem with an actual fix. My colleague goes into more detail about this in his article 5 stages for a successful integration project.
If you don’t have any skilled, technical people in-house, then an integration project can stagnate. Smaller printers are most affected by this and they are most likely to struggle getting the project over the line because they typically don’t have the technical skills internally to do the final push. It's okay to rely entirely on your MIS partner to provide the development resource, but this will be more costly and may take longer. Wherever possible we advise having your own technical and even development resource in-house.
If you want to achieve something really cool, you have to know what can be connected with what and how to connect them. This is where your MIS partner comes in, they can provide this knowledge and advise you how to achieve your vision.
My best piece of advice would be to communicate this vision to your team and your MIS partner. Really sell it to them and paint a picture of why you want to do it and what success looks like for you. And don’t aim too low – you can do a lot of cool things with integrated workflows these days and the scope of possibility increases all the time. Years ago, we thought that JDF could only do a certain amount but, working in line with third party software, we can now go a lot further and really push it. So aim high, push the boundaries of what you can achieve and lead the way for the rest of the industry to follow.